Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

What Makes an Effective Antiwar Movement? Theme-Issue Introduction

Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

What Makes an Effective Antiwar Movement? Theme-Issue Introduction

Article excerpt

Antiwar Movements: Definitional Considerations

The contributions to this Special Issue of the International Journal of Peace Studies consider antiwar protests' potential to influence national-security policies. They are particularly concerned with questions of movement efficacy and with developing contingent generalizations about features of antiwar movements and features of the political environment that together determine movements' influence on state policies and, possibly, on political structures and societal values.

Important definitional considerations concern the temporal and issue dimensions of antiwar protest. Opposition to a particular war motivates some movements. These ad hoc movements seek to change government policy regarding a specific, ongoing war. While this goal may be linked to other political agendas--be they anti-militarist, feminist, anti-imperialist, pro-democracy, and so forth--these are secondary to the primary focus on bringing a particular war to an end. The time-horizon of such movements is limited and they typically dissolve or become inactive after the war ends.

A different type of antiwar activism transcends protest against specific wars. It has a more extensive temporal dimension and greater prominence of ideologically based motives and goals--such as pacifism, or liberal internationalism that seeks to institutionalize world order through the United Nations or a federation of countries. Ongoing protests by secular pacifist groups or by peace churches against armaments and militarism can have much more diffuse goals than do ad hoc antiwar movements. In addition to disarmament, these goals may include strengthening of international dispute-resolution processes, promoting international understanding, and peace education. One can designate ad hoc protests "antiwar movements" and more ideologically motivated and long-running protests "peace movements"--although these categories are not mutually exclusive and protesters against particular wars may also have transcendent ideological motives.

Open-ended, more ideologically motivated movements may have less potential, at least in the near term, to influence public opinion and change public policy. In part this reflects the more diffuse goals of ongoing peace movements: Insofar as a single-issue focus tends to correlate with greater ability to achieve movement goals (Gamson, 1990, 45-46), ad hoc antiwar groups may be more successful. Of course, the task of ending a particular war is more achievable than that of ending war generally.

Peace groups whose demands include the expansion of international law at the expense of state sovereignty are also politically radical in the sense that they challenge "present distributions of wealth and power," and advocate replacing the authority over security policy claimed by domestic elites (Ash, 1972, 230). Scholars debate how the radicalism of a movement's demands affects its prospects for success, but the goal of displacing established political authorities is highly correlated with protest-group failure (Gamson, 1990, 42). Antiwar groups that focus on ending a particular war do not generally seek to replace the authority of domestic elites. Rather, their challenge is directed toward particular policies and practices that they believe depart from the responsible exercise of officeholders' authority.

Thus, a key question that bears on questions of antiwar movements' effectiveness and influence is "What is the relative importance to movement leaders of ideological goals broader than ending a particular war?" It may also be useful to locate movement goals on a continuum from domestic to international politics, with world peace and disarmament goals located on the more international and abstract end and also implying the potentially radical displacement of domestic elites. Peace groups with broader time horizons and more abstract goals generally find it harder to achieve favorable public responses and typically remain politically marginal. …

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