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A Cure for War – With Limitations.

By erinnpdx - Posted on 16 June 2013

A Cure for War – With Limitations.

by Erin Niemela


Earlier this week I wrote an editorial proposing a 28th constitutional amendment to abolish war.  The NSA scandal, I argue, is tied to the more pervasive problem of violent foreign (and domestic) policy, and we’ll continue to see government abuses so long as war and inter-state military violence are the acceptable choices for conflict management.  David Swanson, author of the brilliant history, “When the World Outlawed War,” thoughtfully responded to my plea by urging us to recall and reignite the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, an existing international pact renouncing war signed and ratified by the US president and Senate.


 I agree with Mr. Swanson that any efforts to end war should point to existing law, and we agree that abolishing war is possible and necessary.  However, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is not without its limitations, and a fresh, people-driven constitutional amendment could both address those limitations and offer current, culturally relevant and legally dispositive reinforcement.


Among several oversights in Kellogg-Briand, acknowledged in Mr. Swanson’s book, the Outlawry Movement ignored war-making processes.  Renouncing war while neglecting to ban war-making and war-sustaining institutions only created paranoia and a subsequent arms race. An effective law, amendment, or treaty (or combination) would have to include the complete disintegration of war-preparation processes, including military recruitment, the armed forces, and weapons and ammunitions manufacturing. Otherwise, the old adage of the hammer and nail will continue to ring true.


Another limitation of Kellogg-Briand is its focus on “pacific means.”  Current definitions of “pacific” include “tending to peace” and “lessening conflict,” and provide a linguistic loophole for determined warmongers—by some twisted definitions a warhead slated to slaughter two million people can keep the ‘peace’. The Bush administration, for example, proposed its War on Terror partially on the grounds of liberating the oppressed – a “pacific” intention conceived through rhetorical gyrations by elites through corporate media.


“Pacific means” are currently embraced by U.N. peacekeeping troops.  “Blue Helmets” generally carry weapons and, when fired upon, may fire back, while the U.N. Security Council just unanimously authorized an unprecedented "intervention brigade” for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seriously pushing the limits on definitions of “peacekeeping.”  As such, all military violence could be considered ‘pacific’ when artfully and culturally framed. A new carefully constructed constitutional amendment would afford the opportunity to use language that bans all military violence, as well as violent conflict management means, regardless of claimed “pacific” means or intent.


 Kent Shifferd, peace historian and author of “From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years,” proposes a redefinition of war in his call for abolition, one that includes military violence of all forms.  With this I fully agree. Redefining war to include all military violence, as well as all violent conflict management matériel, will be necessary for an effective end to war.  My initial crude attempt at writing a 28th Amendment includes language that tries to encompass this point. Furthermore, a new amendment would allow space for including war-making processes and institutions, necessary for preventing arms races that essentially provoke and escalate violent conflict.


Mr. Swanson says he does not want to “dispute the advantages of banning war in the highest law, the Constitution,” but also suggests that the Kellogg-Briand Pact could essentially perform the same function as a constitutional amendment in il-legalizing war.  I disagree.  The Constitution is foundational literature on which we base our cultural identity, the sacred text of our civil religion, and a powerful purveyor of American collective values.  Adding a constitutional amendment developed and promoted by We the People in grassroots style would carry far more weight with future generations than an aging international treaty.  While treaties can be tucked away on page 454 of the U.S. State Department’s website, a grassroots movement culminating in a 28th Amendment would be impossible to politically ignore and virtually impossible to circumvent. The Constitution remains intensely resonant because it is culturally ever-present.


Ultimately, we need a law that not only bans war, but bans violent conflict management – even with purported pacific means and intentions – as well as war-making processes, preparations, and institutions.  If cultivated by a bottom-up, civil society movement, a 28th Amendment banning these violent human inventions would synch with and reinforce Kellogg-Briand, add the necessary weight of popular, current, culturally relevant consensus, and allow our already existing, nonviolent methods of conflict management and resolution to flourish.


Erin Niemela, independent journalist and Master’s candidate in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University, writes and produces video for PeaceVoice. @erinniemela


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