Infrastructure for Peace – What Works?

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, December 9, 2023
Remarks at Conference of GAMIP (Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace)

I’m sorry I’ve been too busy to have slides here, and am lucky just to have words. I’m also sorry there are so many Davids, King David being a horrible figure to name us all after, but David Adams and many other Davids are redeeming the name, I think.

Here we are in a moment when the world’s most self-righteous, self-appointed overseers of an international order are openly and proudly committing genocide, after having spent decades trumpeting their rejection of genocide and even using genocide as the primary justification for wars, as if most wars were not genocides and every genocide not a war. It seems an odd moment in which to talk about infrastructure for peace and especially about what works, what succeeds.

But if anything fails, if anything conspicuously does not work, it is war. Working for peace does not always bring peace, but waging war for peace never brings peace, never creates the borders or governments stated as the goals. The leading warmakers never win on their own terms or any terms. They fail over and over again, on their own terms and ours. In Ukraine, both sides finally admit failure and yet don’t know what to do about it. In Israel and Palestine, anyone who doesn’t think war brings more war is choosing not to think. War supporters should not talk to peace supporters about success unless they’re ready to admit that weapons profits and sadistic cruelty are the objectives of war.

There is no question that institutions created for peace or under the pretense of being for peace can be abused, that laws can be ignored, that laws and institutions can even become literally incomprehensible to a society so far gone for war that peace makes no sense to it. There is no question that ultimately what works is first and foremost an engaged society that educates and activates for peace, and that what is illegal is not what’s banned on a piece of paper unless that piece of paper leads to action.

But a society needs infrastructure, needs institutions, needs laws, as part of the culture of peace and as mechanisms for making peace. When wars are prevented or ended, when bases are closed, when weapons are dismantled, when nations denounce wars or propose peace negotiations, or try foreign warmakers in absentia, all of that too is done through institutions and infrastructure. And it’s important to recognize that the self-proclaimed crusaders for a so-called Rules Based Order are in reality the rogue outliers refusing to support what exists in the way of an actual order based on rules.

The United States is the leading holdout on basic human rights treaties and disarmament treaties, the leading violator of treaties on war and weapons dealing, leading opponent and saboteur of international courts. Israel is close behind. Calling an apartheid state openly created for one religious or ethnic group a democracy doesn’t make it one, and doesn’t diminish the need for actually fair and representative institutions. It also shouldn’t take away from the fact that most of the world’s governments are not at war and have not been so for decades or centuries.

The United Nations yesterday looked like it worked pretty darn well, like it gave voice to its governmental members, like some of those governments, maybe even a majority of them, spoke for their people, and like an institution supposedly created to rid the world of the scourge of war would take the obvious step that ought to go without saying of advocating for and beginning to work for the end of a particular war. And then came the U.S. veto, surprising absolutely nobody, every single observer having known from the start that the whole thing was a charade, the United States having effectively blocked this particular measure for months, and having vetoed the very idea of peace in Palestine or the application of the rule of law to Israel on dozens of previous occasions.

The most comical thing ever done by Volodymyr Zelensky was not the television sitcom in which he played the part of an actually good president. It was not his tour of the marble palaces of the NATO Empire dressed in battle gear to rub glorious blood and smoke onto the sleeves of airconditioned armchair warriors. It was his proposing, not too many weeks ago, to eliminate the veto at the UN Security Council. He was so far gone into believing U.S. propaganda that he thought a rules-based order in which the Russian government could not veto the will of the world’s governments would be acceptable to the world’s leading vetoer in Washington. This is comical because it’s not just hypocrisy, not just the dishonesty of the U.S. Secretary of State this week opposing ethnic cleansing if it’s in Sudan, or the U.S. so-called Institute of Peace having on its website today opposition to genocide if it was done by ISIS 10 years ago in Iraq. Zelensky may be a champion of hypocrisy, but he misunderstood his role so drastically that he blurted out what we actually need and apparently had no idea his weapons dealer in Washington would object.

