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Rising global tension:
Stress, violence and peace in the Balkans

Dai Williams, 25th April 1999
(see also Balkans Aftermath - review of 9 August 1999)

The cumulative effects of stress and trauma may be key factors in the judgement of Nato leaders, the behaviour of civilians and troops in the Balkans and outbreaks of violence in other countries. Continuing strategies of violence threaten global escalation of current conflicts. Psychological principles of stress and change (described in a separate Appendix Fear and violence in stressed populations) indicate the urgent need to consider alternative strategies for de-escalation and peacebuilding, and for new international peace resources.

  1. World leaders under stress, US & UK
  2. Inner conflict, stress and strategic errors
  3. The Balkans conflict: psychology vs. technology
  4. Are Nato leaders failing to adapt?
  5. Escalating tension, violence and brutality
  6. Tension breeds violence - the global tinderbox
  7. Stress, crisis and survival
  8. Crisis intervention - adding fuel to the fire?
  9. De-escalation: turning the tide of violence
  10. A defining moment for peace
  11. Buying time for reflection
  12. Peacebuilding - defusing the global time bomb
  13. Nato's choices - peace, confusion or conflagration

1. World leaders under stress, US and UK

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have an abundance of military and political advisers. But either they have no advice on peace or community psychology, or they are not heeding it. Both leaders have high moral principles. But they may be relying too much on their own judgement to balance military and peacebuilding strategies.

Both leaders are likely to have experienced moderate to severe stress for over 18 months. High stress for extended periods can seriously impair strategic judgement. For most people severe stress affects concentration, confidence, relationships, tolerance, short term memory and sleep patterns leading to chronic fatigue, errors or accidents and pre-occupation with immediate issues. Under stress we are likely to become reactive rather than pro-active. High stress professions often encourage high fitness and special training, plus recovery time after intensive operations. There is little opportunity for these in the work of senior UK politicians.

World leaders work under major pressures from information overload, domestic and world events and media attention. These expose them to the risks of chronic stress, exacerbated by specific events, eg the terrorist attacks on American embassies and Omagh last summer, longer periods of political crisis eg the Lewinsky affair, cabinet tensions in the UK Government through the winters of 1997 and 98 and most all war (ref 2).

Politicians appear to thrive on stress but in doing so may over control or scapegoat others. When they lighten up they may excel in diplomacy as Tony Blair did in the Irish Peace talks in spring 98, and Bill Clinton did in the Middle East peace talks in October 98. In both cases their mission was consistent with their expressed concern for social justice and used their mediating skills, until other crises developed.

2. Inner conflict, stress and strategic errors

Stress may be most severe 5-6 months after a major personal trauma. This can result from situations where deep inner beliefs have been violated by trauma or change resulting in a transition crisis (ref 2). At these times strategic vision may be most deeply impaired. If unresolved this crisis may continue for several months, sometimes much longer.

A classic psychological response to inner conflict is to project one's angst onto someone else. In February 1998 Clinton, Blair and Cook wanted to attack Iraq, each in a period of significant work or personal crisis. Less pre-occupied world leaders counselled peace, duly brokered by Kofi Annan. In August Clinton persuaded Blair (likely to be in shock from visiting victims of the Omagh bomb ) to support retaliation strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan, without consulting Foreign Secretary Cook or the UN. They acted together again against Iraq in December.

Bill Clinton's decision to attack both Bin Lardin's fortress in Afghanistan, and a civilian pharmaceutical installation in the Sudan in August 98 caused outrage in the Muslim press, a strategic error for western/Islamic relations. Sudan went into a political crisis several months later. Misleading intelligence made both Clinton and Blair complicit in approving the death of civilians. What effect did this have on their beliefs in moral integrity?

It was scarcely 5 months after the traumas of the US embassy bombs and 4 after Omagh, when Clinton and Blair launched their attack on Iraq. This did not unseat Saddam Hussein but antagonised millions of Iraqi civilians and added to the as yet unknown consequences of the Sudan fiasco on Muslim sentiments in many countries. It also added to the humanitarian disaster of ongoing sanctions in Iraq.

It is significant that the UK Cabinet went into a period of internal conflict at the time of the new Iraq war. Mandelson and Robinson became scapegoats, a repeat performance of Cabinet tensions a year before. When a leader is stressed this is likely to affect the stress, morale and performance of their team. Several ministers may have felt compromised by Blair's commitment to support Clinton against Iraq (ref 4).

