Assessing the Gulf Peace Team

Published in Nonviolence Today, No. 22, August-September 1991, pp. 6-7
pdf of published article

Brian Martin

Was the Gulf Peace Team a good idea? Was it productive or counterproductive to set up a camp of nonviolent activists between Iraq and Saudi Arabia as a way to reduce the chance of war?

The incredible bravery of those who joined the Gulf Peace Camp made me - a bystander - reluctant to be openly critical of any aspects of the initiative. Robert Burrowes and Jerry Smith, Australian members of the Team, encouraged me to proceed.

So here are a few brief comments. Many of these points are covered, and in more detail, by Robert Burrowes in his excellent article, "The Gulf War and the Gulf Peace Team" (Social Alternatives, Vol. 10, No. 2, July 1991, pp. 35-39), but I list them here for completeness.

Positives

• There was great symbolic value in taking direct action against an impending war. This is in contrast to the usual activities of peace movements in appealing to public opinion and to governments, all at a considerable physical and conceptual distance from the front lines.

• There was great symbolic value in providing an example of nonviolent heroism. Usually it is soldiers who are presented as heroic. The camp was a superb opportunity to demonstrate bravery in nonviolent struggle.

• The Gulf Peace Team provided inspiration for greater activism.

Difficulties

• The remote location of the camp was a big disadvantage. It limited participation because of its distance and the required time commitment.

• The distance - especially from Australia - meant that there were large financial costs involved, carried by individuals, supporters or groups.

• The isolation of the camp from the soldiers and population of either side virtually eliminated possibilities for fraternisation.

• Although the Gulf Peace Camp could be considered a direct intervention against aggression, in practical terms its main value was symbolic. There was a severe dependence on publicity, further aggravated by the remote location.

• The camp provided no means for intervening against the high-technology warfare of smart (and not-so-smart) missiles and the like. The camp, in spite of some communications equipment, was low technology. This is not automatically a problem. But, it might be asked, does a camp on the front lines lose its impact if technology can make the idea of a front line obsolete?

• The Gulf Peace Team was not part of a wider strategy against war or even against war in the Gulf. It was an inspiration, an ad hoc effort. Hans Sinn, a leading proponent of social defence, told me that he found the Canadian peace movement preoccupation with the Gulf crisis (of which the Gulf Peace Team was only a small part) to be a major disruption of ongoing programs. Everything else was dropped in the rush to oppose Western military intervention. In other words, the agenda for the peace movement was set by George Bush, not by activists sitting down themselves and deciding goals, priorities, long-term strategies and campaigns.

Non-neutralities

• All the participants (to my knowledge) came from countries on one side of the conflict.

• When Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait, there was no peace camp. The camp was set up between Iraq and and Saudi Arabia after the US government had proclaimed that Saddam Hussein was the world's greatest threat to peace. So there was an asymmetry or selectivity in setting up the camp to, in effect, stop US-led troops invading Iraq.

• Only some war have front lines. It is hard to imagine similar peace camps in Afghanistan, Cambodia or El Salvador. Does this mean that this form of intervention can be used only against aggression by traditional massed armies, while equally horrific guerrilla wars are ignored?

 

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