Exploring Non-violent Alternatives to Terrorism

Exploring Non-violent Alternatives to Terrorism By Paul Maillet

How can our most sacred cherished beliefs be so involved in the killing and violence we do each other?

 If we were half as good at peacemaking as we are at  killing, the world would be a far better place.

 There is no doubt that history will characterize the beginning of this century by the so called “war on terror”.    A global effort has been mounted against what is perceived as a major threat to human security and international stability.  The difficulty with this characterization is that the term terrorism does not accurately or clearly describe the nature of this conflict in a manner that lends itself to developing an effective response to this threat.

The term “terrorism” in military language is a tactic employed that generally involves unlawful attacks on or disregards the safety of civilians and non combatants for the purposes of creating fear and coercion in regards to some cause, ideology or religion.  As such, terrorism is a war crime in terms of the laws of war and just war tradition. This type of warfare has characterized by transnational belligerents, using religious ideologies, suicide bombing, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), hijacking of aircraft, and leveraging computer technology, the media and the internet.   It has global reach. It has horrific potential through cyber attacks and WMDs Weapons of mass destruction).

More accurately, this type of armed conflict is one of guerilla or insurgent warfare.  Guerilla warfare is the usual tactic in asymmetric warfare.  It is how one fights a vastly superior conventional force or superpower. However, guerilla warfare requires the cooperation, support or silence of the population within their area of operations to be effective.  Modern guerilla warfare requires a framework of effective lines of supply, logistics, safe havens, weapons and money to sustain itself. It needs state sponsors.  It needs to recruit and train fighters. Guerilla tactics also require a high degree of compartmentalization in which cells or small units operate with a high degree of independence and initiative, in order to limit their intelligence value if captured.  This type of warfare uses tactics of fear and terror, which abuse the very populations they depend on for survival make little military sense and work against them in the longer term.   However, the defining characteristic of guerrilla warfare is “hit and run” tactics, take advantage of the element of surprise and disappear.   Sun Tzu in the “Art of War” alluded to a strategy of formlessness, as a preferred military strategy.  This a strategy that has been well adapted by terrorists to the global environment and their ability to move and communicate internationally makes military counter strategies extremely difficult.

The army’s formation is like water.

The water’s formation avoids the high and rushes to  the low.

So an army’s formation avoids the strong and  rushes to the weak.

Water’s formation adapts to the ground when  flowing.

So then an army’s formation adapts to the  enemy to achieve victory.

 If we add criminal elements, drug dealers, organized crime, poverty, disaffected youth, and religious fanaticism into the mix, then the problem becomes very complex indeed.  In essence, no matter how we play with words, we have people employing guerilla warfare in which certain combatants are using unlawful terror tactics on one hand, and often indulge in criminal activity on the other.

The traditional response –  just war tradition

The term “war” leads to the traditional military responses towards terrorism and such violence, that usually involves confrontation, fear, anger,  hate which often leads to counter tactics that involves further violence and suffering.  Using a military response to terrorism usually invokes the laws of armed conflict and just war tradition.  This in turn usually involves search and  destroy tactics, initially with heavy weapons, and collateral damage.  Just war theory seeks to legitimize war, to regulate violence and weapons, and condones some level of collateral damage.  Surely, mankind can do much better.

 Just War theory

In brief, the current just war tradition prescribes in general terms, conditions that first establish jus ad bellum, the right to go to war; and second jus in bello, the right conduct and use of force within war.

Jus ad bellum – the right to war

Just cause.  This principle limits war to defense against armed attack, prevention of significant harm, and significant threats to international peace.

Legitimate authority. Only legitimate political authority, duly constituted, sanctioned by society and with ability to control force  and cease its use may wage war.

Right intention. The aim must be one of peace and security. Force may be used in accord with just cause, not intimidation, vengeance, domination, hatred, coercion, or not material gain or maintaining economies, and solely for the purpose of correcting a suffered wrong or  significant threat.

Probability of success. Force may not be used in hopeless causes or where disproportionate force is required to achieve success.  A war can  only be fought with a reasonable chance of success.

Proportionality of ends. The good achieved in waging war must be greater than the harm done.  States are prohibited from using unnecessary force in attaining the objectives of the just cause involved.

