Research: Raising Silent Voices

Raising silent voices: Harnessing local knowledge for communities’ protection from violence in Myanmar.
Project summary of 18 month project funded by AHRC-ESRC Partnership PaCCS Conflict Theme.

Civilians living amidst violent conflict, like everyone experiencing conflict, know who is involved, the history, what makes it worse or lessens the impact on them. They have knowledge that those outside the conflict do not possess. The dominant peace and conflict intervention strategies of international agencies and NGOs begin with assessing the conflict situation using models based on western understanding of conflict trajectories, community resilience, and peacebuilding, with an outsiders understanding. Although local people may be involved, their knowledge is rarely informing intervention and support strategies. This research will show the importance of placing local, contested, knowledge in the centre of intervention strategies, empowering and enabling local people and potentially making interventions more effective. The research takes a case study of local conflict knowledge in Karen and Mon areas of Myanmar, training local researchers to use storytelling, arts and craft approaches to enable local people to represent and share their knowledge in culturally appropriate ways, through which they share their understanding of the conflicts, violence and peace strategies. The content of what they produce will be mapped onto the existing conflict analysis of the local partner in order to analyse the themes and gaps.
The local partner is Nonviolent Peaceforce, an NGO who provide unarmed civilian peacekeeping and protection of civilians to local communities around the world. They have been in Myanmar since 2012 and the results of this research will enable them to be more able to capture and use local knowledge about the conflicts, violence and peace to inform future project choices.

This international and innovative research will impact on local people by making their voices louder and clearer, on Nonviolent Peaceforce interventions by potentially making them more effective, and on academic and policy approaches to conflict analysis, “the local”, and the types of knowledge used in understanding conflict and peace. It crosses peace and conflict studies and arts disciplines, adding methodologically and to the way we teach about conflict knowledge.

Researchers: Dr Rachel Julian, Leeds Beckett University. Dr Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Aberystwyth University, Dr Ellen Furnari. 

 Contact: Dr Rachel Julian

Evidence on UCP to the German Parliament

Rachel Julian, Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies at Leeds Beckett University and expert in unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping was invited by Dr. Franziska Brantner, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Civilian Crisis Prevention, Conflict Management and Integrated Action, a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Bundestag to make a presentation on the topic of “Unarmed civilian peacekeeping” at a public hearing on Monday, 14 March 2016 from 16.00 to 17.30 hrs. The hearing was televised on German Parliament Channel on Tuesday 15th March 2016. The other presenters were Ms Tiffany Eastholm from Nonviolent Peaceforce and Mr Alexander Hug from OSCE.

Dr Rachel Julian has been studying, writing and presenting on Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping for fourteen years. Last month she was awarded an AHRC grant to work with local Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping partners and people in Myanmar to understand how local understanding of conflict and violence impacts on Unarmed civilian peacekeeping interventions. She is hosting the first international research network workshop on Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping in July 2016 in Leeds, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Rachel’s evidence to the sub-committee, based on thirty years of evidence from the work of NGOs protecting civilians, covered the opportunity and benefit of unarmed civilians using nonviolence to prevent and reduce violence. She covered the way that it breaks the cycle of violence, provides role models to community leaders rebuilding relationships, and makes the path to sustainable peacebuilding easier. Her evidence suggested that peacekeeping could be widened out to include both civilian and military approaches depending on the context and she drew on recent reports from the UN which highlight the contribution of unarmed civilians in preventing and reducing violence. ​


Exploring militarism through academic-practitioner workshop

In January 2016, 25 academics and practitoners met to investigate militarism, to explore if it is a system, and to discover if there are links, gaps or leverage points through which militarism can be addressed.

This is a paper presented to International Studies Association Conference 2016 and is a summary of the meeting.

The transformation from war economics: a study of complexity and cooperation

Draft working paper.

Whilst militarism and global military spending hasn’t been the focus of much recent research or practice (Quakers Rising tide of militarism, Secure and Dispossessed, International Peace Bureau Disarmament for Development), it has been an underlying factor in analysis within critical studies including Peacebuilding (Francis), Security (Rogers), and peacekeeping (Cunliffe), and in practice about Development (IPB D4D), resistance to war (WRI), Education (Quakers) and Disarmament (CND).

