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Demilitarizing Security: Troop Withdrawals and Base Closings

(A note on why the 7 demands led me to sign the Women’s Regional Network Statement of Concern on Withdrawal of US Troops from Afghanistan from Betty Reardon, Founding Director Emeritus of the International Institute on Peace Education)

Withdrawal or abandonment?

I must state up front that the development of possibilities for the demilitarization of security as the sine qua non of the abolition of war has been a major presumption of my work over most of my years in peace education. From that perspective, I contemplated the announcement that the remaining US troops were to be withdrawn from Afghanistan with deeply conflicted feelings. After a first sigh of relief at what appeared to be step toward an ending of the US’s “endless wars,” and a glimmer of hope for a crack in what I perceive to be President Biden’s militarist view of security, my more visceral response was, “What about the women?”

I soon learned that response to that concern was, “Nothing about women.” Assurance of women’s basic security and human dignity, apparently were not a condition of the withdrawal; they had no voice in the decision. Nor was attention given to any of the issues that feminists assert are fundamental to security: protection of human rights, replacing armed force with legal, nonviolent and more effective procedures for processing conflict, no move to reduce the weaponry wreaking havoc on the daily lives of the Afghan people, no consultation with or involvement of the nonviolent peace forces, trained and ready to assist in transitions out of situations of violence into conditions more conducive to human security, and no reparations for the immeasurable property and environmental damage caused by years of drone attacks. The protection of women’s rights was one of the goals that the Bush administration used to sell the American people on a war most feminists and millions more had protested.

The war did not defeat the Taliban, a purported primary goal, rather it resulted, as had the previous Soviet invasion, with “Mission not accomplished.” Having brought no advancement to the security of the Afghan people - or to that of American citizens whose tax dollars were poured into weaponry instead of the fundamental social needs of the Afghan people, such as wide-spread education that some Afghanis assert to be their most essential need, the war was now being abandoned, and with it, the women of Afghanistan. The US is calling it quits without assurance of the continuation of any of the progress women may have made in the 20 years of American military presence. The avowedly feminist Biden administration apparently will leave the fates of Afghan women in the hands of the prevailing patriarchal forces, to possibilities of further oppression. These possibilities are allowed to unfold, while on a daily basis, women in public life are targeted for assassination by those forces that fully intend to repress any assertion of women’s human rights.

In short, the American “guys” have decided to let the Afghan “guys” fight it out on their own, and women, among other vulnerable groups, will be the collateral damage. This was no peace move, not good for women, “children or other living things” in Afghanistan, and not to the credit of the United States’ claim to be a defender of human rights and women’s equality.

Transitions to conditions of peacemaking for human security

So, if the aim is demilitarizing security, advocated by most peace movements, - and that surely entails removing foreign troops to their home countries as an essential step - how might that be done in such a way as to provide a transitional stage in which human rights and women’s full equality are assured? Peace movements, even much of the women’s peace movement, have given very little focused and serious attention to what world order studies referred to in its early consideration of alternative security systems as transition strategies. Peace education inquiry poses the transition inquiry as, “How do we get from here to there; from the war system to a human security system?” It was the thought given to this issue evident in the Women’s Regional Network’s Statement of Concern that led me to sign the statement. The list of the seven demands put forth are examples of the kind of transition strategies we need to be conceptualizing, developing and promulgating as practical measures of transition to the next stage in bringing authentic security to Afghanistan, exemplar measures for consideration in the inevitable need to close down the vast network of military bases that comprise an integral element of the militarized security system that entraps most the world’s peoples in conditions of deprivation and other elements of insecurity. A systematic program to transition out of these conditions needs to be designed and pursued by those who strive to end war as the primary step toward achieving human security. Proposals such as those suggested by Ingeborg Breines should be given serious and broad attention, along with discussions on how to bring them and other such possibilities into being.

In earlier decades of my involvement with the disarmament movement, there were such discussions of various proposals toward demilitarizing security, some for economic, others for strategic conversion. These proposals were meant to give guidelines for the practical changes that would be required to implement some of the more substantive disarmament proposals and demilitarization goals then being put forth both by states and the UN, as well as scholars and civil society activists. Some were based on the fundamental system change of general and complete disarmament.

There was, as well, the idea of transarmament, floated by the guru of nonviolence, Gene Sharp for transitioning from an arms dependent system to a nonviolent security system; i.e. reducing armaments in an evolutionary simultaneous process of establishing unarmed human security processes and institutions. Such parallel processes of the reduction of weaponry and armed forces synchronized to the introduction of nonviolent peace forces and multiple modes of conflict resolution, carried out through communal consensus rather than armed force. This is by way of saying, that although not now given much currency, transition ideas are there and new ones are now coming forth from civil society. Concerned citizens and feminist peace activists need to become more familiar with this range of possibilities as they pursue the politics of human security.

Among those who have continued to consider transition requirements are women’s groups that were born out of direct experience with the effect of military presence on civilian populations and the sexual violence always suffered in that presence. Among the first to call for withdrawal of US troops from their land were the people of Okinawa. Especially articulate on the issues was OWAAMV, Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, whose instruction to the public included the need not only to withdraw American troops and remove all weaponry on their land and in their waters, but also to clean and restore the environment so damaged by preparations for combat, including that involved in dispatching troops to Afghanistan. Should the US be really serious about “bringing our troops home,” withdrawing the Marines from Okinawa, where their presence has threatened women’s security for 75 years would be a good start.

Some OWAAMV members are involved in the International Women’s Network Against Militarization. This network has a history of anti-base activism, calling for the removal of troops based in long-term military presence at “overseas” bases around the world. IWNAM has elaborated a human security framework, a tool to guide discussions toward a more stable peace that would ensure the personal security of women as well as the sovereignty of occupied nations, environmental health, the fulfillment human needs and protection of human rights. Their framework, inspired by the lived insecurity of women living under long-term military presence, provides guidelines for assessing the human security potential of any changes in the current strategic order.

These concerns for authentic human security are at the heart of the Women’s Regional Network Statement of Concern that appears to me to derive from the goal of demilitarizing the international security system and assuring the basic elements of human security. Of course, we want to see the troops withdrawn as soon as mechanisms for working toward that goal have been included in the terms of the withdrawal. Until that time I believe that Americans, indeed all peoples, in good conscience, should not agree to “letting the Afghanis fight it out.” The price for that course will continue to be paid by the Afghan people, and that price will fall most heavily on women. Until there is an adequate “peacekeeping presence,” preferably one provided by the United Nations, I must express opposition to this American withdrawal proposal and join in the demand that the necessary conditions for women’s security be established, for without women’s security there can be no national security. I urge all to read and reflect on the WRN statement. And, while we may not agree with all the wording, if you agree that a more humanly secure transition strategy can and should be integrated into the terms of the withdrawal, please sign it. More importantly discuss it, elaborate on it, and move forward the general discourse on striving for human security through a comprehensive global policy of demilitarization.

BAR, 5/8/21


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