Practice political jujitsu to promote human security

March 17, 2006
By: Kevin Clements
This article originally appeared in New Routes: A Journal of Peace Research and Action, Volume 10, Number 4, 2005. Published by the Life & Peace Institute. Reprinted with permission (c) 2006.

Terrorism is not the problem. The problem is political violence, says Professor Kevin Clements in this article, which is an abbreviated version of his keynote speech at a seminar arranged by Peace Team Forum, Sweden.(1) It should be questioned whether today’s counter-terrorist policies are likely to generate stable peaceful relationships and wider levels of human security.

—Kevin Clements


The root causes of fear, militarism and separatism have to be dealt with in order to achieve political stability and security. The global pursuit of security through threat-based deterrent strategies is counter-productive. It is counterproductive because these strategies do not deal with the primary sources of both direct and indirect violence and are highly unlikely to result in higher levels of global solidarity, genuine human security or an exhaustion of nonviolent solutions to problems before violence is contemplated. They also do very little to deal with fear and want. Furthermore, they are generating new forms of nationalism which threaten to undermine the progress made towards multilateralism in the 20th century. This neo-nationalism manifests itself in national selfishness and parochialism; in particular a reluctance to think in terms of the human interest and a bias towards thinking solely in terms of narrow self and national interests. Let me illustrate this with what I call the pain calculus.

Approximately 3,000 individuals died in the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. This was a tragedy and a shock to America. It made Americans realize that the most powerful nation in the world was as vulnerable as every other state in the world to top down or bottom up political violence. While each one of these deaths was a tragedy, they do, however, need to be contextualized a little. Since 2001, 8,000-14,000 Afghan civilians and militia have died since the overthrow of the Taliban. It is estimated that 30,000 children die every hour of preventable diseases in the global South. 80,000 men, women and children have been killed in the Northern Ugandan conflict. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the US invasion and occupation began. 2.2 million Africans died of aids in 2003, which amounts to 166,660 persons every month. Finally 3.5 million have been killed, directly or indirectly, in Eastern Congo since 1985.

Each one of these statistics, like all those killed in the World Trade Center, is a human being. Most came from caring, loving families. Each one represents a cruel truncation of human potentiality. Each one deserves both our sympathy and grief. Why is it, therefore, that citizens of the North are more likely to grieve for those killed in New York, Madrid and London than those killed in places such as Goma, Monrovia, Tangiers, Jakarta, or Amman? If we have a strong sense of species identity, each one of these deaths deserves to be mourned equally. Each one also represents unresolved problems that need to be dealt with if such deaths are to be avoided in the future.

So the very first thing we need to do to develop a culture of conflict prevention, capable of dealing with both direct and indirect violence, is to problematise the issue of terror and terrorism and challenge the current military responses to counter this threat. We need to ask whether counterterrorist policies are proportionate to the problem and likely to generate stable peaceful relationships and wider levels of human security.

In relation to terrorist threat, for example, this current United States Administration is not even listening to its own advisors in relation to what sorts of programmes are likely to be most effective in preventing terrorist violence.

Terrorism, in this instance, is a particular crime of the unheard.

The 2004 United States Political Instability Task Force (drawn from the State Department and a number of national intelligence agencies), tried to find significant correlates of terrorism and other kinds of political violence. Working with one of the biggest computers in the world, they crunched a huge amount of data and discovered four key variables, which were highly correlated to terrorism and other sources of political violence. These were the only variables that were significant in relation to terrorist threat.

The four variables were as follows:

  • Poverty, underdevelopment and maldistribution of resources
  • Weak regimes and poor governance
  • Poor regional integration
  • Bad neighborhoods, where there is gun trafficking, drug trafficking, human trafficking and so forth.

While these correlates are not "causes" of terrorism, it is clear that if they are not dealt with positively and effectively, it is highly unlikely that incidents of terrorism will substantially diminish. We can conclude from this study, therefore, that the trillions currently being spent on military expenditure are unlikely to result in any dramatic diminution of terrorist activity. On the contrary they may in fact even fuel it.

Most people in harmony
Terrorism is not the problem. The problem is political violence. Most of human activity is peaceful. Most people, most of the time live in harmony with each other, doing what they have to do in order to ensure individual and collective survival. There are always some people, however, who choose to pursue their political objectives through violent means. Some of these persons occupy positions of political power and choose coercive means to achieve their political objectives. Others do not have any political power and are, very often, grappling with severe challenges to their identity, or their right to exist (for example, as is the case in Palestine). Or they resort to violence as a way of coping with instances of deep humiliation, rejection, marginalization and exclusion.

For these people violence is a way of communicating grievance, generating fear and arousing a negative reaction in order to expand their struggle. Terrorism, in this instance, is a particular crime of the unheard. It is a crime in which the actor is saying through his/her own suicide or in the murder of others that, "They are willing to sacrifice their lives and take the lives of others in order that people and politicians will acknowledge their political agenda and/or their past suffering and humiliation."