Militarism itself is a contested term within both academic and practitioner communities – varying between narrow ‘build up of military power’ and broad ‘cultures and values enabling war’ – which makes comparative study difficult, and the scale of the impact of militarism (the embedded nature of the military and scale of military spending for example) makes it a challenging field to use as a starting point for either academic research or effective practice.

This paper suggests that the study of militarism and global military spending should be encompassing both the interdisciplinary nature of the field, alongside the academic-practitioner relationship, and that complexity theory (DeTombe, Meadows, Eoyang and Williams) gives us a methodology through which we can use the many disciplinary perspectives, the varied stakeholders, and the different definitions (boundaries) of militarism and global military spending to explore entry points and future change.

An initial 2 day academic-practitioner workshop was help in January 2016 where this conceptual approach was used, and the results indicate this is a fruitful and productive mechanism, and that complexity provides a suitable framework. There was consensus in the workshop that including militarism in our analysis will impact on the framing of academic research, and the strategy of practitioners

In this paper I explore our definitions of militarism, the academic-practitioner relationship, 

The reality of militarism is that most global state and economic structures assume a growth and dependency on military power which means the core relationship is between government, military and arms companies (Quakers the new tide of militarism). This is an important topic for peace and conflict studies because what underlines stagnation in nuclear disarmament and low acceptance of unarmed civilian peacekeeping is that there is something larger, something in the way of peaceful conflict resolution, and we are describing this as militarism. Militarism is not the same as the activities of the military, but rather an underlying value embedded in the culture which it is more likely we will opt to use violence to solve problems than nonviolent methods. Under militarism we are more likely to value war and associate heroism with war and accept high levels of military spending whilst social welfare is cut and poverty remains or increases. To understand why this is important, and this is because I also research and work on how civilians can protect other civilians from violence and on how we can redefine security as benefiting those who need security of livelihood as well as security in the traditional ‘national defence’. From this research we know that protecting people from violence is effective, cheaper and can make transformative change, and we know that conflict resolution methods can bring about long term sustainable peace, yet the work remains unrecognised, underfunded and excluded from most international political policy work, where military action becomes much more common.

Specifically I want to know the barriers to these nonviolent approaches and explain the importance of diversifying peacekeeping outside the current military delivery of it, which means understanding why and how militarism, as a set of values, has established the widely held support for military delivery of peacekeeping and the enormous expense – which is something then replicated across the world in other sectors, leading to the acceptance of militarism as a widely held belief in violence being effective, and also in justification of $1.8trillion expenditure, when $80billion could have achieved the MDG’s. UCP is demilitarised peacekeeping. UCP tells us that the assumption that armed actors will only yield to threat of violence, and that only violence can change the behaviour of armed actors is untrue. UCP has stood in front of armed actors and they have walked away.

To understand militarism better we need a methodology because the enormity of the system – in education, economics, culture, politics, in our norms and values – seems too big to be comprehendible, and this paper uses systems thinking to break it down. We already see conflict as a system, and a complex adaptive system (Hendrik, Eoyang) which means can we then understand the system and be able to identify a) a leverage point where an intervention can have an impact on the system and b) have some way to predict intended consequences of actions made to change the system. In this case how we would focus on the military spending and seek to impact the system so that levels of military spending are reduced.

Initial challenges to this approach are

there is no agreed definition of militarism, although the quakers have a working definition that fits with understanding militarism as a system and supported by pillars from other sectors (education, media, etc). Gee also sees militarism as being about control where the elites and wealthy attempt to maintain their own power and wealth.

There is no agreement on what it is, with some approaches concentrated on the size of military forces.

Militarism is as much a study in the literature as a reality in practice, and the relevance is somewhere in that relationship. To explore this, 25 academics and practitioners from the UK met and shared a 2 day workshop that brought interdisciplinary approach into an academic-practitioner environment.

The starting point

David Gee –  Militarism as a system, how the elites control the work (we would be fighting a control mechanism), it is a lie (that they know violence doesn’t work but that they gain money from it)

JRCT have a programme on anti-militarism and see it as a set of values, norms an attitudes that support war and the preparation of war

QPSW the next tide of militarism definition.

Over the two days we included a number of short presentations, introduced some models.

