Peace and the Military

When I was a student, the words peace and the military were rarely uttered in the same sentence. I was for peace. That meant I wanted nothing to do with the military. When it came time for the draft, I became a conscientious objector.

Fifty years later, I talk about peace and the military together a lot. In fact, I spend a good bit of my time building bridges with current and former members of the American military.

It started out on a quirky way. I reconnected with a childhood friend who had been a career officer and ran a think tank to help people in the defense community think outside the clichéd box. We realized we had a lot in common and ended up doing the q and a session at a launch party for one of my books two days after 9/11.

At first, I thought Dick was just weird. Soldiers were not peaceniks.

Then, as we headed into the post-9/11 world, I discovered that there were a lot of people in the service who thought like he did. Gradually, a lot of us found ways we could and should work together.

On their end, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more provided evidence that there were no purely military ways of solving today’s world crises. Or, to use their terminology, kinetic tactics would never be enough to truly win a war against terrorism or just about anything else.

On our end, we realized that we could not do our work unless basic safety and security were assured. In other words, we saw that military and law enforcement officers could be necessary partners in at least some aspects of our work.

To be honest, the serving and retired officers have moved farther toward us than we have moved toward them. Let me give you a few examples.

  • At the height of the Iraq war, the Department of Defense issued Directive 3000.05 which made war prevention and pot-conflict reconstruction the doctrinal equivalent of war fighting. Obviously, we are still a long way from seeing those goals turned into reality, but 3000.05 was an important symbolic step… and more.
  • Military planners think in terms of five phases that a conflict can go through that mirrors a curve of conflict evolution that my colleague Michael Lund developed and that most peacebuilding groups use to this day.
  • The U.S. Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute is one of dozens of military “schoolhouses” that include conflict resolution themes in their curricula.
  • I’m one of many peacebuilders who is routinely called on to speak at military conferences and even help plan training exercises for troops who are about to be deployed.
  • While there is little that I like about events in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, the military has begun taking human security seriously by, among other things, helping rebuild the economy and spark the creation of startup businesses in both countries.
  • If we think about other militaries or the UN, there are even more examples. The Canadian and Scandinavian militaries primarily prepare their soldiers for peacekeeping work rather than combat operations.

We have moved some, too. The Alliance for Peacebuilding, where I work, normally has at least one retired officer on its board of directors and has had representatives from the military speak at its conference for the better part of a decade. My friend and colleague, Lisa Schirch, coordinated the creation of training modules that soldiers and peacebuilders could use since we now assume that we will meet each other in the field. George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution and most of the other graduate programs in the United States these days routinely have a number of serving and retired military personnel among their students.

It is not always easy for us to work together. That starts with the fact that we are far less likely to endorse the use of force, and some of us oppose it altogether. It has been hard, too, to overcome the residual mistrust that dates back to the Vietnam war of my youth.

I don’t mean to sugarcoat the differences. There are times when our goals and interests clash, and that is bound to continue. When called on to do so, my military friends will fight; I still would not.

Nonetheless, since the end of the Cold War and, even more importantly, since 9/11, we have found more and more ways of working together and more and more times when we have to do so.

In fact, working with the military has been one of the most eye-opening and rewarding parts of my career as a peacebuilder.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members. 

Also published on Medium.