Last resort. Force may be used only after all peaceful, political, diplomatic or other alternatives have been exhausted or are clearly not practical.  here must be a clear and present danger.

 Jus in bello – the use of force in war

Protection and immunity of non-combatants.  Conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction between combatants and non-combatants.  Force should only be directed towards enemy combatants, and not such as bombing civilian residential areas where no military target exists, or acts of terrorism or reprisals against civilians. Non-combatants are not permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians.  Non-combatants and POWs must be provided immunity and protection under Geneva conventions and any other  applicable laws.

Proportionality of means:    Weapons and force used must be able to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. The use of force cannot be used launched if risks of incidental civilian injuries, death or collateral damage would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. This principle limits weapons, prohibits torture, and unnecessary harm or destruction.

Military necessity.  Conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. The use of force must be on a valid military objective, and the collateral damage or harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated.

Alternatives to just war theory

The argument that war is somehow a necessary evil and can in some way justify the killing of innocents or non-combatants as a legitimate  outcome of pursuing certain military objectives is morally unacceptable and must be challenged.   There is no human moral philosophy that can justify warfare in such circumstances.  If there is reason to believe that innocent deaths may occur then one must stop.  If combatants are using populations to hide or shoot from, again stop. Find another way.  There are no rights to kill innocent people under any circumstances. Just war theory is seriously flawed. Rather than further codifying warfare, we must now endeavor to codify peace operations.

Perhaps it is time to change how we view conflict.  We have a huge opportunity with the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) doctrine to evolve peacekeeping tradition to a body of practice that is given serious weight to just peace practices.  This implies a need for a robust set of laws and just peace traditions to provide an alternative to laws of armed conflict and just war traditions. We must look at waging peace vs waging war.  We must codify “just peace” tradition and create parallel ministries of peace in government to bring such tradition into practice.   New actions and methodologies are necessary for pre conflict and conflict and post conflict operations.  A new language is necessary.

We have the opportunity to go even further.  We have an opportunity to build a holistic approach that includes and better balances a security response, a peacemaking response and a community response to the reduction of conflict and the relief of suffering.

Terrorism is almost a special care.  It begins by definition as a war crime under the laws of armed conflict.  It deliberately attacks non-combatants as a tactic of fear.   The force component of dealing with terrorism may well consider criminality as a first response. This takes away any  combatant status or moral legitimacy claims under just war theory.  A policing response involves a “serve and protect” approach which usually includes identification, arrest, trial and incarceration.  Perhaps a response to terrorism would be better served by a new ethic that prioritizes “serve and protect”, criminalize, rather than “search and destroy”.

Perhaps it is time to explore alternatives in which put aside just war tradition in favor of building “just peace” operations that look to non-violent, community based and good governance approaches that “drain the ocean’ that terrorists need to survive and approaches that deal with the conditions of poverty and ideology that recruit terrorists.  Peace means to have an fair and effective justice and policing system.  It means that, the people and the government need to wake up every day and work hard all day against criminal elements.  Nothing can be taken for granted.  It must be won and regained every day.  Given the advent of terrorism in its current form this may be a part of life for a long time to come.

This means we must rethink military intervention as a response to terrorism.  We face the current challenge of prioritizing intervention to  stopping the violence and neutrality.  We have the legitimacy of R2P to act and we have the mechanism of UN sanctioned missions, even if only as part of a consensus of the willing.  We will need to adapt military forces, tactics and equipment for what may be high intensity constabulary operations to protect civilian populations.

In addition, the notion of language cannot be overstated. Language shapes responses and is critical.  When we label people, consider the words, enemy, criminal, psychopath, terrorist, or competing interests, differences, mental  illness, suffering, desperate.  Once someone is declared an enemy in war the death penalty is assumed, as is some level of collateral damage and violence.  Think of the different emotions and responses that arise when each are used in relation to others.  Think of the many paths that people may go down, paths leading to confrontation and hate, of violence, or paths to the ethic of care, of non violence.  It is in the domain of connections that language shapes responses.   If you want peace, you do not talk not only to your friends – it is more important you talk to those with whom you have differences – civilized people talk.  Annex A contains a summary of non-violent communication, an emerging technique in the field of the reduction of conflict.  If we can get the language right, then peace is inevitable.