By January 1999 both Clinton and Blair were likely to be in an extended crisis phase of personal doubt and guilt over their actions in Sudan and Iraq. By this time the body count of civilian casualties resulting from earlier decisions would either be affecting their conscience, or generating significant denial. Either way they must have contravened some of their most deeply held principles.

Acting against one's principles is a likely job demand on many national or commercial leaders. But consider the difference between sociopaths like Milosevic or Saddam Hussein and intending humanitarian leaders like Clinton and Blair. Cognitive dissonance is the inner psychological conflict that occurs when one's actions or situation deeply contradict one's inner beliefs, one form of stress.

Saddam Hussein and Milosevic are less likely to suffer a crisis of conscience. The behaviour of sociopaths and psychopaths needs psychiatric interpretation. However they may be vulnerable 5-6 months after each war began, if not through a personal reaction then due to potential rebellion as their people go through a transition crisis. For Saddam Hussein this may occur in May or June; for Milosevic in August or September if he is still in power then.

Politicians and others can break out of this crisis by a making radical change in their thinking, sometimes appearing as a defining moment (ref 3) see section 10.

3. The Balkans conflict: psychology vs. technology

The Balkans campaign seems to have been a catalogue of errors. With hindsight there was insufficient preparation and delayed deployment of forces. Nato tried to negotiate peace between Serbia and Kosovo through the autumn to develop the Rambouillet agreement but ultimately Milosevic declined to sign. Subsequent intelligence indicated that Milosevic was already planning the Kosovo ethnic cleansing programme (Operation Horseshoe) during and after these negotiations in November 98. But it sounds as if Clinton and Blair were more pre-occupied with their attack plans for Iraq. This gave Milosevic the winter to launch his plans (bad fighting weather). With hindsight the Kosova situation was more urgent than Iraq.

By publicly renouncing the use ground forces Nato leaders made another strategic error - the opportunity for Milosevic to complete ethnic cleansing. Clinton missed a key planning meeting due to legal action against him at home. As in Iraq neither UN nor Nato failed to call Milosevic to account for atrocities against the Kosovan minority before wreaking its own havoc on Serbia's economic as well as military infrastructure. Whatever Nato's political and military strategy it was far too late to prevent the Kosovan refugee exodus and accompanying genocide.

The Balkans conflict is like a deadly game of football. Milosevic is playing on his home ground, his ruthless action consistent with his personality. Clinton and Blair are playing away from home, on strange territory, against a different culture to rules that are alien to their expressed beliefs. Their actions seemed guided by military technologists, over-confident in the supremacy of high-tech warfare over social reality.

Milosevic is not insane - he is a skilful tactician and highly manipulative political leader with a practical understanding of Balkan psychology. But in western terms he appears to be a sociopath - quite ruthless and unconcerned by western moral values or prevailing concepts of human rights. Yet for his own population he has fostered nationalistic patriotism with skilful media manipulation. For the Kosovan Albanians he simply used fear to stampede them into exodus. He has learned that fear breeds fear, as a fire drives wild animals before it. He is using ancient military logic: stampede civilians into the face of your enemy and let panic do the rest.

The US and UK governments have misread Milosevic's mind, and the psychology of his troops and civilian population. How often has bombing demoralised patriots - the Blitz, Vietnam? How much less in a proud nation that has fought for its identity over decades, even centuries? And how often has the logical prospect of heavy losses forced a dictator to change personality and admit that he was wrong, short of major devastation or invasion? Neither Saddam Hussein nor Milosevic have responded to this so far. Germany and Japan only capitulated after major devastation. Nato is now pursuing the devastation or "pastualisation" option mentioned last week by a Government Minister.

So far [this paper was written 4 weeks after Nato action started] the bombing of Serbia is reported to have enhanced Milosevic's power with his people, and seriously weakened opposition parties. Though Nato is winning the technical war it has already lost the psychological war for Serbia.

If Serbia is to be rehabilitated peacefully within Europe then perhaps other EU leaders will have to find a way to win over "hearts and minds". Otherwise Serbia may remain as before - an even more deeply damaged and resentful nation in stalemate with the US and UK like Iraq. This has a highly unstable prognosis.

