New year – old wishes left and right

By Johan Galtung

This New Year announces itself with bangs all over, not whimpers.

Pope Francis made a tour d’horizon on all continents, strongly denouncing the violence in favor of his alternative: negotiation.

Much violence is copycat or copyrat; violence being a la mode. Copying–aka learning–is not wrong. But it depends on what is copied.

Here my 10-11 wishes:

Wish no. 1: copying peace rather than violence, for instance from ASEAN and the Nordic Community, making peace self-reinforcing.

Wish no. 2: reporting violence less prominently, more toward the end of newspapers-TV-radio news, and reporting peace upfront.

Wish no. 3: understanding war better, not only how many killed but how many bereaved; understanding peace better as model for others.

Wish no. 4: introducing Yin/Yang in Western thought: no totally good or bad humans or states around; they are all improvable mixtures.

Wish no. 5: linking the good in ourselves to the good in others for peaceful cooperation, yet keeping the bad in mind, for security.

Wish no. 6: identifying unsolved conflicts and unconciled traumas that may lead to violence; solving the conflicts, healing the traumas.Read More »

Impressions of Damascus and its amazing, kind people

There is plenty of goods in Damascus' shops and women getting "beauty" surgery

TFF Conflict and Peace Report Syria # 2

I’ve only passed through Damascus once before, in 2002 on my way to Baghdad. What meets you today is a beautiful city with checkpoints all over the place, your car trunk will be opened and papers checked. Seemingly useless explosives detectors are used – useless because they don’t catch that many drivers here today have a revolver or hand-grenade under their seat.

But you’d probably be surprised, like I was, at how normal it otherwise feels. At the surface.

Traffic is intense, pollution thick, shops are filled with goods, I see fewer beggars here than in Lund, Sweden. People enjoy excellent food (I haven’t had such good meals for long) at restaurants with live music and entertain themselves at the omnipresent cafés.

As everywhere else in war zones, people whose lives have been shattered in many ways – and there are few here in Damascus who have not been hit one way or the other by the war – do their best to maintain some kind of normality.

I’ve seen it elsewhere such as in Sarajevo – the women in particular dress up elegantly and often sexily in the public space, hang out with friends, drink cappuccinos and check their mobiles incessantly to be and to appear as someone in control although life is close to unbearable. Human pride and determination comes out very strongly in war zones – as much, I would say, as human evil.

That said, for the less privileged life is extremely hard. Prices on many basic good have gone up 10x over the last 5 years. Salaries haven’t followed. A soldier gets about USD 50 a month, people working in offices perhaps US$ 70. Many citizens live on UN food packages.

In short, the same totally inhuman consequences of sanctions – the allegedly “soft” instrument – as in Iraq: only hitting innocent people, destroying the middle class and boosting the already rampant corruption. (More about this later when I know more).

What will surprise you is Read More »

TFF Peace and Conflict Mission to Syria # 1

By Jan Oberg

Damascus, Syria, December 9, 2016


I’m writing to you from war-torn Syria where the suffering of the people is beyond comprehension, heart-breaking.

The war in and on Syria has been started in spring 2011 – the underlying conflicts much much earlier.

What our media have shown us is snipers, bombings, killings, ruins, dead bodies and press conferences with Western politicians.

But did you “see” the underlying conflicts?

Get an understanding of what the problems standing between the parties are?



Did you get the impression that weapons is the only thing “they” understand?

Did you feel hopeless about it all? Confused? Depressed because of all the human suffering?

That peace is impossible?

If so it’s because we are missing a huge part of the picture. We need something else.

Small everyday joys in Damascus


We need to switch from – repetitive and depressive – war and violence reporting to conflict and peace reporting.

We need a focus on issues, history and structures instead of appointing one side and one person as the problem.

We must supplement the focus on weapons and fighters and focus on human potentials.

We must scrap the garbage theory that peace is about good guys winning and bad ones losing.

We must listen to all the parties, not just out own politicians and media.

And we must look at common interests and ways out of the violence and ask: Who can do what for a better Syria in the future, a Syria with people at peace with each other and the world.

Are you interested in new ways of understanding conflicts?

Then – being in Syria until Christmas – I am available.

