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The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative



A vocabulary for peace and war- definitions



Asymmetric war-fare

The use of weapons by paramilitary groups or not very powerful states, against militarily powerful states.


Example- The Provisional IRA campaign oof economic targeting of England in the 1990ís, using mainly home-made fertiliser bombs.  It included detonation of a large van bomb outside the Baltic Exchange in the City of London, killing 3 people, injuring 91, causing £1b worth of damage, and threatened the role of London as a centre for international business.





A method of conflict which is premeditated and systematic, and aims to create a climate of extreme fear and terror.  Its key feature is that the violence is directed at a wider audience than the immediate victims: ďkill one, frighten 10,000Ē Sun Tzu.


Example- The attack by Palestinians on the Israeli Olympic competitors at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, killing 11 members of the team.




Nuclear war

The use of nuclear weapons by both sides in a war.  This has never happened.


Closest examples- Nuclear weapons were invented in 1945 and have been used by 1 country in war: the USA dropped 1 nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and 1 on Nagasaki in 1945.

At the end of the 1980ís the world nuclear stock-pile peaked at 70,000 nuclear war-heads.  One 25 megaton war-head could cause near total destruction over 500 square miles. 

States with nuclear weapons in February 2003 are: USA, Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan.





National Missile Defence (Son of Star Wars)


The USA is developing a system to defend itself against nuclear weapons.  This involves intercepting and detonating an approaching nuclear weapon in during flight, shortly after launch, using lasers based in outer space.  This would be the first use of weapons in space.  It breaches the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty which forbids the deployment of national missile defences.





The taking up of arms against the government, the forcible opposition and resistance to the laws of the country.


Example- In 1948 the communist Party of Malaya, a mainly Chinese movement, went into the jungle and embarked on guerrilla war-fare against the colonial government, of Britain.  It was defeated after 12 years, largely by negotiation with other groups in the country, assuring independence and isolating the rebels.




Conventional war

Describes war which is declared by one state or an  alliance of states against another state or alliance of states, using the statesí armed forces and non-nuclear weapons


 Example- World War 2 is an example of conventional war although nuclear weapons were used at the end of it.




Total war

It involves all the social systems of a country in fighting it: the economy, government, politics, all sections of the population.



Examples- World War 1, where the adult population and the economy were organised to support the armed forces  by manufacturing weapons and equipment and by conscription into the forces.  In World War 2 the civilian population was the target of bombing on both sides. 




Cold war

The confrontation lasting from 1945 to 1990 between the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) countries of the west, dominated by the USA, and the Warsaw Pact countries of the east dominated by the USSR.

Both sides engaged in an arms race and made preparations for war, but never engaged directly in war.

A key factor was the idea of nuclear deterrence: neither side could afford the risk of attacking the other because the use of nuclear weapons would lead to the annihilation of both sides.  This is known as MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction.

Spending on the Cold War reached a peak at the end of the 1980ís with NATO and the Warsaw Pact spending 745 billion dollars per annum.




Preventive Diplomacy

The prevention of armed conflict by governments and intergovernmental bodies through identification of potential areas of conflict and resolution of the problems by talks designed to find alternative methods of meeting the interests of potential antagonists.


Example- Activity by  governments following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, leading to the peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union, and its sphere of influence in eastern Europe, concluding with the Treaty of Paris in 1991.





Actions to prevent violence between combatants in a conflict.  It can be carried out by military forces, who may use their own weapons to keep the combatants apart or prevent an attack.  It can also be carried out by an international police service or by civilians acting as observers, or monitors of both sides in a cease-fire.


Examples- The presence of Un troops in Kosovo from  1999 to prevent conflict between Serbs and Kosovans.

Peace Brigade Internationalís presence from 1995  in Barrrancchermeja in Colombia, where their members accompanied citizens who were threatened with assassination by paramilitaries supported by the government.





The aim is to enable the parties to the conflict to come together, and reach agreement  or be reconciled to each other.  This has to be done by the parties themselves, but others can support  this process  by listening to people on both sides, monitoring potentially inflammatory statements by the media and by politicians, fact-finding to correct   inflammatory rumours, drawing attention to breaches of undertakings and supporting sections of the population who want peace.


Example-The Liberian Womenís Initiative contributed to peaceful settlement between the warlords  and their factions, by lobbying the leaders, mobilising the civilian population  for peace, and assisting the disarmament process.




Conflict resolution

A strand of peacemaking activity which focuses on the steps needed to reach a political settlement to a conflict.  It includes the tools  of negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, and resort to regional agencies or arrangements.


Example- The work of the Mediation Network in Northern Ireland in 1995 to achieve peaceful resolution over the issue of the Orange Day March by Protestants down the Catholic  Garvaghy Road in Portadown.






The long-term work in tackling the root causes of conflict.  Research shows the root causes of conflict fall into 3 areas:

The absence or abuse of fundamental human rights

The absence of a developed system of   democratic institutions at national and local levels.

The absence of an ability   to make appropriate choices in the management of public policy ie good governance.  In practice this can mean rampant corruption at the highest levels of public life.


Examples- Establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, where Slobodam Milosevic is on trial for war crimes.

Mobilisation in 1992 by the Russian Ministry of Defence of 20.000 military lorries to distribute harvested crops.  In previous years the harvest did not reach the population requiring food, causing human suffering and potential social unrest.




Abolition of war

The global conversion from a war economy to a peace economy as a result of the recognition that war is an obsolete method for resolving conflict.


 Examples- Equipping the United nations to monitor its member states on the issues of human rights and military activities.

Britainís largest arms manufacturer, BaE Systems seeking other products for its skilled work-force to manufacture.





Commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict, and a commitment to living in a way which promotes a peaceful world.  This is often perceived as a moral position, and may be linked with a moral position about the wrongness of killing another human being, or using violence to enforce your will over another person.


 Examples- British citizens were legally permitted to register as pacifists during World War 2 if they could prove their position was based on belief.  They were directed to do useful work like agriculture but not required to serve in the armed forces.

In World War 1 16000 British conscientious objectors, as they were known, were imprisoned as an alternative to serving in the armed forces.

A vocabulary for peace and war