The alternative must be to seek positive peacebuilding strategies for psychological recovery and stabilisation. There is a short window of opportunity to start this very soon, probably as an EU / UN joint venture. Commercial interests are already looking for the economic opportunities that go with this scenario. Technology is not the key to peace.

4. Are Nato leaders failing to adapt?

These major errors of judgement might not have occurred if Clinton or Blair had experienced war personally. But it is too soon for them to have learned the lessons of the Sudan or Iraq. They have forfeited their humanitarian virginity. Once a leader has used violence it seems to be easier to do so again, on a greater scale.

In this situation they have deeply compromised their past instincts for peace and reconciliation. They may use the words. But now they have blood on their hands. This is not World War 2 with months of phoney war to adjust to the new reality. They were into war at the deep end from Day 1 in Iraq and again in the Balkans.

As yet they have not had enough time to re-tune their minds, to find some inner reconciliation between their beliefs and action. Far worse, being already highly stressed they have been plunged into the 24-hour days of war management.

Probably driven on adrenaline Tony Blair rushes from country to country trying to control the game, potentially increasing his fatigue and reducing his vision. Over the past 2 years neither Clinton nor Blair have been given to changing their minds, or to admitting their mistakes. Nato's whole strategy now hangs on their ability to adapt fast and radically.

Parliament, press, radio and TV are fairly loyal to Government in times of war. The psychology of patriotism fast overrides the wider truth. Token objections to this new war are debated vigorously, gestures to democracy. But serious challenges are quietly lost in silence, or worse may be subtly ridiculed.

For example "Depleted Uranium? - Never heard of it, not a problem, not here" and "We don't discuss operational matters." (examples of NATO messages in the past 3 weeks). Would the media publish a headline saying that "US and UK governments launch chemical weapons attack on Belgrade and Kosovan villages" ? Unlikely - at least not yet. This would be considered as Serbian propaganda. In fairness the US Government have come not come to terms with knowingly using chemical weapons (DU) in the Iraq war 8 years ago. They are unlikely to admit it quickly in the Balkans.

How has NATO responded to the tragic accident of friendly fire on Kosovan refugees? "OK we own up. In fact let's talk about this some more (so you don't discuss the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Serbia, on the same scale as Kosovo)." The UK media tend to accept the daily agenda set by Nato leaders and spokesmen.

On Nato's 50th Anniversary the tragedy is that the only solution Nato leaders could find to this disaster was to intensify attacks. Nato seems unable to adapt to the human complexity of the modern world.

The European community has many overlaps with Nato. But it is a community of people as well as nations, not a technical network of bombs. Perhaps a human community will have deeper understanding of rapidly changing social realities.

5. Escalating tension, violence and brutality

In every community there are a small number of violent people. But many people in most populations have the potential for violence under extreme threat and stress. As stress levels rise hormones trigger the "fight or flight" response (ref 1). We have seen this recently in South Africa, Rwanda, Sierra Leone as well as Kosovo. And when whole communities are threatened, community loyalty (patriotism) demonises the enemy. This does not just legitimise violent action: it becomes a duty, like killing vermin. Almost every war has told this story.

A study of torturers 3-4 years ago found that only about 10% were psychiatric psychopaths. The rest were psychologically "normal". History warns us that the potential for brutality exists in most of us if the cause seems just. Only the strictest moral or military discipline can restrain this human vulnerability - applied much (but not all) of the time by Allied forces in World War 2.

For this reason it is likely that most of the war criminals in Serbia will not even realise that to rape and murder their enemies is wrong - it is even a duty. They have long crossed the threshold from humanity to brutality, reinforced by patriotism. We may expect mass mine fields or poisoned water supplies to follow the refugee expulsion.

America and Great Britain are the least likely nations to understand this mind shift, except the 15% who still remember the cruelty of WW2 first hand. We don't even understand it in Northern Ireland. Most of our wars have been overseas. We have to listen to the wisdom of other countries - France, Germany, Benelux, Russia, China and more - to learn about the reality of patriotism, war and occupation.

Clinton and Blair do not share this experience. Nor do most of the UK or US population whose views make up public opinion. To younger generations war is a computer game or a film on TV - where pain and fear happen to someone else. Our own vulnerability to patriotism and jingoism was seen in the Falklands war.