The importance of the practitioner-academic relationship is highlighted by Schon, Gibbs and Curle. (Adam Curle, Talk for a Change). As well as exploring the question of relevance, it enables us to explore from multiple perspectives and test the boundary.

From practice there is some inclusion of militarism (Forces Watch, Quakers, WRI) in contextual analysis, but with different starting points and perspectives, and the approach of complexity, it enables us to expand our view of the relevance of militarism because it can manage the ‘messiness’ (Williams). To expand the range of perspectives in the discussion, academics brought the links between militarism and Development, Human Rights, Critical military studies, Human rights and technology to the workshop.

What emerged is that each discipline has a perspective on how military spending and military activity fit into their area, but there was no body of literature nor definition that is agreed. Although in a more traditional research approach this would be problematic, in systems thinking, the complexity enables us to research the breadth of the issue, and the varied perspectives gives depth to the understand the impact and reach of the system.

How we apply systems thinking to militarism

Taking three forms of systems thinking (DeTombe, Meadows and Williams), they see systems in a similar way.

DeTombe sees complex social problems, Meadows takes a more holistic and dynamic view, and 

Williams draws more directly from Soft systems Methodology (Checkland). For all of them, they use a methodology in which the first stage is to attempt to describe the system.

For all of them there is something dynamic (see also complex adaptive system – Eoyang) and messy about the systems they work with (unlike the human body system which is relatively well defined), which fits our understanding and contested definitions of militarism, and with what we are seeking to understand, which is the impact and reach of militarism. 

Militarism isn’t just one thing – a complex ‘mess’ (systems) operating at a local and global level, that it impacts on many aspects of society, and that it is engineered, that some people seek to maintain it.

It doesn’t matter what the intention is once we decide to investigate it as a system we need to know what we include an exclude. Government and Arms Trade are on the inside of the system, but what about education, extractive industries, human rights and development. No system is everything so what is in and out.

If we assume militarism is a system, then quakers provide evidence of education is linked in and how government policies seek to embed militarism through education, increasing cadet forces, economics, arms trade, development have funds reduced through military spending and the communities suffer from violence as a solution provider. In disrupting disarmament talks, corruption and against democracy. Then if it is a system, then that is good news because we know how to examine and understand systems, and therefore there is a way in which we can untangle the many influences on, and impacts of, militarism, even if the system is huge.

All systems have boundaries, and one of the risks of imagining huge systems is that it seems like the system is ‘everything’ however if we look at militarism as a system we can see what is outside the system, and therefore indicate that the system is not ‘everything’ and there is an alternative. 

We could characterise things outside the system as resistance or as alternative, yet smaller, systems. 

Is militarism a system? Yes it is multi-faceted (our many presentations from different perspectives indicate that), it is multi-dimensional (operates at local and global levels), a messy problem with no clear boundaries and entrey points, adaptive and changes as society changes. This makes it not only a system, but a complex adaptive system.

Eoyang – Human dynamics institute

Bob Williams – Wicked Problem

DeTombe – complex social challenge like global disease outbreaks

Donella Measdows – iceberg – what you see is only the top of the iceberg and to really change something you need to uncover the interests and beliefs at the bottom of the iceberg.

Understanding the system.

All these perspectives on systems thinking (Williams, DeTombe, Meadows, Eoyang) see that having an understanding of the system is the first step – so over two days we looked from multiple perspectives within specific boundaries, the inter-relationships between the aspects of the system. We collected data from a series from a series of short talks which we captured and mapped on flipchart paper. We collected critical questions and explored them through small group discussions. Included human rights – looked for evidence that there is a link between human rights and militarism, we looked at ethics, culture and war heroism, the cost of military spending and what the money gets spent on.

We created a ‘mess’ of data.

From the data we extracted key questions, for example to what extent does this evidence relate to work on oppression (is there a link between militarism and oppression) or the extractive industries where the military forcibly remove people from land. Or exploring the link between militarism nd masculinity and the notion of heroism and this links to ‘peace through strength’. Are they inside the militarism boundary or are they an abuse of power for other ends. We used critical questioning to test the boundaries.

