Editorial: Peacemakers or Peacekeepers?

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 20, Pentecost 2001

At last some common sense has been applied to New Zealand’s defence needs. For decades peacemakers in this country have argued that the perception of fear, generated by vested interests in Australia, Britain and the US, should not dominate our response to security. Rather stupidly, we had been dragged into both British and American wars over several decades. New Zealand blood was spilled unnecessarily in Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.

In the 1950s, our personnel were deliberately exposed to radiation after British atomic bomb testing and forced to march and crawl through a nuclear fallout zone in the Australian desert. They were also exposed to nuclear atmosphere tests at Christmas Island. Many personnel have died of cancers while their children have suffered deformities like cleft palate, spina bidifa, and abnormalities of the genitals.

Clearly things needed to change. In effect, getting out of ANZUS in the 1980s was a healthy step forward on the road to national sanity. With ANZUS having been effectively de-commissioned by our anti-nuclear legislation, we found ourselves on the ‘outer’ when it came to military exercises with our allies. We wouldn’t play with their ball so they kicked us out of the game. Many of us were delighted. But under a National Government in the 1990s, we were being cautiously welcomed back onto the playing field. Thank God the latest action by NZ has put paid to all that.

In the defence plans announced by the government in early May, the capacity of our air force to fight wars has been negated. A full combat side of the armed forces is being disarmed in the biggest defence shake-up in 70 years. The irrelevance of fighter planes and frigates to our security has been recognised. Our fighter planes, 18 Skyhawk fighter jets and 17 Italian Aermacchi jet trainers, are all to be sold. In addition, the $565 million Project Sirius anti-submarine upgrade for the Orions has been canned. This comes on top of the announcement in April last year that we would not purchase 28 previously ordered F-16 Falcon jets from the US. Upgrading the Hercules and the Iroquois helicopters for search and rescue and disaster relief makes good sense. New Zealand is a group of tiny islands set in a vast area of water, covered by huge mountains and rough terrain.

Our navy is not getting any more battleships (who were we supposed to battle anyway?). They are getting a multi-purpose ship, some search and rescue equipment and three or four ships capable of patrolling our economic fisheries zone. The army focus has changed. They have been given a primary focus of peacekeeping. Spending on the army will increase substantially to help make this ‘effective’ peacekeeping. Overall, defence will cost 1.1 percent of GDP.

Just imagine if we were still under the military wing of the US and had been invited to be part of President Bush’s mad (and sinful) scheme to build a National Missile Defence System. Australia is supporting it through making their Pine Gap facility available. It seems the only people really pleased with the idea are the military and the transnational corporations who put Bush into office. Thank God we are out from under that evil influence.

Two jobs remain to be done here. We need to sell the remaining two ANZAC frigates and use the money more constructively, and we need to close the satellite communication interception station (spy base) at Waihopai. We will then be largely militarily independent.

As Catholic Workers, we have long held that a radical overhaul was long overdue. We made submissions nearly 20 years ago to the effect that our national security required fishing patrols, non-violent civilian-based defence and a re-orientation of our armed services towards domestic security of our waters and for search and rescue and disaster relief. We urged a severance of our defence ties with Britain and the US. We said that small and independent was better than being attached to something big and bloated.

Recently we have pondered the question, is military peacekeeping a part of peacemaking as called for by Jesus? Our community has reached no unanimity. For some our NZ involvement with peacekeeping, particularly in Bosnia, the Solomons, Bougainville and East Timor, leads them to conclude that to a large degree it is. The focus in these interventions has been on bringing stability after horrendous violence by invading armies and/or local militia. In these instances, locally elected governments with virtually no infrastructure have sought to develop some semblance of order so that people might survive. Some argue this is making the best of a savage lawless situation and is entirely in keeping with a practical response of a good neighbour. They don’t however want to give carte blanche to all peacekeeping efforts.

Others hold a firmer line on CW tradition and its pacifist ideals. They are mindful that Dorothy Day and the CW maintained a pacifist line in the face both of the Spanish civil war in 1938 and World War II, positions that split the CW movement. Violence has this unique ability to pit friend against friend. They point out that while the primary focus of the army will switch to peacekeeping it will increase in size. These people are all soldiers, trained where necessary to kill. Many Catholic Workers wonder why non-violent alternatives including a volunteer force of non-combatants armed only with a passion for justice and creative skills could not have been sent to help rebuild infrastructure. They argue that war has been the greatest scourge of the 20th century and it’s time for a radical re-appraisal of the role of security forces. They argue that peacemaking is a spiritual journey and the ultimate security is found in God’s justice, not military power. They point to occasions in recent years where peacekeepers in some instances have virtually become an occupying army. They challenge the assertion that only the military could have provided a solution to the mayhem in these places. They appreciate that non-violence as a way of life is difficult but it is the state that best recognises and respects the divine life in creation and in people.

Pentecost is a great time to ponder these questions. The Holy Spirit breathed new life into a group of people that transformed them into ‘new creations’. The same Spirit continues to breathe new life into us if we open our hearts. Is pacifism more unimaginable for us in our time than it was in the face of the occupying crucifying empire of Peter, James and Mary? Jesus said ‘blessed are peacemakers, they shall inherit the kingdom.’ It was a message for all time. Are peacekeepers in the military sense also peacemakers in the Jesus sense? Clearly the New Zealand public think so. The editors say no. What do you think? Is military peacekeeping a part of peacemaking as Jesus taught?

—Jim Consedine

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