In two ways:

1. I will post short articles based upon these other approaches at the TFF Associates blog.

2. I have been here in beautiful, historical Damascus the last 5 days and will go to several places – Aleppo on Saturday.

I’m available to media and others who take interest in what is going on here in a conflict and peace perspective.


Contact:

janoberg@mac.com

Swedish iPhone +46 738 52 52 00

Syrian mobile +963 941 35 36 52

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janoberg.se – for updates, messaging and phone.

Skype: janoberg

And it is soon Christmas in this multi-confessional, secularised place

A better world has less violence, less war

By Johan Galtung

The National Society of High School Scholars, Claes Nobel World Betterment Award

The Carter Center

3 Dec 2016

I am very grateful for the 2016 Claes Nobel World Betterment Award – Claes being the great grandnephew of Alfred – and to the NSHSS-National Society for High School Scholars, here at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

Let me start by praising you for your dedication to Education, focusing on the high school–in the middle, after K and grade school, before college and graduate school–on teachers and students, learning and doing research, treating them with respect, bestowing dignity.

Society has institutions, like Family, Work and Economy. Sports get too much attention, Education too little.

Politics is about leading and being led, Military is about killing not to be killed.

These two get you into trouble. I have heard this afternoon much about leading, leaders, led. Führer and Duce are German and Italian for leader, “duce” also from educare, educate. Hitler and Mussolini.

Be careful. This is vertical and hierarchical even without nazism and fascism. Today we want horizontal social landscapes, with people relating equitably and harmoniously, through shared memberships and networks, both horizontal and inclusive. For mutual inspiration.

As to killing: the USA killed more than 20 million in 37 countries only after 1945 WWII; and has intervened 248 times militarily in other countries since Thomas Jefferson started in Libya in 1801. 20 million killed means 200 million bereaved–family, friends, neighbors, colleagues. They do not take easily to this type of US leadership.

And less than a century earlier two groups of Americans practiced those very same skills and leadership on each other. The Civil War.

Such was history. How about solving the underlying conflicts?

Instead of the 1850 compromise of shame, “keep slavery but give up the confederacy”, how about “keep much autonomy, but give up slavery”; for a Community of American States, not U.S.A but C.A.S? And in 1924, how about dropping the Versailles Treaty, removing Hitler’s best card?Read More »

Trump’s beefed up economics

By Jonathan Power

Donald Trump is changing the right wing’s economic spots. He is doing what Franklin Roosevelt did at the time of the Great Depression by increasing government spending – although it was the rearmament brought on by entering World War 2 that was an even more important factor in lifting America out of the doldrums.

He is following what Hitler did so successfully before World War 2 when he rebuilt Germany’s economic strength with autobahns and industrial subsidies (not rearmament in the beginning, as is often said). He is walking in the footsteps of President Richard Nixon who when he changed course with a new economic policy said, “We are all Keynesians now”.

John Maynard Keynes was the greatest economist who ever lived.

For reasons that were shameful, politicians have not listened to his advice as often as they should. The Germans, with their urge to austerity, have gone the other way, carrying (or pushing) nearly every European state with them, apart from Poland and Sweden which did not follow the herd and now have the best economic growth record of the last few years.

But Obama has certainly been Keynesian. Read More »

Bringing In the Future: An Essay on Time

By Johan Galtung

International Sociological Association Prize
New School for Social Research, New York NY, 15 Nov 2016

The West, and Western sciences in particular, have a peculiar way of conceptualizing time; derived from two millennia Christianity.

Thus, in the civilizations of Hinduism, Buddhism, China and Japan, to mention some, time flows from eternity to eternity. In the West (and Islam is similar), there is a Beginning (Creation for the religious, Big Bang for the secular), and an Ending, the End Time (Armageddon for the religious, entropy, death, etc. for others).

In others, time flows from past into a possibly different future; in the West, the future is continuous with the past. In the natural sciences, “laws” from the past are automatically valid for the future; reality being as stable as the planetary system, the galaxy; astronomy being the model. The Creation has been finished, once and for all.

In the social sciences, the future is largely off limits, taboo; predictions are often discarded as “wild speculations”. Extension of built-in trends into the future is permitted, but not forecasting with qualitative jumps. The underlying assumption is stable equilibrium, things have found their place and that’s it. Thus, no forecasting of (early) modernity during the Middle Ages, let alone working for it.

