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Force Without Firepower - War, Expeditionary Action

". . . Let the British government call a constitutional conference in Salisbury, Rhodesia . . . [and] organize a commonwealth nonviolent expeditionary force.... At a time judged to be appropriate, let the British delegates to the constitutional conference go into Rhodesia, covered only by the nonviolent troops of the commonwealth force. "

-Ralph Bell, Rhodesia: Outline of a Nonviolent Strategy to Resolve the Crisis (see bibliography).

Definition: An unarmed military mission across national boundaries with a comparatively limited objective or duration; may involve extraterritorial rather than home-soil defense action, or defense of another nation on its own territory, or temporary intervention in restraint of flagrant injustice, oppression, invasion, or genocide.

Military nonintervention in the affairs of other states is widely honored in the breach, though the disrepute of expeditionary forces has been growing in recent years. There are few outspoken proposals for nonviolent (or any) intervention abroad, because most energy is absorbed by condemning imperialism — or camouflaging it. However, let us assume that a humane case can be made for exceptional circumstances into which nonviolent forces should be mandated with or without the consent of a particular state's rulers.

As smaller nations and former colonies and satellites come to cherish their sovereignty more and more, it seems arrogant and anachronistic to speak of expeditionary forces, even if they are nonviolent. But my intent is to see if any military function, including expeditionary action and invasion, could hypothetically be performed by nonviolent forces organized on a comparable scale.

If we grant a moral imperative, a political consensus, and perhaps a legal judgment that a particular state requires expeditionary action from outside to replace its political system or rulers or restrain them from unconscionable barbarism — can nonviolent forces do the job?

Ideas: There are no precedents, but the only explicit proposal for nonviolent expeditionary action (in fact, one of the very few cogent, detailed proposals for any kind of military-but-nonviolent force) was put forward by Ralph Bell in his 1966 pamphlet, Outline of a Nonviolent Strategy to Resolve the Rhodesian Crisis (see bibliography). An updated version with comments and rejoinders was published in 1968. Though it is now moot, the formulation is well worth studying.

Bell, a British clergyman, was addressing himself to leadership in church and state. British officials did look at his plan, and Arthur Bottomley, then Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, thought the proposal deserved consideration. But it was waived in favor of phony economic sanctions, and then years of British laxity while bloody war raged until Rhodesia legally became Zimbabwe in 1980.

Bell had a clear sense of the order of strategy: military action is subordinate to political objectives, and both are subordinate to moral (nonviolent) means. He suggested that Britain call a constitutional conference in Salisbury to create an unracial government and impose this solution with a Commonwealth Nonviolent Expeditionary Force. The Force would enter Rhodesia by conventional or airborne transit, openly announced, with persistence, and reinforcements as necessary. Casualties would have to be expected among these nonviolent commandos but not hoped for. The strategy would have included world publicity, constant pressure on the Smith regime to negotiate, and local civilian pressures spearheaded by the Force.

As for the Force itself, Bell stressed its military organization, need for discipline, willingness to accept casualties, pay and training commensurate with regular armed forces, moral prestige, and sufficient numbers for probable success.

The following key distinction which Bell makes re-echoes the central theme of this entire paper:

A member of the armed forces is called upon to do what he is told, to be killed and to kill to enforce a political solution. A member of a nonviolent force is also called upon to do what he is told, to be killed, but not to kill, to enforce a political solution.