Military-Industrial Complex & Corporate Influence on Policy: Shared Security RoundUp


AFSC is  shining a spotlight on the excessive influence of powerful corporations through a strategic education and action project on ‘Governing Under the Influence’ (GUI). The project is starting in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that get the lion’s share of attention from presidential candidates.

The project focuses on the idea that we need to ask  our representatives tough questions about humane alternatives to current militarized policies; alternatives that bring about shared security for all rather than selective protection of some. These questions become particularly pertinent when thinking about immigration policies and defense contracts.

See this interactive showcase based on Fusion’s investigation, which found that without a single vote in Congress, officials across three administrations created a new classification of federal prisons only for immigrants, decided that private companies would run the facilities, and filled them by changing immigration enforcement practices.

At the same time, the international sphere continues to become increasingly militarized. As GUI reports, ‘during a recent presidential trip to India, we saw how U.S. and Indian defense contractors are profiting from GUI‐for‐export – and how the American taxpayers are footing the bill. Now that India and the United States have indicated participation in a mutual defense treaty, we can expect an increase in defense spending and defense exports to India.’

Is increasing militarization at home and abroad really furthering the security of individuals and communities- either in the US or outside? Or is it merely bolstering the security of the state apparatus – what Eisenhower presciently referred to as the Military-Industrial Complex? A recent study found that foreign intervention is 100 times more likely in oil-rich states. The research frames oil as a dominant motivating factor in conflicts, and argues that hydrocarbons heavily influenced the West’s military intervention in Libya. It also suggests that oil plays a noteworthy factor in the US-led war against Islamic State.

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Charlie Hebdo & Shared Security in an Unequal World

There can never be any justification for the Charlie Hebdo attack, which killed 12 people on January 7. As a society, we have already answered that question. However, viewing these events from a perspective of shared security, an entirely separate set of questions remain unanswered:

Can we defend the right to free speech without condoning the content? Is the right to freedom of speech applicable to all, or denied to some? How can countries promote national security while ensuring the security of some at the expense of others? And how can we tackle the political and social challenge at hand – of both religious and state sponsored violence – when those who point out the history of marginalized Muslim communities in France are accused of exonerating the attackers?

Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, people around the world galavanized in the defense of free speech. A common illustration showed a pencil overcoming a sword, and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieHebdo swept across the twitter feeds; it was clear that defending the right of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists was not enough, but the content itself needed to be disseminated and celebrated. However, it is entirely possible to defend the right to free speech without condoning the content. As a New Yorker article titled, ‘Unmournable Bodies’ states:

“It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. The A.C.L.U. got it right in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs.”

Mainstream media came down hard upon Islamic groups as well as Muslim majority states using violence to strangle free speech. However, the censorship within Western countries and the violence of non-Muslim groups evades such pervasive media scrutiny. A wholly different group of ‘blasphemors’, not universally celebrated include Edward Snowden, a man in exile for revealing information about US mass surveillance, Chelsea Manning, serving a 35 year sentence for her role in Wikileaks, and John Kiriakou, the whistleblower exposing the CIA’s torture regime. Furthermore, certain Western countries have been prosecuting Muslims for their free speech. According to the Intercept:

“Muslims were imprisoned for many years in the U.S. for things like translating and posting “extremist” videos to the internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package. Not all online “hate speech” or advocacy of violence is treated equally. It is, for instance, extremely difficult to imagine that Facebook users who sanction violence by the UK in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who spew anti-Muslim animus, or who call for and celebrate the deaths of Gazans, would be similarly prosecuted.”

Although Charlie Hebdo is seen as an ‘equal opportunity offender’, many argue that its satire was increasingly targeted towards France’s most vulnerable groups. Historically, satire has been directed against privilege, power and the ruling class – so in a deeply unequal world, who is served when satire ‘punches down’?  The novelist Saladin Ahmed articulates:

“In a field dominated by privileged voices, it’s not enough to say, ‘Mock everyone!’ In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone ends up serving the powerful. And in the context of brutal inequality, it is worth at least asking what preexisting injuries we are adding insults to. Satire might be better served by an honest reckoning of whose voices we hear and don’t hear.”

While the attention of the world was on the heinous attacks on Charlie Hebdo, we were largely ignoring acts of carnage in other parts of the world, including the killings in Mexico, the hundreds of children killed in Gaza by Israel last year, the civilian deaths caused by US drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, and the chaos following the US intervention in Libya. While we prayed for the staff of Charlie Hebdo, other slayed victims were deemed ‘unmournable’. As the New Yorker article asserts:

“Even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this month, or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.”