In my childhood hurting someone else weaker than you, with no risk to yourself, was the hallmark of bullies and sadists. This is the dark side of Homo sapiens, whatever our race, bred in our species over hundreds of thousands of years. Modern civilisation is too brief moment in time for this be erased from our genetic code. This is the charge we lay on the Serbian ethnic cleansing - with good reason. But it is also what the US, UK and allies have done in Iraq and Serbia by high-tech bombing action - safer for our troops, no less brutal to its victims by being at the end of a laser beam than a disembowelling knife.

The grim reality is that we and our leaders may have the same potential for brutality as Milosevic and his troops in Kosova. This is clear to see in Iraq - over 500,000 deaths in the past 8 years from a combination of war, economic sanctions and the lingering effects of Depleted Uranium attacks. It remains to be told what the cost of the Nato bombing campaign will be on civilians in Serbia, and Kosovan refugees who return to Depleted Uranium poisoned villages.

I would like to be wrong. But my impression of modern war, sanitised by the media and our own governments' propaganda, is that it is as brutal to men, women and children in 1999 as it ever was before. Recent reports indicate that late 20th century wars have far higher impacts on innocent civilians than even the two World Wars. Smart bombs and cruise missiles - with Depleted Uranium in their tails still present a lingering lethal threat to civilians within a kilometre of their targets. But these military secrets are conveniently unavailable even in our open societies.

6. Tension breeds violence - the global tinderbox

Outbreaks of mindless violence in the US and UK in the past few days should not be a surprise. The rumour of war stirs deep instincts in many, to surface first in those of fighting age. Perhaps if there was mass conscription this fire of youth might be tempered slightly by fear of the real conflict soon to come. But for young people fed on a generation of virtual violence on film, TV and now video games this ancient aggression lies dangerously near the surface.

The World Cup football series and the Super Bowl created an epidemic of domestic violence last year. Police and hospitals now plan for this threat. How much more provocative are the daily images of real war, with the insidious influence of patriotic propaganda fed by the less responsible media? We should not be surprised that extreme right wing groups choose this time to start terrorist action. Those who know of them know that they have been rehearsing for years. Other groups may not be far behind.

And these stirrings of violence are in our own communities. How much deeper, darker, faster the fire may be rising in countries with more recent experience of war or injustice - Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa? Tension is already high in half the world destabilised in the new Global Recession and can be seen flashing over into violence and riots in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The world is becoming a tinderbox. Economic, religious and ethnic tensions abound. Global tension is rising like global warming, but much faster. As each community comes under higher stress more and more individuals will pass from anxiety to anger on their personal arousal curve. Road rage is just a symptom of more people reaching their breaking point, losing control and regressing to primitive, mindless violence in increasingly stressed societies.

In this context the last thing that the world needs now is more violence. The undeclared war in the Balkans is no joke for both Kosovans and Serbians - a war by any other name. In war the cards are down. Their pack is threatened with extinction. Personal survival is less important than the survival of the clan. Each one now more willing to die for what they believe in.

Morality is relative to culture, whether in New York or Belgrade, Northern Ireland, Kosovo or Serbia. "My truth is not your truth. But it is all I know. Now I am ready to die for it." Expatriate Kosovans now returning to support the KLA have described this point of no return very clearly. If only their commitment could be trained for peacemaking, not killing. Now they are just lambs going to slaughter if they fight battle hardened Serbians.

One way to analyse uncertain situations is to look for several scenarios. After four weeks into the Balkans war it is too soon to know how it will develop. The original Nato scenario - that Milosevic would submit when faced with Nato missile power - has failed. The next Nato scenario is that increased intensity of bombing will achieve victory or submission - Nato's latest plan. But this path has multiple scenarios too. The optimistic one looks for a new awakening in Serbia, rejecting Milosevic. More doubtful ones anticipate as mass refugee exodus from Serbia into neighbouring states, and collapse of Serbia into anarchy dominated by organised crime when the genocide teams retreat from Kosova.

There are more dark scenarios than good ones in Nato's current plans. On the media Nato leaders Blair and Clinton are still talking up more bombing, and proposing to blockade Russian shipping supplies. These are all escalation scenarios. We can only hope that peacebuilding options are also being developed in parallel without media coverage.

7. Stress, crisis and survival

For individuals one antidote to stress is calm. Why is this so important? Stress can cause a vicious circle of problems that becomes a spiral of despair. As stress impairs judgement we make more mistakes, creating more problems and more stress until we lose control in violence or mental collapse. This crisis damages our work, health and relationships. In communities it may need a team of family, friends or professionals to help even one person to regain control and rebuild their life. For a family in crisis this reconstruction process can take months and years. In communities it will take years, sometimes decades. This is why peace is so precious to maintain stable societies.