We used Bob Williams process because designed by groups coming together to solve a problem and it is based on SSM. We achieved the multiple perspectives, not completely, but enough to be able to start the process of building the map of inter-relationships, which we did through small group mapping. Boundaries was the most problematic area to understand and the area least clear. The difficult of the boundary was reinforced in a personal email exchange with Bob Williams.
Our perceptions affect behaviours affect the way (Williams 2016) it’s not just that you can achieve change, but your perceptions and understanding affect the way you understand what change is possible.
By reframing the situation we can look the ways in which the system being maintained in relation to masculinity, power analysis (dominance of power over), or seeing it as a vehicle for corruption (arms trade) or as a livelihood issue (jobs and military roles). We need to be able to see who benefits apart from the elite and wealthy (1% analysis by occupy) benefit from militarism being dominant in security and fear. These are different ways of framing the system and generate different questions.
Boundaries in a system are the place for the debate on what is in or out, what is legal, what the government spends tax money on, what impact it has on our lives, what impact it has on those who are most vulnerable. It also identifies what we mean by resistance – what if you oppose militarism, but your behaviour doesn’t reject it.

It shows us what is outside, e.g. cooperative education, cooperative economics, campaigns, 

Inter-relationships can be direct and strong or weak. For example war profiteering and the extractive industries where armies are sent to clear land ready for large multi-nationals to exploit natural resources. It is related to use of force and locals having to relinquish land, but is that the same as militarism. Can this happen because of the norms and values of militarism. A clear link is spending and arms trade, but other links need a greater investigation.

The research workshop raised some critical questions, including;

What is the role of government and the state? – in the UK what has Corbyn done differently?

What is the role of the economic system? Is it a capitalist violent system contributing to or supporting militarism?

How militarism links to drugs trade and organised violence?

How should we link current discussion on militarism back to history and imperialism?

Where should we start with the links with clear disarmament and the arms trade to show the links with other aspects of militarism.

What is the importance of university research into the way in which militarism is developed though video games (for example world of warcraft)?

The modelling of militarism created a forum through which participants explored the perspectives and inter-relationships.

box it in – what is around the edges of militarism, e.g. uphold the rights of those in the military. Militarism is about eroding freedoms, so making sure those freedoms and rights are upheld for those in the military is a way of making that boundary and resistance clear. Or in education – parents should be informed everytime the military came in – making things normal or challenging norms. Make it clear all the little arms trade links – including all the suppliers – box and limit the activities

the iceberg – what we can see both the web of complexity and underneath examining the mental models and values which underpin them. For example the challenge of UCP or redefining security.

The web of connections becomes an ever expanding page of connections, especially without clear boundaries and with the multiple perspectives.

Systems thinking is new to practitioners, therefore learning as well as practice is required.
80% of the people participating saw how the two days would impact on their thinking about how their work is related to the bigger picture of countering militarism. There was a general agreement of militarism as a system, and the next step is exploring the boundaries. Also agreed militarism isn’t everything

Outside the boundaries there are social, cultural, routes for hearing the voices of victims of violence, community and art projects, arms conversion, sustainable alternatives, use of intl law, campaigning. Overall we see the need for ‘questioning’ and not just accept norms and values. The active questioning is a recurring theme throughout the discussion on militarism and global military spending.

see pictures on resistance.


That militarism and global military spending is a massive system and that it is embedded/intwined with other global systems and complex problems such as poverty and climate change. It does seem to be part of gender studies, economics, etc but also hidden from studies by being implicit

Over the two days there were a significant number of times when there was a sudden revelation of how militarism was part of some aspect we hadn’t though about before, indicating it is a system.

Participants agreed that we wanted to change the dominance of militarism and challenging the norm of violence and military power in order to contribute to a greater capacity to address this and related global challenges.

The workshop agreed that the enormity of the system made it hard to see the significance of each intervention that was seeking change, but that many initiatives were mapped over the two days.

But by viewing it as a system it does reveal gaps and intervention points. Complexity is certain, however we see militarism and how violence has become a norm.

If militarism and global military spending are a system, then this workshop and research shows we know how to analyse a system, and are able to both model the current and future situations and therefore map a range of intervention points. The benefit of this will be to both have an impact on the system, and in practice to enable greater collaboration between actors whose work attempts to intervene to disrupt the system and move us away from a system based on war economic to one based on economics for peace.

Research was funded by Global Inequalities Research Group at Leeds Beckett University.