After the attack on the World Trade Center the United States and the world had a chance to ask what those particular terrorists were trying to say through that desperate action. While there was some attention to their grievances, the dominant response from the United States was a radical division of the world into "saved" and "unsaved", "evil doers" and "righteous" and a very vigorous assertion of state power and military solutions.

There were few attempts at this time to identify nonviolent alternatives to terror, terrorist threats and other types of violence. On the contrary, politicians have reasserted the primacy of the state as the major bulwark between order and chaos through appeals to patriotism and national solidarity. This appeal has resulted in a dramatic upsurge of xenophobic nationalism.

This is epitomised most graphically in the ways in which counter-terrorism is being used to justify political repression in a large number of countries, for example, Uganda, Kenya, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, the Sudan, and the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia as well). Repressive legislation in all of these countries challenges the rule of law and undermines many basic human rights. When it is coupled with tactics of extraordinary rendition and "torture light", it becomes particularly egregious and undermines normative principles that civil society groups and nations have spent many years developing. This is particularly worrying when such behaviour is committed by nations that are exponents of democratic principles with pretensions to international "moral" leadership.

The big alternative on the agenda is the rigorous promotion of human security.

"In the 21st century, all states and their collective institutions must advance the cause of larger freedom - by ensuring freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity. In an increasingly interconnected world progress in the areas of development, security and human rights must go hand in hand. There will be no development without security and no security without development. And both development and security also depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law."

These are the words of Kofi Annan from his 2005 Policy Document In Larger Freedom. The document presents a long-term alternative vision to the short-term repressive response to terror and terrorism. It was supposed to frame a new political agenda for the world for the Millennium Plus Five Summit in the summer of 2005. It was and is a bold and holistic vision, both analytically and practically, and it provided very precise benchmarks for nations to aspire to.

US Ambassador John Bolton, on behalf of the US administration challenged and undermined this vision by tabling 750 amendments to the consensus document one week before the summit began. Those of you that have been involved in multilateral diplomacy know that it takes years to bring these agendas together. In a matter of a week John Bolton took the consensus document apart in order to assert US national interests. To add insult to injury he tried to persuade the rest of the world that these amendments were in the global interest.

The fact that the rest of the world could not prevent one country gathering its allies to dismantle a consensus document in this way highlights something about the dysfunctional nature of the United Nations. It operates as an organization of equals in a world of deep political and economic inequality. Those who are dominant exercise this dominance within the system, thereby sabotaging the capacity of the global community as a whole to ensure that its interests are accorded primacy.

Integration and peace dialogue
States are not by and large very good at promoting community and strong community relationships. In fact there is a debate within the literature about the precise nature of the relationship between state and civil society and whether it is possible to develop effective and legitimate state systems without a strong and robust civil society based on strong local communities.

What is clear, however, is that the long-term structural prevention and short-term operational prevention of conflict both require a commitment to nonviolence and the promotion of a culture of peace rather than a culture of violence. This is why the current international political climate is challenging to peacebuilders.

The dominant orthodoxy of responding to security problems with potentially violent military solutions is dramatically reducing the numbers of nonviolent options available to both "track one" official and "track two" unofficial actors. It is vitally important therefore that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Governmental and Inter Governmental Organizations continue to identify non-military responses to problems in order to provide official policy makers and CSOs with a way of expanding the firebreak between non-military and military solutions.

In recent years, the United States and some of its allies have practiced what I call "a la carte" multilateralism.

I want to reassert the central importance of the UN and regional organizations in the promotion and maintenance of international security and in the effective prevention of violent conflict.

Effective regional organizations and the United Nations can justifiably take some pride in the positive achievements of the past 15 years. Since the end of the Cold War there has been a lot of good news to report. The recent Human Security Report, for example, notes that there have been no attempted genocides since Rwanda.


The numbers of political crises are diminishing and the total numbers of wars have been declining. Despite preoccupations with terrorism and the imbroglio of Iraq, the world has become a more peaceful place. The Human Security Report identifies the UN as central to a good deal of this good news.

So when President George Bush and others say that UN has been ineffective, the evidence suggests otherwise. Over the last 15 years, there has been a six-fold increase in UN preventive diplomacy missions to stop wars starting, a four-fold increase in UN peacemaking missions to end ongoing conflicts, a four-fold increase in UN Peace operations to reduce recurrence of war, and an eleven-fold increase in the numbers of states subject to UN sanctions. All of these represent very positive achievements for multilateral organizations. Many of the positive results have been achieved in collaboration with effective regional organizations.

