Divided We Stand?

Published on FPIF Foreign Policy in Focus, by John Feffer of IRC, May 14, 2007.

Every culture, it seems, has the same joke. Put three Koreans—or Albanians or Poles or Kenyans or Californians—in a room. After an hour of debate, they’ll form four political parties.

We are, by nature, a factious species. We huddle together in large crowds for football games or New Year’s celebrations. But when it comes to politics, we gravitate toward groupuscules. Sure, there are exceptions. There’s not a lot of political diversity in North Korea. But even in supposedly homogenous polities, like Japan where a single party has ruled almost continuously for the last half-century, factions thrive behind the scenes.

This law of division applies even more strongly to opposition movements. As FPIF contributor Lawrence Wittner wrote in How the Peace Movement Can Win, the anti-war movement in the United States is a many-splendored thing. But its lack of unity, he argued, is handicapping its effectiveness.


FPIF asked 11 peace activists and scholars to evaluate Wittner’s argument. Is the movement’s diversity part of its strength or its weakness? In What’s Next for the Peace Movement, Scott Bennett, Frida Berrigan, David Cobb, Brian Corr, George Friday, Don Kraus, Joanne Landy, Andrew Lichterman, Geoffrey Millard, Bal Pinguel, and Saif Rahman largely come down on the side of diversity. In addition, they address the “traditional whiteness” of the movement, the lure of party politics, the challenge of supporting democratic movements abroad, the virtues of networking, and much more.

In What the Peace Movement Can Learn from the NRA, Wittner responds to the Peace Movement 11 …

… The United States wants Eastern Europe to be part of a missile defense system to defend against rogue missiles. Or that’s what the administration says. FPIF contributor Conn Hallinan, in And You Thought the Cold War Was Gone for Good, sees it differently. Forget rogue missiles. The 10 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems proposed for Poland and the radar system for the Czech Republic, when linked up to other existing and potential sites from Norway to Azerbaijan, have more “to do with the Bush administration’s efforts to neutralize Russia’s and China’s nuclear deterrents and edge both countries out of Central Asia.”

So far the Democrats have blocked funding for the European ABMs. But the administration may push hard to restart the Cold War regardless of congressional opposition.

And finally, FPIF’s military affairs analyst Dan Smith takes a look at the Cold War on the home front: the continued assault on basic civil liberties. The Justice Department is asking for secret monitoring of telephone calls, emails, and other electronic communications of non-citizens and non-legal residents who are thought to “possess significant foreign intelligence information.” Meanwhile, nearly 400 detainees remain at Guantanamo. They don’t have access to full legal representation.

“Today we are fast becoming a closed society, suspicious not only of ‘outsiders’ but of many within our borders who are in some way ‘not like us,’” Smith writes in Habeas That Corpus. “The lists of our freedoms have turned into lists of our enemies, giving them an unmerited significance that in turn diminishes the country’s international standing. Persuasion has been replaced by coercion, honor sacrificed to a corrupted ‘duty,’ and morality to expediency” … (full text).

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