We desperately need to reform or replace the United Nations with at the very least a body in which each national government is equal, and with a body that replaces armed peacekeeping with unarmed peacekeeping. The latter has been used so successfully in Bougainville, while armed peacekeeping has failed to make or keep the peace in dozens of locations around the globe, often making matters worse, while costing a fortune and reinforcing war mentalities and warmaking infrastructure. We have national governments that justify their militaries to their impoverished publics largely on the grounds that those militaries do UN peacekeeping and completely regardless of whether it works.

And as David Adams has explained, the reform or replacement needs to extend to UNESCO.

We need national governments to give people what they actually want. Instead of agencies of aggression mislabeled ministries of defense and departments of defense, we need agencies of actual defense, also known as peace. And we need not insist that they be mislabeled or disguised as departments of mass-murder. We can be satisfied with simply calling them what the are, departments of peace. But calling something that will not, by itself, make it that. As David Adams has recounted, the U.S. government answered a public demand by creating what it calls a U.S. Institute of Peace. That institute does some good things where those things don’t interfere with U.S. empire, but it has yet to oppose a single U.S. war anywhere ever. We need not only branches of governments pretending to favor peace, but actually working for peace and empowered to shape what those governments do. In nations with cultures and governments with low-levels of corruption able to work for peace, a Department of Peace working with a focus on peace is even better than a department of state or foreign affairs doing the same thing, which ought to be its job. There is more to peacemaking than just diplomacy, and much more than the sort of diplomacy done by wealthy bribe payers working at the direction of militaries and weapons-funded think tanks.

By the way, today’s New York Times praises France for carefully avoiding any diplomacy with Russia when some WWI Russian casualties were found and buried in France. Diplomacy is treated like a disease pandemic.

At is a collection of treaties, constitutions, and laws against war. I think it’s worth looking at them, both to understand how useless paper alone is, and to understand which pieces of paper we might choose to make better use of. Laws that ban all war are literally incomprehensible to people who imagine there is no defense against war but war. You can see this in certain nations’ constitutions that both ban all war and lay out the powers of various officials in waging war. How is that possible? Well, because war (when it is banned) is understood as bad war or aggressive war, and war (when it is managed and planned for) is understood as good war and defensive war. This isn’t even put into words, so there is no need to explain or define it. Thus we go on with wars, as every side of every war believes itself to be the good and defensive side, while if our great great grandparents had banned only bad and aggressive dueling, leaving good and defensive duelling in place, there would be legal and honorable assassinations at every meeting of the UN Security Council.

Let’s talk about a few things that work.

Diplomacy works. The fact that parties to wars can negotiate temporary ceasefires means that they could negotiate permanent ones. The fact that parties to war can negotiate prisoner exchanges and humanitarian aid and shipping lanes, etc., means that they could negotiate peace. Or at least it means that the excuse that the other side is incapable of speech due to being subhuman monsters is a lie. Negotiating compromise is done all the time, it’s just usually done when those in power give up on or get tired of a particular war; it could be done at any point during or prior to a war.

Disarmament works. Reduction of armaments by agreement or example leads to further disarmament by others. It also fails, in those cases, such as Libya, where a poor nation, rich in resources, defies the Rules-Based-Murder gang. But most nations don’t face that risk. And it’s a risk we can work to eliminate. Disarmament also fails for oppressive governments unable to go on oppressing their people, but that’s OK with me.

Closing Bases works. Hosting U.S. military bases in your nation makes it a target and makes war more, not less likely.

Abolishing militaries works. The model created by nations like Costa Rica is a success that should be expanded upon.

Moving the money works. Nations that invest more in human and environmental needs and less in militarism get happier and longer lives and fewer wars.

