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Creating a European Civilian Peace Corps

1.7.1995., Published in Azione nonviolenta, October 1995
The most important challenges facing armies and foreign office functionaries both inside and outside Europe today, are United Nations peacekeeping operations and ensuring that they work efficiently.

At the same time, the potential role that civilians can play in preventing and managing conflict is still largely underestimated and this is something which has to change. Governments and international institutions send their observers and diplomats to conflict areas, while humanitarian and pacifist NGOs attempt, often in trying circumstances, to (re)establish dialogue, coexistence and trust within (and between) communities which are both split and violent. Once the fighting is over, these NGOs try help with the reconstruction, both in terms of material and human values, by checking the arrangements made, and the initiatives taken towards reconciliation. In recent years a lot of experience has been built up in the field and much research has been done, often in spite of the lack of sufficient financial resources. The Bourlange/Martin Report adopted by the European Parliament on 17 May 1995 in its plenary session in Strasbourg, recognised this role in civil society, affirming that “a first step towards preventing conflicts could be the creation of a European civilian peace corps (including conscientious objectors) whose task would be to train observers, mediators and specialists in conflict resolution”.


The international civilian corps would be set up by the European Union under the auspices of the United Nations under which they should serve.
The Corps should be under the control of, or at least refer to, the OSCE (as the regional organisation of the UN). The member states of the European Union should contribute to the Corps and the European Parliament should be involved in decisions regarding the constitution of the Corps and the carrying out of operations. In the first place the Corps would serve within Europe, but it could also operate outside its borders.
As it would be a standing force, it would need a headquarters and fully equipped personnel, based in a specific place (OSCE - Vienna?) as well as a local base during operations. To start off with, the Corps should have about one thousand staff, three or four hundred of which should be professionals and the other six or seven hundred volunteers. If the Corps manages to achieve positive results, then these numbers should naturally be greatly increased.


The sooner the Corps is sent to an area, the sooner its members would be able to contribute to preventing violence from breaking out. In each phase of the operation they could carry out monitoring tasks.
After violence has broken out, their role would be to prevent further conflict and violence. In doing this, they would have only the force of non-violent dialogue along with the strength of their convictions and their faith in building and restoring.
They would act by carrying messages from one community to another. They would facilitate dialogue within the community with the aim of reducing the intensity of the dispute. They would try to remove incomprehension, to promote contact within the local, civilian community. They would negotiate with local authorities and their leaders. They would aid the return of refugees and try to prevent sacking, the destruction of houses and persecution by means of dialogue. They would promote education and communication between communities. They would fight prejudice and hate. They would encourage mutual respect between individuals. They would try to restore the culture of reciprocal listening.
Most importantly, they would exploit to the full the capabilities of those in the community (the old, women and children) who were not implicated in the conflict. They could try to resolve the conflict using all the means of mediation at their disposal but without ever forcing anything on either side. They would denounce the champions of violence and crime to local and international authorities. They would denounce the misconduct of these authorities to the international community. They would strive to warn in time and to monitor. They would constantly try to find and formulate the causes of the conflict or conflicts. They would do their best to rebuild local structures.
Sometimes, but only if requested and anyway temporarily, they would replace local authorities and services. For example, they could carry out the daily, non-armed, services of the police in those areas where the local police are not trusted by the population. They would cooperate in the area with humanitarian organisations in providing supplies and services, as well as alleviating the victims’ suffering.


As the Corps and its members would have to operate in areas where the potential for violence would be high, each member would have to have many qualities and excellent values, some of which would be a question of talent, while others would require a high level of professional training.

Many high level skills and qualities would be necessary for those who are members of the Peace Corps: tolerance, being able to resist provocation, non-violent training, strong personality, experienced communicators, pro democracy, knowledge of languages, cultured, an open mentality, an ability to listen, intelligence, the ability to survive in precarious situations, patience and not too many personal psychological problems. Those who are accepted as members of the Peace Corps will be amongst the most skilled members of our society.

National & International; Men & Women; Young & Old

The Peace Corps should not be made up of national groups, but should be international right from the start, with individuals of various nationalities working together as friends. This would immediately break down the barriers between different cultures. Impartiality is necessary, but on no account should members of the Peace Corps be drawn exclusively from neutral countries. Both men and women should take part, with an age range from twenty to eighty years old. Unlike military operations, the work of the Peace Corps could largely fall to women and the elderly.

Voluntary Work

NGOs which have direct experience in preventing and resolving conflicts, as well as in providing civilian services, will be among the first to be asked to recruit members for the Peace Corps. These members could be largely conscientious objectors, while retired military peacekeepers and diplomats could also play a role. Particular attention should be paid to refugees and exiles from the areas in which the conflict needs resolving. Many of these people are well educated, non violent and with a broad knowledge of the local situation. On the other hand they are also part of the conflict and therefore potential targets, so could perhaps be better used as consultants behind the scenes rather than on the front line and could play a fundamental supporting, linguistic role.

Professionals & Volunteers

Seeing that quality and experience determine the success or failure of any operation, at least a third of the members of each Peace Corps operation should be professionals. The others could be volunteers and work under the command of the professionals.


Success and failure will also be determined by the level of training of the members of the Peace Corps. Training programmes would prepare each member for their mission. At the same time the trainers should themselves have the opportunity to take part in missions in order to gain experience in the field. Training should include not only increasing the physical and mental strength of the participants, but also practical subjects such as the languages, history, religion, traditions and sensibilities of the areas where they would be operating.


A Peace Corps operation could fail and we should not be ashamed to admit it. For example, if one of the sides in a war is determined to continue or step up the conflict, then civilians would be unable to stop them. If a conflict turns into all-out war, the best thing for civilians to do would be to flee the battlefield.
If the fanatics of both sides are no longer under the control of local authorities and start shooting at Peace Corps members or taking them hostage, that would be the end of the operation. If the local media, influenced by local demagogues, start to undermine the Peace Corps, then it would be better to retreat. As long as this does not happen, then the civilian Corps could fulfil its functions as long as it is necessary.
Here the Peace Corps faces the same problem as military peacekeepers; they cannot really leave until there is a political solution. The cooperation of local authorities and the community has to be encouraged by an international policy of rewarding (and not punishing or the use of sanctions). Seeing that poverty, economic underdevelopment and the lack of a superstructure nearly always come hand-in-hand with conflict, then preparing for peaceful coexistence, the re-establishment of political dialogue and human values and stopping the fighting and the violence should be rewarded by immediate international economic and financial support which would benefit the whole community and region involved.
Too often the fact that peace has to be seen to be believed is forgotten. But if peace is made visible then it will find many supporters in any population.

This article is the result of an exchange of ideas in preparation for the Round table on the European civilian Peace Corps, which should have taken place in July 1995 between Alexander Langer and Ernst Gulcher, secretary of the EP Intergroup for Peace, Disarmament and Global Security.
It was published in Azione nonviolenta,
October 1995.
pro dialog