When an individual or organisation gets into a cycle of problems, like a pilot in a spin. The hazard is of losing total control of the situation as problems proliferate faster than they can be resolved. As problems escalate following the original course of action becomes a route to disaster. This appears to be the pattern of current Nato actions in the Balkans.

But any point individual leaders or teams can decide to stop, to seek alternative options. They can act to change strategy and reverse the situation. Any positive action, however small, is an act of hope. Small victories build confidence to take bolder action, and begin to regain control, like a pilot of a spinning aircraft breaking out of a spin. The first step is the hardest - sometimes just recognising that a situation is getting out of control and changing plans. Gradually the vicious circle can be reversed into a virtuous circle. Each step gets easier.

In a personal crisis the first task is to manage stress and panic to stabilise the situation (ref 5). Others can help or hinder. A crisis is no time to make strategic decisions, unless someone not involved can be consulted. When decisions must be made it is vital to check options - following a single path may be perilous. But with these steps individuals and groups can regain control of a bad situation.

I see these processes in my work with individuals and organisations coping with trauma, stress and change. They seem relevant to understanding the psychology of crisis in communities and governments. Change in organisations or communities must involve personal change for each individual, and most importantly for leaders and managers. And stress must be managed before individuals can think coherently of change.

In the Balkans context the paramount task is to reduce the pressures on each individual. In war these pressures are immense - the immediate threat of death or injury to self, family and friends, and the growing threats of hunger, thirst, illness and poverty. Many will be victims of multiple trauma and loss. Every avoidable stress must be reduced. A traumatised community in must have its basic survival needs met. A community in fear must sense some protection, from dangers within or without.

Nato's action in providing essential resources for refugees has created many of these conditions in neighbouring countries, valuable as first stage support after major traumas. But within Kosovo and Serbia bombing is most likely to increase stress and fear, as reported on BBC News Online.

8. Crisis intervention - adding fuel to the fire?

To protect minorities, whether in Kosovo, Belfast or Brixton, is a vital priority. Armed soldiers may be needed to quell immediate armed violence. But unarmed police or peacekeeping forces may be more effective in building trust than armed troops for building trust. Peacemakers within each community are better yet. They exist in many communities - perhaps 500 in Northern Ireland. But their work is rarely recognised in the media or financially supported by government. Justice, fairness, trust and respect are crucial to interventions that seek to re-establish security and the rule of law.

The use of main force, except most precisely targeted at the individuals orchestrating violence or fear, can only be counterproductive because it increases fear and therefore stress. This was the tragedy in Kosovo. For a decade those who brokered peace were neglected by the west. As a result counsels of violence prevailed over counsels of restraint and the KLA was born, escalating the ethnic tension fostered by Milosevic. A similar situation in Northern Ireland contributed to the Troubles 30 years ago.

The use of main force to intimidate the people of Serbia now (and Iraq last year) was a strategic error of the first magnitude, inflaming not defusing nationalism. The futility of preserving violent leaders in the name of sovereign immunity is as evident in Serbia and Iraq as it was in Uganda or a score of nations from the Philippines to the Caribbean. Yet this has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy for decades.

Where is the justice in declaring a make-up girl in a TV studio to be a fair victim of war (after a Nato missile hit the Serb TV studio) while saying that the dictator who ruled her world is not a target? These contradictions are beyond my understanding. Sovereign immunity at the cost of many civilian lives seems part of old traditions of imperial diplomacy with no place in a world now striving for greater human rights.

9. De-escalation: turning the tide of violence

The immediate priority for the Balkans is to reduce every possible source of tension day by day. The German Government's proposal for a 24-hour truce was the most positive suggestion in this direction. But two days would be better than one and a week would be better still.

An immediate halt to bombing in Serbia would give precious hours and days for the people to reflect - a chance to get a few nights sleep, to unwind the physical and mental tension of weeks. It is hard to think clearly in such a stressed condition, far less to plan positive, creative action.

Even a halt to attacks on Serbian troops in Kosovo for 3 days would make sense - with the ultimatum that this time is the one chance for them to retreat. It would need the sure promise that ground forces would follow soon afterwards.

