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David Swanson: An International Peace Movement

An International Peace Movement Building

By David Swanson

On Saturday, December 10, in London, England, leaders of the peace movement against the Iraq war from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Iraq will meet to strategize. There is hope that the tide has already turned against the occupation, and that a coordinated international effort will be able to mobilize sufficient public pressure to bring the war to a complete end.

If you can make it to London, sign up here:

If you can't make it, I think I have an easy second-best course of action for you. One of the speakers at the opening session in London will be Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Phyllis has just published a book called "Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the U.N. Defy U.S. Power."

You can buy it here:

This book provides a history of the movement against the current war thus far and a blue print for building an international movement, not just to end this war, but to prevent the next one and to right the economic injustices that plague our globe as well.

"Challenging Empire" is very much a glass-half-full book. While acknowledging that the Iraq War was begun and has not yet been ended – and without really speculating as to how the war might have been worse were it not for the public pressure against it – Bennis lays out an argument that the opposition to the war has already won some important victories and has built the basis for a successful challenge to US violation of international law. My recommendation is that you read this book, and my prediction is that you too will see the glass as at least 1/3 full when you're done.

Bennis describes three elements in the movement against empire: people, governments, and the United Nations. And the book is organized into corresponding sections. The first presents a history of the build-up to war and the war, focused on the development and progress of the peace movement. It is far from too early to have written such a history. Most of us who are active in the peace movement can benefit greatly from knowing it. Understanding the origins of various organizations, and reviewing our successes and failures, is necessary if we are going to ultimately succeed. Bennis provides insight into the varying perspectives of groups opposing the war, including providing a convincing analysis of how we can recognize the right of the Iraqi people to resist illegal occupation, but not endorse the efforts of leaders or organizations in Iraq who may themselves be employing tactics that violate international law.

The popular movement against this war has achieved unprecedented levels of success as measured by turnout in the streets, international coordination, and sophistication in communications and lobbying. But there have been obvious shortcomings, and Bennis discusses some of them.

Governments around the world have been forced by their citizens, to various degrees, to oppose the war. Many actively opposed the war before its start and disputed the fraudulent claims used to justify it. Some – following a similar trajectory to that of many Democrats in Congress – lessened their opposition once the war had begun. Of these, many are now being forced into renewed opposition to the U.S. Empire. And a growing list of nations have been able to build on governmental opposition to the war to successfully oppose US plans to expand corporate trade agreements.

The forum through which governments most powerfully expressed their opposition to the war was the United Nations. The UN did what it was designed to do. It responded to democratic pressure and stood for peace and in opposition to illegal war. Once the war had begun, the UN caved in and passed a resolution "recognizing" US and British power in Iraq. But Bennis asks us to focus on the potential in what was achieved through the UN prior to the war.

Not only was the US forced to appeal to the UN for sanction of its planned crimes, not only was Colin Powell obliged to spell out the US lies in detail, but the UN gave powerful voice to global majority opinion when it refused to buy the hype or condone the planned attack on a sovereign state. The UN is often seen as simply a tool for providing US actions with a patina of legitimacy. And often that is what it is. But that damage is far outweighed by the potential value to the world's second super power (the people) of using the UN to oppose international crimes.

US hypocrisy in using the UN as cover for its crimes is preferable to US scorn for the UN. Our response to it should not be to join in the attack on the United Nations, but rather to work as an international movement of citizen activists and governments to make the UN what it was supposed to be.

Bennis describes meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on February 15, 2003, on which occasion Tutu said to Annan: "We are here on behalf of the people marching today in 665 cities around the world. And we're here to tell you that those people marching in those cities all around the world, we claim the United Nations as our own, we claim it as part of our global mobilization for peace."

Bennis articulates specific suggestions for changes at the U.N., including broader representation on the Security Council, less power for veto-wielding members, and less power for the Council, more for the General Assembly. She also suggests the creation of an outside monitoring agency accountable only to the UN. She argues for making the IMF, World Bank, and WTO accountable to the UN's Economic and Social Council as the UN Charter envisioned (rather than accountable only to corporate power). And Bennis proposes training a UN peacekeeping force loyal to the United Nations.

Phyllis argues that such a force should not be used to clean up messes left by Washington. But many who share her aspirations for the UN would in fact like to see it clean up the mess created in Iraq, if such a clean up involves a complete end to the occupation and to US claims on Iraqi resources.

The topic will certainly be discussed in London on December 10th, and I'll be posting reports from there on this website:


David Swanson is the Washington Director of and of He is co-founder of the coalition, creator of, and a board member of Progressive Democrats of America. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master'sdegree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997. His website is

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