This post was written by Jasveen Bindra, who serves as the Shared Security Fellow with the Office of Public Policy & Advocacy in Washington, DC.

Shared Security Roundup

The Shared Security Roundup is designed to aggregate and highlight the exciting work being undertaken by AFSC and FCNL in connection with the Shared Security concept. The idea of shared security rejects the militarized and fear-based underpinnings of current policies, and instead upholds human dignity, helps resilient communities solve problems nonviolently, and build a more effective system of international law. The Shared Security working paper can be found here​.

Survival in Solitary

Solitary Confinement

AFSC–particularly our colleagues Ojore Lutalo and Bonnie Kerness –is prominently featured in this Al Jazeera article focusing on the practice of holding incarcerated people in prolonged isolation. This practice came under international scrutiny when the U.S. government went before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva to assess the country’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The list of issues addressed in connection to the U.S included the use of secret detention facilities, Guantánamo Bay and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer. Since 1970, our prison population has risen 700%. Is there an alternative to this system based on retributive justice? One of the shared security principles focuses on the idea of restorative justice, which is concerned far more about restoration of the victim and the victimized community than about the increasingly costly punishment of the offender. In order to pursue policies embodying shared security principles, we need much greater investment and support  for small-scale, local peacebuilding, reconciliation, and trauma healing.

You can find AFSC’s ‘Survivors Manual’, written by and for people living in control units here.

Governing Under the Influence

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One of the major obstacles to shared security is the intractability of the ‘military-industrial complex’. Private companies invest millions in lobbying for policies that guarantee profits regardless of the human cost. This AFSC infographic visualizes how money spent on lobbying affects policy, profits, and the rest of the world.

See the full infographic here

Southeast Asian Businesses Invest in Peace

As the U.S. announces its intent to shift attention toward Asia, many are concerned that this new focus will be framed by militarization and competition over resources and influence. But AFSC’s current work in China demonstrates multiple ways this “pivot” could instead transform U.S.-China relations toward constructive engagement built on the kinds of trust and goodwill that opened doors for our work in the region decades ago. One of the recent examples of this work is AFSC’s outreach with businesses investing in South East Asia.

Foreign companies’ rapid development in the least developed countries of Southeast Asia has fanned the flames of several local conflicts during the past decade. Thanks to efforts by AFSC and its partners, companies are beginning to consult local communities before they build—and as corporations prioritize peace, local communities are benefiting.

Starting in 2011, AFSC began building partnerships and developing resources to open dialogue among businesses, civil society, and communities. In collaboration with Beijing New Academy of Transnational Corporations (NATC) AFSC came out with a book, “Out of the Mine Fields and Blind Areas of Overseas Investment Security,” which incorporates careful research on the relationship between business and conflict in Myanmar.

Read the entire story here 

Small Steps toward Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means

Conscientious objection is not a total repudiation of force; it is a refusal to surrender moral responsibility for one’s actions. – Kenneth Barnes

In 2011, President Obama issued Presidential Study Directive 10 making the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities “a core national security interest and core moral responsibility of the United States.”  Today, violence in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) that has been called “pre-genocidal” by United Nations officials, is putting that commitment to the test.  Over recent months, decades of chronic conflict, poverty, and poor governance in CAR have crystalized horrifically into a new phase of violence characterized by the targeted slaughter of civilians, focused along religious lines in a country where Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully together for generations.  How can such violence be stopped?  Are peaceful means available to do so?

The U.S. response to the crisis in CAR has been impressive in its speed and scope.  From President Obama himself calling for nonviolence and reconciliation through a radio message aired across the country, to direct funding for religious peacemaking efforts and radio networks to help dispel rumors and promote peace, to added millions in humanitarian assistance and support to African peacekeepers, the United States has mobilized across different agencies, civilian and military, to try to help halt the violence in CAR.  Last week US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power flew to CAR herself to demonstrate US commitment and meet with government officials and civil society leaders.

Still, the balance and nature of the response to the unfolding violence in CAR illustrate the problem of reacting after the killing has already begin, and with a still heavily militarized US foreign policy toolbox.  The US mobilized over $100 million to support the African-led peacekeeping mission, $15 million in additional humanitarian assistance, and $7.5 million in conflict mitigation, peacebuilding, and human rights funding.  Civilian peacemaking and human rights work is inherently less expensive then military operations, but the balance says something about US funding priorities and the tools available to US policymakers.  We are still much better at thinking of and funding military solutions than we are at imagining creative, nonviolent responses that could interrupt violence without adding to it.  And once violence is underway, the options for creative response shrink drastically.