Treating crimes as crimes rather than excuses for worse crimes works. And addressing root causes works. Rather than Remember the Maine and to Hell with Spain, we ought to shout Remember Spain and to Hell with Pain. Foreign terrorism is always concentrated virtually entirely in nations engaged in foreign wars and occupations. On March 11, 2004, Al Qaeda bombs killed 191 people in Madrid, Spain, just before an election in which one party was campaigning against Spain’s participation in the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The people of Spain voted the Socialists into power, and they removed all Spanish troops from Iraq by May. There were no more bombs from foreign terrorists in Spain from that day to this. This history stands in strong contrast to that of Britain, the United States, and other nations that have responded to blowback with more war, generally producing more blowback. It is generally considered inappropriate to pay attention to the Spanish example, and U.S. media has even developed the habit of reporting on this history in Spain as if the opposite of what happened happened.

Prosecutors in Spain also pursued top U.S. officials for crimes, but the Spanish government caved under U.S. pressure, as had the government of the Netherlands and others. In theory the International Criminal Court is the global infrastructure that’s needed. But it answers to Western and U.S. pressure and to the Vetowhipped United Nations. This state of affairs seems to bewilder a large number of people who always object “But the U.S. isn’t even a member of the ICC — how can it possibly bow to U.S. pressure?” — usually adding the obligatory “How much is Putin paying you?” But not only is the U.S. not a member of the ICC, but it has punished other governments for supporting the ICC, it has sanctioned staff members of the ICC until it gets its way, it has effectively halted investigations of itself in Afghanistan and of Israel in Palestine, even while demanding investigation of Russians, but rather than support any international court, the U.S. this week opened a prosecution of Russians in a U.S. court in Virginia. The ICC has put on a show of investigating people all over the world, but the chief qualification for actually being prosecuted by the ICC remains being African. Several countries’ governments have accused the Israeli government of genocide and asked the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli officials, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Then there’s the International Court of Justice, which has ruled against Israel in the past, and if any one nation invokes the Genocide Convention, the court will be obliged to rule on the matter. If the ICJ determines that genocide is happening, then the ICC will not need to make that determination but only consider who is responsible. This has been done before. Bosnia and Herzegovina invoked the Genocide Convention against Serbia, and the ICJ ruled against Serbia. The crime of genocide is happening. The intentional destruction of a people, in whole or in part, is genocide. The law is meant to be used to prevent it, not just review it after the fact. Some of us at organizations like and World BEYOND War have generated many thousands of requests to governments that have accused Israel of genocide asking them to actually invoke the Genocide Convention at the ICJ. One guess is that the inaction is due largely to fear. That’s my guess also as to why journalists bow before Israel all the more, the more journalists it murders.

So, what do we need? Part of the answer is in what we need to get rid of. Costa Rica is better off without a military. I read an excellent book this week from New Zealand called Abolishing the Military about how much better off New Zealand would be without a military. The argument seemed applicable to almost anywhere else as well.

But part of the answer is what we need to create. And I think Departments of Peace are good titles for a lot of it. Others on this call know more than I do what has already been created in places like Costa Rica that have some infrastructure for peace, both governmental and educational. We need departments of peace that are empowered to publicly oppose warmongering by others in their own governments and by powerful governments abroad. Such a thing couldn’t exist in the U.S. government without outlawing bribery by weapons dealers, or what people in the United States euphemistically call campaign contributions. And if you did get rid of corruption, you could just have the U.S. Congress work for peace. But it would still need various agencies to do so, and other governments need those agencies if only to stand against the warmaking of governments like the U.S. or Russian or Israeli or Saudi, etc.

Within or in addition to a Department of Peace should be a Department of Unarmed Civilian Defense. Plans should be established, as in Lithuania, but not co-opted by the military, as in Lithuania, for training entire populations in unarmed noncooperation with occupation. This past year, World BEYOND War held its annual conference on this topic, and I recommend watching it at and I recommend sharing it with others. Have you ever met anyone who said “But you have to have war to defend yourself! What about Putin? or What about Hitler? or What about Netanyahu?” If you have not heard anyone say such things, please let me know what planet you are living on, because I would like to move there.

Of course, the reason governments won’t train their people in unarmed civilian defense is that then they would have to answer to their people.