Our options to the reduction of conflict and relief of suffering now expand:

  • Just war  – a last response of redressing comparative harm and neglect
  • Policing – a measured continuous public safety response to criminality
  • Just peace – a moral response of seeking public good and harmony.
  • Strong communities – a meta response to eliminating the root causes

 Developing Just peace tradition

Clausewitz once said that war is simply an extension of politics by other means.  It would seem to me that we have a very extensive body of tradition and law on the conduct of armed conflict, which largely attempts to manage violence and weapons.  I believe it is way past time that we had a body tradition, declarations or conventions regarding the conduct of genuine peace operations, managing the cessation of violence.

There is a maxim that language is an act of creation.  The language of war-fighting suggests structures that support weapons and tactics involving, identifying the enemy, dehumanizing the enemy, killing the enemy, search and destroy operations.  This implies the use of tanks, bombing, military search and destroy operations. Armed conflict becomes the primary response to the conflict.

The language of peace operations suggest structures supporting protection, diplomacy, neutrality objectives of stopping armed conflict,  ceasefires, and the care of victims and relief of suffering.  Peacemaking is the name of the game.  We must take the moral high ground where collateral damage and destruction of property is unacceptable.

 A framework for peace operations

Preamble:  The laws of armed conflict and ”just war” tradition could fill an ocean.  Where is the ocean for laws of peace operations, peacemaking and “just peace” tradition?  We believe that it is time to change our thinking about how we deal with conflict.

Whereas we believe that the ethic of care has at least equal weight, if not greater, to the ethic of justice in conflict situations. We believe in the responsibility to protect.

Whereas we believe in non-violence, human rights and the care of others.

Whereas we believe that the relief of suffering and the reduction of conflict are not given sufficient weight in global approaches to the use of force in armed conflict.

It is therefore resolved:  That Laws of peace operations be codified as a strict obligation for dealing with conflict in pre conflict stages, conflict stages, and post conflict stages by the international community and for state and/or transnational parties with political differences that have the potential for violence.   That laws of peace operations include as a minimum, strict obligations and every reasonable effort to enable  human security, reconstitution and reconciliation and justice:

Care principle

  1.  Stop or prevent violence as a first priority.
  2. Care for the victims.

Peacemaking principle

  1.  Create safe spaces for peace talks or diplomacy and resolution of differences.

Reconstitution principle

  1. Strengthen or rebuild governance at all levels.
  2. Enable the creation of safe, healthy and socially responsible communities.
  3. Enable the reconstruction of economies and infrastructure.

Reconciliation principle

  1.  Enable truth, reconciliation and justice  activity.

The meta requirement –  Strong communities

The response to just war and just peace cannot be effective unless supported by the actions of communities and governments.  It is even more important to look at the root causes of terrorism and address them.  It is important to have strong communities that will not support or  condone terrorists in their midst.  We need a vigilant populace that removes the sanctuaries.   This means developing strong stable communities, intercultural and ethnic harmony and wellness that gives hope.  We need a language of peace.

Draining the ocean that supports terrorism will mean, eliminating the environment that terrorists need to survive.  The environment of  vulnerability, defencelessness and fear.  The conditions that create destructive ideologies. We must work every day at improving social conditions that create poverty, corruption, joblessness, injustice, lack of hope.  We must every day work at creating good governance, and good communities

 The meta response begins within each of us, each nation.  It requires an identity shift.  The African adage that says – I am who you are.  You suffer, I suffer.  We are one people on one planet.  The ethic of care for each other is needed more than ever.

Our response requires relationships that are built on respect and dignity. Dignity which is seen as facilitating self esteem and being able to live well in the company of others.  We need an accompaniment culture that asks:  What is it you need?  What can you do for yourselves?  What help do you need from others? We will walk together. We will share what we know. We will learn from each other. We will strengthen the kinship we have between us.