What peaceful means are available to halt the kind of organized killing we have seen in CAR?  The most powerful forces for peace have been the courageous religious leaders – Muslim and Christian –  who stepped into the midst of the violence in their country to protect people who fled to their churches and mosques and to directly mediate with those doing the killing.  In many cases, they put their own lives directly at risk to try to save others, carrying nothing but a Bible or Koran as protection.  The fact that supporting these leaders was at the top of the interagency priorities in responding to the CAR crisis says something about the important progress being made in US policy to lift up peaceful options for responding to violence. But why aren’t we providing such support for local peace builders long before the violence erupts and in ways that help support and sustain their work through tensions and social and political upheaval?

Moreover, once violence is underway and, as in CAR, civilian rule of law no longer exists, halting the killing and creating a space for such peacemaking becomes extremely difficult.  Some peacebuilding pioneers, like the Nonviolent Peaceforce, imagine and work toward the day when nonviolent peacekeepers are ready and equipped to quickly step into such situations in adequate numbers and appropriately supported to succeed.  But that day remains a long way off.  UN and regional peacekeeping forces, in the meantime, remain a flawed but critical tool that will sometimes, as in the case of CAR, be the best response the international community has available to it once violence is underway.  To minimize violence and harm, however, such forces should be trained and prepared to protect civilians and help restore rule of law so the real peacemaking can take place.  That is a very different task than fighting and defeating an enemy, and requires more of a civilian policing approach than a war-fighting one.

Creating more peaceful means for peaceful ends for the future means investing in much earlier prevention through civilian peacebuilding and just development long before a crisis erupts.  After all, the CAR was caught for decades in cycles of conflict and with some of the world’s lowest development indicators.  It also means changing the balance and make up of the US foreign policy toolbox – getting rid of outdated military machinery that serves little purpose in today’s world and investing seriously in nonviolent tools to protect civilians, prevent violent conflict, and build durable peace.

US response to the situation in CAR shows we are making baby steps forward in that direction, but a much bigger paradigm and resources shift is still needed.

Question of the week: Iran — What’s next?

This week we’re talking about Iran. Michael Shank and Aura Kanegis posed the question below to a group of experts around the world. 

Based on the inroads made in Geneva between the P5 +1 and Iran,what are the necessary next steps the Administration can and should take to further develop their diplomatic game plan with Tehran?

To learn more about P5+1 talks, check out these artlicles from CNN and Reuters.

You can read all of the responses here, or read individual responses from Bridget MoixJoe Volk, Welling HallJames Matlack and Doug Bennett.

The Challenge of U.S – Iranian Negotiations

By Jim Matlack

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

For most Americans the basis of U.S.-Iranian relations lies in events that took place exactly forty-four years ago—the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and the long imprisonment of U.S. diplomats. This episode bred persistent distrust and enmity. Most Iranians see the relationship between the two governments filtered through their resentment over events in 1953 when the United States led the overthrow of a popularly elected President Mohammed Mosaddegh and the restoration of the Shah to power. The Shah was toppled in 1979 by revolutionary forces that created the current Islamic-led Iranian regime. Continue reading

Next Steps with Iran

By Welling Hall

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

The President has been alluding to the different memories that Americans and Iranians have of their past relationship (thank you Joe Volk!). Notably, in his speech to the General Assembly, the President was echoing some of the sentiments that JFK made in his olive-wielding speech to the Soviets at American University in 1963. Changing the narrative from one of Inherent Bad Faith to one in which it is possible to think about areas of common interest has to be part of the diplomatic game plan not only in relations with Iran, but in talking about the relationship with suspicious domestic partners (like Congress). Indeed, it is hard to imagine how relations with Iran can improve much so long as the President is constrained by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010. You can’t do much negotiating with your right hand when your left hand is targeting the potential business partner with economic restrictions that are intended to be crippling. Continue reading

US-Iran Diplomacy — 2 Essential Next Steps

by Joe Volk

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

Beth & I are in Vietnam as I reply to your questions about the U.S. – Iran diplomacy initiative.  Today’s (Oct. 30th) news says that former V.P. Dick Cheney called for a US war on Iran.  That brings back memories. Dick Cheney supported the US war in Vietnam, avoided military service at the time, and went to work in the White House.  I opposed the US war, refused to go with my army unit to Vietnam, and went to work for Quakers.  We disagreed then on Vietnam; we disagree now on Iran. Though very different countries, the Vietnam case might have something to teach us about Iran. Continue reading