As important as reducing fear of sudden death would be air drops of humanitarian supplies to meet basic survival needs. These are vital for refugees still in Kosovo, including the KLA. Perhaps even to the Serbian forces. The psychology of this is about restoring hope and trust. It would offer a chance of life to people who have already resigned themselves to death for several weeks. Until now they have nothing to gain, only to sell their life as dearly as they can, whether Serb or Kosovan.

A cessation of violence would de-escalate the tension in neighbouring countries, as far as Russia. There is no need to threaten a blockade, except of weapons. The supply routes for oil should have been crippled by now. The blockade seems more like an act of defiance to Russia than a threat to a crippled Serbia.

10. A defining moment for peace

We do not change our views or beliefs because someone tells us too. We only change after an extreme crisis in our lives when we realise that something of past beliefs has to be let go. This has to happen within each individual on their own terms.

A defining moment occurs when we realise it is time to let go of some hope or belief no longer tenable. This might be called surrender or rebellion. It is the essence of personal liberation and opens a new phase of creative optimism. For those who have lived in fear or depression for years a new opportunity may trigger this cathartic release. For others newly traumatised this may take another 6-8 months.

But in a supportive community this potential recovery can happen even after deep loss as has begun recently for several victims of last summer's Omagh bomb. In Northern Ireland such liberated victims have become catalysts for peace and reconciliation. If the most traumatised victims can forgive what right have others to prolong conflict with less cause?

11. Buying time for Reflection

If the world is to help the people of Serbia and Kosovo to escape from the tyranny of Milosevic and his military leaders it must offer them a better alternative - reasons for hope, for dignity and respect. The social, economic and political situation is in a time of war is far too complex and unstable to find a lasting solution at this time. It can be a moratorium on violence and fear.

Peacebuilding will take months and years. Whatever errors or atrocities have been committed they do not justify more. Chaos is far advanced in Serbia as well as Kosovo. The absolute priority is to restore some sense of calm. This implies a mass peace force from other nations, respected as neutral by the people of Kosovo and Serbia. This can only be from the UN. NATO troops may hold the ground until this is established. But American and British troops are unlikely to be trusted in Serbia for future peacekeeping after the attacks of recent weeks.

Time is needed for reflection by all sides, including the US and UK governments. The stress on senior ministers has been evident in their behaviour in recent days. Even one week of decent sleep would make a difference.

Most of all NATO national leaders, primarily Clinton and Blair, need to take a real break. Until then their stress and adrenaline levels will continue to cloud they vision and continue to impair their decisions.

In this time for reflection calmer counsels may prevail. More positive, constructive views will emerge, clearer visions of the new reality - in both Kosovo and Serbia as broken communities start their long path of healing.

In this period of calm wiser counsels may also restore a sense of global perspective. The world turns fast to the Millennium. Over the past 9 months western governments have dangerously neglected the prospect of global collapse next year. There were precious months the world could not afford to waste.

Every week to the Millennium is now precious. Larger organisations may be prepared. But in the UK and other countries community preparedness has not even begun. If there are real problems next January the tragedy of Kosovo, Iraq and Serbia will seem a century ago as many communities around the world face a level of disruption unknown since the last world war.

12. Peacebuilding - defusing the global time bomb

In everyday life we all know that fear and violence become a vicious circle. The fight in the pub can soon spill onto the pavement. Violence in a community leads to clans and gangs and sects. The pack rules - it is the only way to survive.

BUT human nature also knows another way. Another human instinct knows that violence could destroy our own community. A lesser number of people carry the peace gene: drawn in to heal rifts, to calm the feud, to say "break it up lads". It takes courage to walk into the fight unarmed to calm it down. But in the UK we expect our police to do this every day. And they do.

Anthropologists recognised this healing power in communities 30 years ago (Gluckman - Custom and Conflict in Africa). Though unexpected, conflict can generate new powers of cohesion, if only to survive a greater threat. In 1999 there are two greater threats: global conflict and Millennium chaos.

The proposal to escalate the conflict in the Balkans by Clinton and Blair is a formula for double disaster - the risk of widening global conflict just when the world faces its biggest economic challenge for 50 years.

The path of violence now leads to Apocalypse, led by a few deeply stressed men. NATO military forces have two prime resources: weapons of destruction and skills of organisation. For months they have been focussed on violence and destruction. But at the same time the great value of their organising skills has emerged in their help for refugees.