Thucydides(2) says: "Large states do as they will. Small states do as they must."Small and medium sized states like Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, and Ireland need the UN (as do similar-sized states in the South). Large states can choose to work within the structures of the United Nations or not. Whether they do or not, will be determined by their own perceptions of their national interest. In recent years, the United States and some of its allies have practiced what I call "a la carte" multilateralism. They use the United Nations when it suits them and spurns it when it does not. This is one of the biggest challenges facing global citizens and state parties of the United Nations, namely how to ensure that the rules of the UN are negotiated by all and accepted by all.

The UN could not do half of what it does without all the efforts of Civil Society Organizations. All of the specialized agencies rely heavily on academics and CSOs for analytic advice and implementation. In dealing with the Pakistan/Indian earthquake for example, because of military impasse and logistic challenge, neither the armies of Pakistan or India were capable of delivering the emergency supplies needed immediately after the cr isis. Instead Oxfam, Care and UNICEF were on the ground more or less immediately.

In the field of nonviolent peacebuilding we have to be particularly sensitive to the unique roles that each one of us plays in relation to the prevention of violence. Each one of our activities or choices has very particular sets of consequences, and we have to ensure that these generate positive peaceful outcomes rather than negative violent ones. To develop this sort of awareness means generating more sensitivity to the ways in which different types of political and economic arrangements generate violent conflict.

Development challenges
A lot of what we are doing and a lot of what passes as good policy in terms of promoting national security and national perspectives on peace and justice, for example, is a way of protecting power and privilege.

The three richest persons in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. The world's 225 richest individuals, of whom 60 are American, with total assets of $311 billion have a combined wealth of over $1 trillion, which is equal to the annual income of the poorest 47 percent of the entire world's population. 30,000 children die each day of preventable diseases. These economic differences and the protection of wealth and status associated with them are, however, ultimately maintained by unequal military power. The most graphic example of which this is that of the United States.

The US defence budget in 2005 is $415 billion. This figure excludes the Iraq supplemental, which is expected to top $90 billion this year. The 14 percent increase to this year's budget was $49 billion, which is over half of what the entire world spends on Overseas Development Assistance of $79 billion. The defence budget is larger than the combined total of the next nine biggest defence spenders. The US is responsible for 47 percent of the world's military spending of US $1.05 trillion. This military inequality generates some deep pathologies, not least of which is a reluctance on the part of many countr ies to mount political challenges to the United States, even when it appears that its foreign or military policies are generating more instability than stability. It also helps explain why the US is able to bully the United Nations when it wishes.

Even here, however, there are some important anomalies. In relation to Sweden, for example, the Swedish military has a well-developed defensive posture against probable military contingency. It lacks a capacity to exert much offensive capacity against neighbours or countries that lie out of the Swedish sphere of influence. Yet Sweden is the largest per capita exporter of arms in the world and arguably generates different kinds of security dilemmas in countries that it exports to. It is important, therefore, when checking the militarism of the most powerful that we also raise questions about the intended and unintended consequences of more modest defence and military postures.

To practice political jujitsu we need to place the weakest citizens everywhere in the world at the centre of political decision making.

It is crucial to deal with the root causes of fear, militarism and separatism. There will be no political stability, nor cooperative and human security unless much more attention is paid to the ways in which development generates conditions conducive to structural stability. In particular it is vital that much more attention be directed towards reducing the gross inequalities that divide the world. It is also vital that less developed countries are assisted to achieve all of the millennium development goals by 2015. These will only be achieved, however, if all the OECD countries establish clear timetables to achieve the 0.7 percent (preferably 1 percent) of Gross Domestic Product for Overseas Development Assistance and apply these to the pursuit of the goals.

Dealing with the root causes of underdevelopment, poverty and exclusion also requires stronger connections between the private and public sectors. Civil Society Organizations can play an extremely important role here in helping promote and broker more productive relationships and higher levels of corporate responsibility between the public and private spheres. But these need to be reinforced by support from regional and global organizations well.

While weapons of mass destruction were the pretext for war against Iraq, there has been very little progress towards their abolition on the part of the nuclear weapons' powers, and they remain the "ultimate terror weapon" in terms of their capacity to wreak large-scale indiscriminate destruction. The US and its allies have been sending deeply contradictory messages on this question. They have opposed potential proliferators like Iran and North Korea but accepted Israel, India, and Pakistan as de facto members of the nuclear club. They negotiate with the North Koreans - because they are assumed to have produced some nuclear weapons - but threaten Iran which has not. The implication of this differential treatment is that if you wish to be taken seriously at an international level, then nuclear weapons are important.

Importance of hope
When one considers today's global challenges, it is easy to become quite pessimistic. It is imperative, however, that those who are committed to longterm peacebuilding do not succumb to this inclination. To do this we need to replace cynicism and despair with reality-based optimism. In the first place this means that a pre-requisite for dealing with violence is hopefulness. Secondly, it is crucial that we work on replacing mistrust with trust, in order that good can be achieved amongst human beings prepared to believe in the intrinsic goodness of most people. Thirdly, it is important that we operate from best-case assumptions. If we operate from worst-case assumptions or adopt a paranoid disposition to others, we will never be able to generate the right sorts of conciliatory gestures to break cycles of violence and generate creative options.