That is in theory, but the practice is different. People design their individual careers – life trajectories – and have always done so. For collective life there is politics, designing future societies.

But the social sciences are not supposed to be in it. They approach past and present with Read More »

Peace can be made with Russia

By Jonathan Power

November 22nd 2016

Trotsky, the one-time close comrade of Lenin, reportedly said, “You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you”.

This is how it seems to have been with President Barack Obama when it comes to his policy towards Russia.

Having come to power with President Vladimir Putin open to a closer relationship after the aggressive pushing forward of Nato’s frontier during the time of presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Obama will leave the presidency with a state of hostility between the Russia and the US that most thought had evaporated once the Cold War ended in 1991.

Now, instead of a life time of peace and cooperation ahead of us, as was widely thought, we have Russia engaged in nuclear sabre rattling and the US expanding the frontier of Nato even further right up to Russia’s border and trying to put the heat on over Russia’s involvement in the upheavals in Ukraine, using economic sanctions.

Some observers talk about war between the West and Russia. Although this could not happen as long as Angela Merkel is Chancellor of Germany and France remains French it may be a “damned close-run thing” (as the Duke of Wellington was supposed to have said after victory over Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo).

It is up to President-elect Donald TrumpRead More »

The Trump Presidency 1-5

By Johan Galtung
Writing in Washington

# 1
The 45th President of the USA, Donald Trump, delivered a highly presidential acceptance speech. The words chosen, how he spoke them, his body language, all belied the idea that he could not be presidential. How good a president, remains to be seen.

What matters now in his concrete action coming January. For instance, will he do as he promised, cancel out-sourcing, “trading” of industries to Mexico and “in-sourcing” them back to the USA, to recreate jobs for US workers?

However, the media are still too anti-Trump to realize he is their President, maybe hoping for some reversal. Also too struck by how wrong all the polls have been predicting an easy Hillary victory. They will probably go on with that for a long time.

I do not think there was any objective basis for predicting a Trump victory. Clinton had all criteria in her favor: president’s wife with influence, secretary of state, senator etc. Trump: not even office.

But Clinton’s criteria were elitist and status quo, Trump’s smacked of populism and basic change. The wind was blowing toward populism, which is, actually, what democracy is about, catering to the people.

And vast categories had suffered what the Greeks call a-timia, the loss of status, white-male-workers-Americans. 5-2 in favor of Trump. And the rust belt, the big mid-Western de-industrializing states, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Trump catered to their interests in revival, indeed also in hitting their negations in very unacceptable ways: women, colored, elites, immigrants.

But all of that does not a victory make. There is more to it.

Some idea of a “normal American”, in a “normal America”. Say Spain, that idea brought Franco to power. Answer: we do not know. We need more information. But a revolution it was.

Be that as it may. Much more important: his concrete actions.

(Originally published here)

#2
Trump periphery populism was as unseen by US elites as Brexit periphery populism by UK elites. Read More »

TFF PressInfo # 392: Just how grey are the White Helmets and their backers?

By Jan Oberg

Added at the bottom on November 23, 2016:

The – bizarre – White Helmet Mannequin Challenge video;

The Swedish Institute of International Affairs’s event with the White Helmets on November 24;

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation’s Award Ceremony to take place on November 25

While thousands of humanitarian organisations around the world are struggling fiercely with diminishing support from governments and the public, one has achieved a surprising amount of support from Western governments in a surprisingly short period of time and gained a surprising attention from mainstream media and ditto political elites: The Syrian Civil Defence or White Helmets.

Their name of course makes you think of the UN’s Blue Helmets and white is the colour of those who should be protected in harm’s way – and the colour of innocence. However, for many years there has been an Argentinian relief organisation with the same name.

The SCD or White Helmets counts nearly 3.000 rescue workers who operate in very dangerous areas in rebel-held territories in Syria and claims that it has, in three years, rescued about 70.000 lives according to its Twitter account (or 65 per day).

Contrary to what you might think, it isn’t a Syrian organisation because Syria has its own organisation, incidentally also called Syria Civil Defence, which was established in 1953 and is registered with ICDO, the International Civil Defence Organisation, since 1972.