Nato's greatest weakness is that its resources for making peace are minimal compared to its resources for making war. This requires two changes:

1. Military forces should be concentrated on organisation for peace and logistic reconstruction, not disruption for continuing conflict.

2. NATO Governments need to enlist new advisers and resources - a peace force run by those who have specialised in peace for years.

Unless Clinton and Blair initiate a change of strategy to scale down the conflict they will forfeit any credibility to be architects of a new peace. The two leading voices of moderation are UN's Kofi Annan and Chancellor Schroder.

Perhaps the UN should ask all nations to appoint a Minister for Peace, quite separate from existing military or diplomatic organisations. And a major share of UK and US defence expenditure needs to be immediately re-channelled into a Ministry of Peace. This would provide the training and resources needed to build peace and reconciliation within and between nations. In the wider global context this should not less than 25% of existing military spending per country this year and next, and an increasing proportion in the future.

There is no time to waste. These propositions need to begin this week. The plan to intensify the war is only one option. Others are to cease attacks on Serbia and concentrate on forces in Kosovo, or to call an immediate cease-fire.

For the reasons above I suggest that the only prospect for a voluntary reduction in Serbian violence will be through de-escalating NATO attacks on the Serbian population and remaining infrastructure.

If this is not done NATO will face increasing nationalistic solidarity within the Serbian population that can only be quelled by total defeat, invasion and long occupation. Such a strategy may involve major Russian intervention, or drag until it collapses in the Millennium transition or through multiple conflicts arising in the region and Middle East. These are Apocalypse scenarios.

13. Nato's choices - peace, confusion or conflagration

It seems to me that NATO leaders have very little time to choose between peace and apocalypse. For those under most stress - Clinton and Blair - they are likely to make further impaired strategic decisions. As they continue to escalate the conflict they seem to be thinking a day at a time, still convinced that the end justifies the means, one war unfinished in Iraq while the next escalates out of control.

Sadly Clinton and Blair seem blind to the consequences of they own violent decisions in international and community relations, even in our own countries. They do not hear the contradictions in their own behaviour, preaching peace and making war at the same time. They declare shock at bombs and shootings in London and Colorado as they approve far larger acts of violence every day. How can they expect anyone to trust their judgement when talking of ways ahead for peace in the Balkans? How can they ask paramilitaries in Northern Ireland to lay down their weapons while using far greater destruction every day?

Nato's current path of causing severe destruction to the Serbian economy, environment and the health of its civilian population is turning its moral high ground into a moral wasteland.

There IS still hope for peace in Kosovo, and Serbia, the wider Balkans and the world. But the path to peace lies across a narrow causeway. The tide of global tension is rapidly rising. Its momentum will continue even after the bombing stops, with a likely wave of international repercussions in three to six month's time. The serious danger is that conflicts in different regions will merge to become a global conflagration, as happened in the first two World Wars.

I pray there is still time to build a bridge of hope to peace before it is too late. I fear that the craze of war is turning the minds of the leaders we depend on. At present they are learning about war but show little understanding of the psychology of peace.

* * * * *

Dai Williams
32 Send Road, Send, Woking, Surrey GU23 7ET, UK
Tel: 44-1483-222017 Email: eosuk@btinternet.com

Other sources

The American Psychological Association has a new Peace Psychology Division, see http://moon.pepperdine.edu/~mstimac/Peace-Psychology.html

In the UK several universities now have departments of Peace or War Studies. Bradford University was the first of these. In Northern Ireland both Queens University and the University of Ulster have done extensive research on community psychology published on the CAIN website (Conflict Archives on the Internet) at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/index.html.

Many peace organisations around the world have experience of peacebuilding and have suggested alternatives to conflict in the Balkans. There is a peace conference in The Hague starting on 11th May 1999.


1. Appendix written for this article: Fear and violence in stressed populations, D.Williams, April 1999
2. Human responses to change - symposium at the BPS Occupational Psychology Conference in January 1999 (later published in the journal Futures in August 1999).
3. Parliament in Transition: Honeymoon Crisis and Recovery, D.Williams, Dec 1997.
4. Accidents waiting to happen? Political events and psychological climate for the UK Government 1998-2000. D.Williams, March 2000.
5. Career First Aid, Eos website.

Copyright © Eos Career Services 1999, 2000.

Page updated 26 October 2005

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