Recently a village on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines was under threat by two armed groups who had come within 200 meters of each other. The village elders called for help from the Nonviolent Peaceforce stationed there, who intervened and by communicating with all sides persuaded the armed group to back away. Thanks to mediation, no violence erupted, no lives were lost.
Why haven't you heard about this exciting work? Because it is terribly underfunded, for one thing. There is also a prevailing prejudice that only governments or armed forces – including those of the United Nations – have the responsibility or means to contain conflict. While the UN Security Council has often authorized "all necessary means" to maintain peace and prevent violent conflict, in fact, the UN has not systematically considered large-scale civilian unarmed peacekeeping.
But the biggest obstacle by far is the widespread – and rarely examined – belief that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. It is the belief that there is only one kind of power; threat power, which in the end can be relied upon to get others to change their minds or, failing that, at least their actions.
That may change. The failures of war-fighting for peace, most notably now in Iraq, are getting ever more costly – of life, material, and our civil liberties.
The new global norm of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) should inspire the use of civil society and nonviolent means. While it includes military interventions, R2P is based on emerging international human security and human rights doctrine that aims to avert further failure by the international community to prevent and stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.