A peaceful path for Germany

By Hans Sinn | 1995-03-01 12:00:00

Despite horrible acts of brutality that have occurred in Germany, examples of reconciliation break the chain of violence. There has been a growing desire to manage conflict without violence, to resist and to assist nonviolently. Given the obvious advantages of nonviolent approaches to political and social problems, it is puzzling why governments have given so little support to education in nonviolence.

The Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg believes that the policy of peace and security concerns all citizens and that constitutional patriotism requires people's participation in defending human rights.

Humanitarian Service

The Church proposes that Germany create an organization for nonviolent conflict management--an organization of women and men committed to uphold it at home and abroad. This organization, Civilian Peace Service (CPS), is so called because its members will render nonviolent service to communities within and without Germany and Europe. They also propose that organizations concerned with humanitarian and religious issues collaborate with government in managing the CPS.

The high proportion of German draft resisters shows that the traditional concepts of patriotism and military service are being challenged.

Currently, draft resisters are given the option of civilian service, but for those who still wish to contribute to Germany's security, this is not an adequate nonviolent alternative to military service. They feel responsible for working on these tasks.

If the Church's proposal is accepted, the future draftee will have the option of training for Civilian Peace Service as an alternative of equal value to military service. Conscripts who choose CPS would not be considered draft resisters. The effectiveness of nonviolent action rests on the continuing, personal commitment to use violence only as a means of last resort. In order to be effective, military units and Civilian Peace Service units must be separate organizationally and politically.

A Pledge

CPS would be formed without general conscription. Its initiating body would be a core of leaders who regard CPS as their profession and who pledge themselves to it. Their job would be to develop the curriculum and train the conscripts and volunteers who register for the basic training.

In view of the CPS's foreseeable tasks, it would be advantageous if the trainees were chosen for their life and professional experience. Recruits should be sought from outside the regular circles of conscripts. People temporarily out of work, but with strong backgrounds, might find meaningful and socially relevant tasks. When an unexpected need arises, CPS personnel should have the opportunity, much like soldiers, to opt for further training and long time service. Volunteers and conscripts would be trained together in groups according to age and gender.

Conscripts would continue to have the option of choosing civilian (not CPS) service as an alternative to military duties. The conscript's choice for substitute civilian service should remain because only people with strong beliefs in the role of CPS should qualify for membership.

Basic Training

Like military training, basic training for CPS should last about one year. It would take place in small units and would be tailored to address certain conflicts--such as right wing extremists--yet general enough to apply to a wide range of situations. The training would connect theoretical knowledge to practical and include conflict mediation, holding firm nonviolently, and intervening in situations of danger. The aim is to safeguard human rights and overcome violence through understanding and reconciliation.

This training would be useful in everyday life, not just in extreme situations. The mediation techniques one learns during CPS training could also, for example, be used in conflicts with neighbors or between marriage partners. The basic rules of standing firm without resorting to violence in the face of armed threat are not only useful in resistance against occupation forces or coups but also in everyday life when minorities are insulted or attacked by violent extremists, for example.

Advanced training courses and deployment may be needed after completion of basic training, but Civilian Peace Service tours should be no longer than those of the military. Members who have completed basic training and a tour of duty could agree to continue training and serve in emergencies close to home. Suitable volunteers would be selected for out-of-country deployment. Full-time CPS members may be required to serve internationally.

CPS training will have to take its cues from those conflict situations for which, so far, only armed police or Bundeswehr units have been used. During its use inside Germany to maintain social peace, the CPS would aim to manage conflicts constructively--which police rarely do. When deploying peacekeepers outside Germany CPS units could be used rather than Blue Helmets (United Nations troops).

Finally, CPS should also develop and train for civil resistance (Social Defence) against armed aggression. Thus, in case of armed aggression, the government would have the choice of drawing on a group of trained women and men to defend the country alongside their colleagues in uniform.

The training and deployment of the CPS costs less per person than training, equipping, and deploying armed soldiers. Nevertheless, CPS costs are considerable and far surpass what Non-Government Organizations can finance on their own. Because CPS would be active in strategic areas of vital significance to German democracy, the cost of establishing and maintaining this service should be borne by the state. When Non-Government Organizations and churches support the activities of CPS, costs would go down. Further, since CPS is committed to promoting internal peace and relieving the burden of police and judiciary, this may prove to be a cost-saving investment.

Because of increasing violence among youth, threats to foreigners by right wing extremists, family violence, and a rise in crime, citizens increasingly feel an additional need for protection. The police have warned citizens against carrying weapons for personal defence. In well attended courses, Berlin police and street workers have taught citizens the basics of nonviolent conduct in threatening situations.

The Interior Ministry of Berlin-Brandenburg currently supports pilot projects in a number of places where unarmed, unpaid citizens make themselves available to the police as "security partners." In other places, church communities have tried, through alarm systems and patrols, to identify and prevent threats to foreigners. The official for "Affairs for Foreigners" of the State of Brandenburg has offered co-workers courses in nonviolent conflict management. Students have pointed out the danger of carrying weapons, and warn, "Knives make Murderers." Other groups have prepared themselves to intervene on public transport when insults and violent threats are made to passengers.

The involvement of churches will show that this nonviolent movement is not created by vigilantes of questionable character, but a partnership in security. Comparable experiments by North American Quakers in "Neighborhood Safety Training" led to reduced crime rates in violent metropolitan neighborhoods. People could once again walk the streets in safety, even at night.

Deployment In Foreign Countries

Out-of-country projects could be initiated in a number of ways. They could be arranged at state level, between governments, or through the U.N. Action by CPS without government involvement is also possible in principle. For instance, in ethnic or religious conflicts, church sponsors could be found through the World Council of Churches or similar bodies. Alternatively, a human rights organization could serve as a bridge. The peace monitoring and election watch in South Africa in 1994, and activities of Peace Brigades International in Central America are two models worth emulating.

Encouraging political refugees to be part of CPS would serve two purposes. CPS members would learn about the refugees' cultures. And, through personal contact, CPS members might be motivated to assist in the process of peaceful change in the refugees' home countries. Solidarity between people of different countries and cultures cannot be created quickly by command; it grows between people who have come to know and value each other.

CPS out-of-country action could be particularly useful as refugee assistance in countries adjacent to conflict areas. CPS could not only support existing humanitarian organizations, but also help mediate and de-escalate civil war situations. Such deployment might entail great risk for CPS members, as they would have to remain with the refugees to protect them nonviolently without military protection.

Social Defence

Apart from Germany's needs, CPS's concern with nonviolent resistance will also be of great interest to emerging democracies. History and recent events have shown that they are constantly threatened by coups, armed extremists, and external attacks. In these situations, everything depends on the unarmed citizens' ability to defend democracy.

We Germans hope that we will not have to resort to resistance against coups and occupation forces. But in the ever-changing affairs of politics there are no guarantees. To prepare for nonviolent resistance as part of CPS training appears as justifiable as the training the Bundeswehr.

Hans Sinn is a pacifist working on issues of civilian-based defence.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995, page 22. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Hans Sinn here

Peace Magazine homepage