Our response requires good governance and a predisposition to human rights and social responsibility, which can be defined as integrity in governance, environmental responsibility, economic sustainability, societal beneficence, and responsible political engagement. A strong community has a common visionThere is no power greater for change than a community discovering what it cares about?  Margaret Wheatley.  We care about being safe, healthy, about education, being socially, economically and politically stable. We care about good values, about dignity.   We care about raising our children and their future.  Building a strong community is about knowing ourselves, knowing what we care about, knowing our possibilities, being involved and engaged and wellness.  We may not all be able to do the great things, but we can always do the small things with great love.  Mother Teresa

Peace requires intercultural and ethnic harmony.   People must be accepted in society and have hope.  Such harmony will require efforts at both reconciliation and integration regarding local, national and international communities.

Reconciliation is the art of making connections – Civilized People Talk.  It is about differences and closure and accountability.  It is about healing oneself from within before seeking change without.  It is about adopting a shared language of peace and shared values.  It seeks to go beyond co-existence, beyond tolerance, to a relationship of caring for each other, of respect.  You must others feel safe.

Integration is also the art of making connections and dialogue.  It is the commitment to contributing and participating in the social, economic and political life of the community.  Above all is it the genuine care for others that involve youth, women, and elders.  It is the becoming of good community and global citizens.

Terrorists cannot survive here.

In the final analysis, our moral worth is defined by how we treat the poor, the most helpless and vulnerable and suffering among us.  It is measured not what we say we are but what we do.  It is a long journey, and at times, the most we can hope for is to get the direction right, a direction that has hope for future generations, that we engage as best we can, and build our communities one project at a time.  Good outcomes will happen little by little. 

 Get the ethics right and everything stands a good chance of being dealt with fairly.

Way forward

So we begin.  Hope begins first with a commitment to a new direction towards armed conflict as a whole, a commitment to a new framework of principles for conflict:

  • Commitment to a response of peace operations in conflict zones.
  • Commitment to the development of a “just peace”  tradition and peacemaking laws and to deal with conflict.
  • Commitment to development of a “community of practice” involving practical strategies, techniques, tactics and practices to conduct peace operations.
  • Commitment to a response of criminalizing individuals or groups using terrorist tactics.
  • Commitment to development of constabulary forces capable of effective policing supported by military forces only  when required.
  • Commitment to a preventative approach and direction that leads to an understanding that the best defense against terrorism begins with the wellbeing of the community.
  • Commitment to social responsibility, and the development strong communities, intercultural harmony,  and good governance that controls corruption and builds integrity and values, and respects culture and ethnicity, in communities.  

Go my friend
Bestow your love
even on your foes.
If you touch their hearts,
what do you think will happen?



 When you look for it, there is nothing to see.

When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.

When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

Tao te Ching 500 BC

 Hope lives

 The sun always rises and a river of joy flows through it.”

 Annex A:  Towards a language of peace

 In the spirit of shared values, that include the ethic of care for others and the relief of suffering, and the reduction of conflict, we may wish begin by creating a climate of non violent communication, and a language of peace.  This involves encouraging and using language that respects:


  1. Be responsible for your feelings, words and actions. Do not assume that others feel the same way.
  2. Do not attribute the feelings, words and actions of anyone to any others.
  3. Make no demands, threats or blame.  Do not insist or force others to feel, think or act the way you want.
  4. Do not judge either yourself or others.
  5. Stay in the present and empathize with yourself and others. We are all connected by feelings and needs.


  1.  Observe:   State facts simply and without judgment.  (ie, This is what has happened…)
  2. Feelings:   State your own feelings without blame or as caused by others. (ie, I feel very concerned. etc)
  3. Needs:   State your own need respectfully.  (ie, I need to be compassionate about this, to do or say something)
  4. Request:   Make a suggestion or a request.  (ie, Are you able to help or do something about this?)

This paper was first presented by Paul Maillet at  a conference entitled “Global Alliance against Terrorism for a Just Peace” (GAATJP) May 14 -15, 2011 in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran.

  1. Very detailed representation. Thank you for posting this. 🙂

  2. This is an excellent and articulate article that makes so much sense. It definitely fits my own belief system. We need more people to really take a good look at all the facts surrounding terrorism and come up with more good solutions to terrorism. Thank you.

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