To practice political jujitsu we need to place the weakest citizens everywhere in the world at the centre of political decision making. States do not exist to serve the interests of the rich and the powerful. These groups can look after themselves. But we will not sleep easy in our beds at night until the African continent and African people are given much more prominence in global decision-making and their needs are acknowledged and met. Similarly the prospects for peace and justice anywhere will remain remote, as long as the Middle East remains a suppurating sore. As long as Israel chooses to separate its future from that of Palestine and expresses its division with a physical wall Palestinian needs will remain unmet.

What would happen if all entire policy-making were judged by how well we treated the weakest and most vulnerable people in the world? Real security, human security, flows from placing the poor, marginalised and vulnerable at the heart of our development, security and peacebuilding policies.

As Nelson Mandela said: "The common good ultimately translates in to a deep concern for those that suffer want and deprivation of any kind."

I would like to finish with some ideas from John Paul Lederach's latest book "The Moral imagination – the art and soul of building peace". He argues that peacebuilders, or those committed to nonviolent solutions to problems, need to generate new ways of seeing people, relationships, community and the world. There are four elements which constitute what he calls The Moral Imagination.

First of all, the moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in an inclusive and expandable web of relationships. This is critical to understanding something of the ways in which we are all connected with each other, or an affirmation of our essential interdependence. The Buddhists remind us that ignorance is an inability to see others and how our well-being is directly dependent on theirs. Lederach takes this a little further and asks how it feels to put someone we fear, as well as those we love, in our web of relationships. What does it do to our sense of self, for example to put Al Qaeda in our web? How does this challenge us and how do we work to ensure that those who might harm us have no reason for doing so? How do we imagine the worst that others can do to us and then respond positively and affirmatively, so that this worst-case scenario does not eventuate? This capacity to imagine ourselves in an inclusive and expandable web of relationships is very powerful and suggests ways in which we might develop some new thinking about dealing with those who might do violence against us or others.

Secondly, the moral imagination requires the ability to sustain a problem solving curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity. What we sometimes understand as either/or decision making. We have to overcome the tunnel-vision that goes with dichotomous thinking so that our perceptual and cognitive screens are wider and broader.

The third capacity that Lederach highlights is the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act. What is creativity and how do we exercise it in responding to developmental and violent challenges. How do we develop creative leadership, that is, leaders who are not driven by political expedience but who will ask a more fundamental question, namely "What is the right thing to do?" How do we ensure that such leaders come into existence and are able to exercise creativity in responding to all the policy dilemmas that afflict us? How do we open ourselves to the creative acts that will have a transformative effect on relationships, removing their violent and enhancing their peaceful capacities?

Finally Lederach says there is a need for us to be courageous and to accept the risks in peacebuilding. This is absolutely vital if we are to absorb the suffering inflicted by others rather than inflict it upon others. To do this means confronting the meaning of pain and suffering and its role in modernity. Judith Butler argues in her new book Precarious Life that America got angry after 9/11, because they realized that they were not invulnerable, all-powerful and immortal as they had previously thought. They responded to this recognition with anger, revenge and by unleashing suffering on others. In doing so they restricted their empathetic ability and their options. It is imperative, therefore, to underline that suffering is not the exception. It is the norm, and we need to figure out how to embrace it when and as it happens so we can be courageous in response. Nowhere is this more important than in peacebuilding, which requires a willingness to suffer rather than impose pain and suffering on others. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but throughout history when individuals and groups have done this, miraculous things have happened.
Pocket Mantra

I would like to finish with a pocket mantra from John Paul Lederach.

  • Reach out to those you fear
  • Touch the heart of complexity
  • Imagine beyond what is seen
  • Risk vulnerability one step at a time

I cannot think of a better prescription for replacing fear with hope, impossibility with possibility, violence and revenge with nonviolence and inclusion, inequality and injustice with equality and justice, revenge with forgiveness and reconciliation, all of which are pre-requisites for dealing with the politics of violence.

Kevin P Clements

(1) In July 2005 more than 900 representatives gathered in the UN headquarters, New York, for the Global Conference From Reaction to Prevention. The aim was to work on joint proposals for implementing a common agenda, A Global Action Agenda for the Prevention of Violent Conflict. As a follow-up of this conference, the NGO network Peace Team Forum in Sweden invited to a seminar in Stockholm on 26 October this year, on the theme Agenda 2014 – Towards a Shift from Reaction to Prevention. Keynote speaker was Professor Kevin Clements, Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

(2) Greek historian from the 5th century.

Editor's comment.

Kevin P Clements is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies,
Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

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