There are many possible strategies for abolishing war. This article describes one such strategy, and the roles, within that strategy, that could be played by "peace journalism", the Internet and local "cross-party" dialogues.

Original article (published in nonviolent action, October 2003).
Footnotes (omitted from the printed page)and discussion space.


ALTERNATIVES TO WAR (original article as published in nonviolent action October 2003)

I start from the assumption that the most likely way to succeed in "abolishing" war is to foster cross-party consensus on alternatives to war, rather than to pursue party-political or anti-statist approaches (*1).

By definition, the achievement of such consensus would succeed in abolishing war - if we define both "abolition" and "war" in a limited but useful way (*2). It is the getting there that is the problem. But by redefining the problem in this way – as a problem in cross-party conflict resolution – we at least know where we are aiming to get to, and can start measuring how close we are getting (*3).

Developing a convincing set of proposals – alternatives to war that could command cross-party support – would require a vast exercise in testing the arguments for and against each proposal. "Testing" in this context means testing the acceptability of an argument to people other than those who were already convinced.

There would need to be many independent tests. Many occasions involving rigorous but friendly dialogue between "hawks" and "doves". Many events at which the doves listen more than they talk, and most importantly ask "What is it about our arguments that you find unconvincing?".

The role that peace journalism could play is to report such dialogues constructively, mixing optimism with analysis of failure, in a way that encourages more people to join in. For example: "Here are some points the parties agreed upon. Here’s where they agreed to differ. Here are some stumbling blocks they agreed to investigate jointly. Here are some blind spots they seem unwilling to acknowledge. Can any reader suggest ways forward?" If, in any period, there are no such dialogues to report - then that lamentable absence should be reported, and readers enjoined to take up the task where others have left off.

Although the task of developing and testing a convincing set of arguments is vast, it is little different from a task that has already been successfully achieved by networks of volunteers. That task is the development and testing of free ("open source") software. In the open source approach, the developing software is an "open book" which anyone can find on the Internet. Any interested person may take a small part of the software and test it to expose its faults. The exposing of faults is considered healthy, rather than shameful. Someone can usually fix the fault, and the improved component is returned to the common pool. The eventual result is reliable, bug-free software.

This proven method of developing and testing software could be adapted for developing and testing arguments about alternatives to war. The many independent local dialogues would each test some of the arguments on some of the people. All could report back to a common pool as to which arguments proved convincing, and which arguments appealed only to the converted.

At present, few peace movement events make any explicit contribution to a common body of convincing, tested arguments. We tend to deem events "successful" if large numbers of the converted turn up. On the rare occasions when we make an effort to bring hawks and doves together, and the hawks point out flaws in the doves’ arguments, we often fail to notice or fail to learn. We even accuse those who disagree with us of lacking imagination and empathy, when it is often we who lack the empathy to give serious and sensitive acknowledgement to their objections.

There are some notable exceptions – some wonderful occasions when bridges of understanding and co-operation start to grow, and one catches glimpses of the possibility that people might actually agree upon alternatives to war. I have experienced such glimpses when Quakers met the military at the mediaeval Charney Manor, and when the bombed city church of St Ethelburga hosted a critical evaluation of the aims of the Movement for the Abolition of War.

But these are isolated instances. There is nothing that connects them, nothing that enables each occasion of dialogue to build on the successes and failures of past occasions.

I see a need for a monthly "publication" which focuses solely on the search for alternatives for war, which stimulates and connects many such dialogues, and which builds a searchable archive of what worked and what didn’t, so people don’t get stuck on the same old sticking points each time. A publication which fosters a spirit of rigorous but friendly inquiry into alternatives to war.

Such a publication would be primarily internet-based … an open book which many could co-author. It would need links with friendly printed publications (and with local newspapers where there are local dialogues). This could facilitate rigorous testing and retesting of arguments with different participants from different ideologies, faiths and political parties.

Over time, such testing should lead to a set of "reliable, bug-free" proposals for alternatives to war - proposals that convince enough of the people enough of the time, and can therefore command cross-party support in Parliament.


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Footnotes and discussion space

An expanded (and expanding) version of the above article will be uploaded soon, together with some sort of structure for web-based discussion and collaboration.

The purpose of the intended  footnotes was  to address  some of the anticipated points of disagreement.   But I keep arguing with myself as I write them,  it is  clearly not going to happen today (30.9.03). 

In the meantime: in the unlikely event that anyone has actually read the article and wants to make  comments/suggestions/ constructive criticisms, could you please email