Within or in addition to a Department of Peace should be a Department of Global Reparations and Assistance. Nations that have done more damage to the natural environment owe a debt to those that have done less. Nations that have more wealth, much of it exploited from elsewhere, ought to share with others. Sharing wealth with others costs dramatically less than militarism and does more to make one safe and secure. While recognizing problems with the Marshall Plan, some call this sort of project a Global Marshall Plan.

Within or in addition to a Department of Peace should be a Department of Actual Defense Against Non-Optional Threats. In place of seeking out places in which to engage in mass murder, this department would seek out ways to collaborate and cooperate globally on threats that face us whether we work to create them or not, such as environmental collapse, homelessness, poverty, disease, hunger, etc.

Within or in addition to a Department of Peace should be a Department of Global Citizenship. This would be an agency tasked to determine whether its government is doing everything it can to cooperate and uphold a global system of law and amicable relations. What treaties need to be joined or created? What treaties need to be upheld? What domestic laws are needed to comply with treaty obligations? What can this country do to hold rogue nations, small or large, to the standards of others? How can international courts be empowered or universal jurisdiction employed? Standing up to empire is a duty of a global citizen in the way that we think of voting or waving flags as a duty of a national citizen.

Within or in addition to a Department of Peace should be a Department of Truth and Reconciliation. This is something that works and that is needed in most locations on Earth. We need to admit what has been done, try to make it right, and try to do better going forward. In our personal lives we just call this honesty. In our public life it is a key to reducing conflict, saving money, sparing lives, and establishing habits other than hypocrisy.

The work to create the sort of government with all of these things in it needs to be done as strategically as possible to get the ideal structures firmly established. It also needs to be done as publicly and educationally as possible, because we need a society capable of valuing and protecting such departments and functions.

Something else that works, that some of us take for granted, is freedom of speech and press and assembly. And to some extent we have societies capable of valuing and protecting those things. They make a huge difference. That is of course why war proponents are targeting free speech and especially targeting educational institutions like U.S. colleges, pushing for a crackdown on free speech.

Why do we have more activism against a war on Gaza than other wars? It’s not just the nature of the war. It’s also years of educational work and organizing, which has gone on because of so many wars against Palestine. We have to be able to educate or we’re doomed.

I do not of course mean that we need the freedom to advocate genocide against Jews. I think the legal ban on war propaganda should actually be upheld, that laws against instigating violence should actually be upheld, and that genocide is both war and violence.

I do of course mean that we need the freedom to criticize the Israeli government and the U.S. government and every other government on Earth and to say things not approved of by war profiteers.

Above all, beyond any law or agency, we need a culture of peace, schools that educate, communications systems not operating under the influence of weapons dealers. Above all, we need people who get active, who turn out in the streets and the suites, who shut down business as usual, and the understanding that that is the civic duty of good citizens. We have seen glimmers of this at various moments in history, including the past two months.

Part of our activism should be advocating for and building the infrastructure we want and the society we need to implement it. In the United States in recent weeks we have seen major labor unions come out against mass murder. That should be the norm. Those who care about people should see labor and peace as two parts of one movement. Organizations of workers should become infrastructure for peace and justice and sustainability. They are generally not that, but one can imagine it and work to make it real.

We need media infrastructure for communicating about peace and about peace activism. For the most part, our better media outlets are too small, our larger media outlets are too corrupt, and our public fora and social media are too censored and dominated and algorithmed by unrepresentative overlords. But there are glimmers of what’s needed, and we are able to work by stages and observe the gradual progress toward what’s needed in this area.

We can find the ways we need to communicate to others the facts and the feelings needed to get them to act. We can establish shadow departments of peace and demonstrate what they would do. We can document the horrors we are supposed to turn away from, and instead hold them up to the light.

Imagine living in Gaza and receiving a phone call from the Israeli military telling you that you are about to be killed. There are actually global human rights groups protesting when such warnings are not provided. Imagine fleeing a make-shift shelter in a school so as not to endanger everyone there, and fleeing to your sister’s house. Imagine keeping your phone with you so as to communicate to the outside world what is being done in the name of goodness and democracy. And then imagine being blown up along with your sister and her children.