The White Helmets seems to have an annual budget of US$ 30 million and has raised a total support of well over US$ 100 million. And it seems that they operate exclusively in war zones in which the fighting against the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army takes place, i.e. in ‘liberated’ areas where hundreds of groups and some 80 countries, mainly NATO members, Gulf states and Saudi-Arabia, operate.

On the White Helmets’ briefing page it is stated that “funding for their humanitarian relief work is received from the aid budgets of Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Here is how the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen explains the roughly US$ 9 million to the White helmets from Denmark, a country that bombs in both Iraq and Syria.

Other civil society and humanitarian organisations inside Syria have not been so fortunate. You’ve probably not heard that much about the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and its work? How much/little support have they received from Western humanitarian-concerned governments? And in general, civil society organisations in Syria – women, peace, human rights, culture, etc. – have received nothing like US$ 100 million in a few years and no one has such a flashy media appearance as the White Helmets.

Photo from the White Helmets’ homepage

The White Helmets was started in 2013 by James Le Mesurier who seems to have tried a little of everything everywhere, including the grey zones of special forces and intelligence in virtually all NATO wars, Yugoslavia in particular. He later set up a foundation in Holland to gather the funds. Here is a recent account by Scott Ritter, former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and weapons inspector in Iraq with tremendous knowledge of things Middle East:

“The organizational underpinnings of the White Helmets can be sourced to a March 2013 meeting in Istanbul between a retired British military officer, James Le Mesurier—who had experience in the murky world of private security companies and the shadowy confluence between national security and intelligence operations and international organizations—and representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Qatari Red Crescent Society. Earlier that month, the SNC was given Syria’s seat in the Arab League at a meeting of the league held in Qatar.

At that meeting, the SNC assumed Syria’s seat, and the Arab League authorized member states to actively provide support, including arms and ammunition, to the Syrian rebels. The Qataris, working through the SNC, helped assemble for Le Mesurier $300,000 in seed money from Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom for a seven-day course designed to train and equip a 25-person rescue team, recruited by the SNC, for duty in so-called “liberated areas” of Syria. The SNC made available a pair of Syrian activists—Raed Saleh and Farouq Habib—to assist Le Mesurier in this work.

The group is – as will be seen below – treated as uncontroversial in virtually all Western mainstream media. However, there is enough material with documentation to merit caution. Read More »

TFF PressInfo # 391: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, at 50. Now change name to SIMSI

By Jan Oberg

Is there a new cold war? And what steps can be taken by whom to reduce tension and make peace?

Indeed highly relevant issues in an era of European history where the characteristics of a new Cold War are becoming ever more significant. And a good intellectual way to celebrate an important research institute’s 50th Anniversary, namely SIPRI – Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Now, what was this SIPRI supposed to be 50 years ago as the brainchild of, among others, brilliant visionary sociologist and social democratic politician Alva Myrdal who later became Sweden’s disarmament ambassador, wrote an impressive book on disarmament and security and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982?

If you go to its entry at Wikipedia, it is very clearly spelled out in 1966 (my italics):

“A Swedish Royal Commission chaired by Ambassador Alva Myrdal proposed in its 1966 report to establish an institute, later named the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI. The Institute’s research should seek to contribute to “the understanding of the preconditions for a stable peace and for peaceful solutions of international conflicts” and the Commission recommended that research be concentrated on armaments, their limitation and reduction, and arms control. The Commission also recommended that SIPRI work be of “an applied research character directed towards practical-political questions [which] should be carried on in a constant interchange with research of a more theoretical kind”.”

However, here is today’s research programs of SIPRI – also from Wikipedia:

• The SIPRI Yearbook
• Euro-Atlantic Security and Arms Control
• Armed Conflict and Conflict Management
• Non-Proliferation and Export Controls
• Chemical and Biological Warfare
• Military Expenditure and Arms Production
• Arms Transfers
• IT Projects: “Facts on International Relations and Security Trends” and “An Internet-Based Early Warning Indicators System for Preventive Policy”

The character of this program is pretty obvious:

SIPRI studies wars and arms and very little, if at all, peaceful solutions to international conflicts and the – theoretical – conditions of a stable peace.

So here are Read More »