Imagine a group of small children in the street. Imagine them very similar to the children in a park near your home. Imagine them with names and games and laughter and all the details that are said to “humanize” whatever the hell people supposedly are prior to getting humanized. And then imagine them blown to pieces, most of them killed instantly, but a few of them screaming and moaning in pain, bleeding to death or wishing that they could. And imagine the scene repeated thousands of times over. Tolerating this is indecent. Decency is not speaking in a manner acceptable to the U.S. Congress or the European Union. Decency is refusing the side of the executioners.

Over a hundred years ago in Europe a man named Bruce Bairnsfather wrote down an account of something that suggested how easily people could cease supporting the madness of militarism. He wrote:

“It was now nearing Christmas Day, and we knew it would fall to our lot to be back in the trenches again on the 23rd of December, and that we would, in consequence, spend our Christmas there. I remember at the time being very down on my luck about this, as anything in the nature of Christmas Day festivities was obviously knocked on the head. Now, however, looking back on it all, I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. Well, as I said before, we went ‘in’ again on the 23rd. The weather had now become very fine and cold. The dawn of the 24th brought a perfectly still, cold, frosty day. The spirit of Christmas began to permeate us all; we tried to plot ways and means of making the next day, Christmas, different in some way to others. Invitations from one dug-out to another for sundry meals were beginning to circulate. Christmas Eve was, in the way of weather, everything that Christmas Eve should be. I was billed to appear at a dug-out about a quarter of a mile to the left that evening to have rather a special thing in trench dinners—not quite so much bully and Maconochie about as usual. A bottle of red wine and a medley of tinned things from home deputized in their absence. The day had been entirely free from shelling, and somehow we all felt that the Boches, too, wanted to be quiet. There was a kind of an invisible, intangible feeling extending across the frozen swamp between the two lines, which said ‘This is Christmas Eve for both of us—something in common.’ About 10 p.m. I made my exit from the convivial dug-out on the left of our line and walked back to my own lair. On arriving at my own bit of trench I found several of the men standing about, and all very cheerful. There was a good bit of singing and talking going on, jokes and jibes on our curious Christmas Eve, as contrasted with any former one, were thick in the air. One of my men turned to me and said: ‘You can ‘ear ’em quite plain, sir!’ ‘Hear what?’ I inquired. ‘The Germans over there, sir; ‘ear ’em singin’ and playin’ on a band or somethin’.’ I listened;—away out across the field, among the dark shadows beyond, I could hear the murmur of voices, and an occasional burst of some unintelligible song would come floating out on the frosty air. The singing seemed to be loudest and most distinct a bit to our right. I popped into my dug-out and found the platoon commander. ‘Do you hear the Boches kicking up that racket over there?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he replied; ‘they’ve been at it some time!’ ‘Come on,’ said I, ‘let’s go along the trench to the hedge there on the right—that’s the nearest point to them, over there.’ So we stumbled along our now hard, frosted ditch, and scrambling up on to the bank above, strode across the field to our next bit of trench on the right. Everyone was listening. An improvised Boche band was playing a precarious version of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, uber Alles,’ at the conclusion of which, some of our mouth-organ experts retaliated with snatches of ragtime songs and imitations of the German tune. Suddenly we heard a confused shouting from the other side. We all stopped to listen. The shout came again. A voice in the darkness shouted in English, with a strong German accent, ‘Come over here!’ A ripple of mirth swept along our trench, followed by a rude outburst of mouth organs and laughter. Presently, in a lull, one of our sergeants repeated the request, ‘Come over here!’ ‘You come half-way—I come half-way,’ floated out of the darkness. ‘Come on, then!’ shouted the sergeant. ‘I’m coming along the hedge!’”

And of course this happened in numerous places. Men charged with killing each other made friends, held what today is called a humanitarian pause, and more than that a particularly clear demonstration that a different world is possible.

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