Against the war in Afghanistan – and/or against NATO?

Reflections on strategic issues for the antimilitarist movement

most NATO countries public opinion is either divided over, or in
favour of, the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. Only in
very few countries can NATO count on support for its war (see
illustration 1). However, neither does this turn into a massive
mobilisation against the war in Afghanistan, nor does it – for now
– translate into opposition to the organisation fighting this war –
NATO (see illustration 2). So are we successful? The troops are still
in Afghanistan, so we surely must be doing something wrong.

A strategic framework

look at this question I am using Bill Moyer's Movement Action
1 as a framework. The plan includes two important aspects: a concept of
eight stages of successful social movements, and of four roles
of activists within these movements.

social movement – if successful – moves from normal times
(stage 1), through proving the failure of official institutions
(stage 2) to ripening conditions (stage 3), which will lead to
the take off of the movement (stage 4). It is probably fair to
say that this is often the first time the movement is recognised as
such by the general public, or the mass media. This is followed –
often in parallel – by a perception of failure within the
movement (stage 5), and the winning of majority public opinion
(stage 6), which eventually might lead to success (stage 7),
and a continuation and extension of the struggle (stage 8). In
each stage the movement faces different challenges, and has different
strategic, medium-term objectives which it needs to reach to advance.

other aspect of the MAP are the four roles of activism. Any movement
needs the right balance at the right time of all four roles – the
rebel, the reformer, the citizen, and the social
change agent

it is important not to see the Movement Action Plan as a kind
of recipe for movement success. It is a useful – albeit limited –
model for understanding our movement, and for giving hints what might
now be important, but it is not a recipe for success.

any social movement – and for any analysis of a social movement –
it is extremely important to be clear of the objective. As Bill Moyer
points out, social movements are composed of many sub-goals and
sub-movements, which are each in their own MAP stage.

a WRI staff member and antimilitarist, my perspective here is the
movement against NATO, and in this I see the war in Afghanistan as a
major crime NATO is presently committing.2
However, let's have a look at both.

Where are we at: Afghanistan

* NATO member with troops in Afghanistan **non-NATO country with troops in Afghanistan  Illustration 1: Troops out of Afghanistan: Are you in favour of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan? Source: Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 2007-2010
* NATO member with troops in Afghanistan **non-NATO country with troops in Afghanistan Illustration 1: Troops out of Afghanistan: Are you in favour of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan? Source: Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 2007-2010

mentioned in the introduction, the war in Afghanistan is deeply
unpopular in most NATO countries, and indeed globally. In most NATO
countries more than 45% of the population are in favour of a
withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan3,
according to polls published by the Pew Global Attitudes Project,
a project shared by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
and former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth.4
Other polls for individual countries report much higher opposition to
the war – for example, a Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll from
August 2009 showed 62% opposition to the war in Britain.5

public mobilisation against the war is low – at least if we look at
major actions or demonstrations. And in the past the war in
Afghanistan has been overshadowed by the war in Iraq, to which
opposition was and is even higher.

at the movement against the war in Afghanistan, it clearly has
achieved at least phases 1–3 of the Movement Action Plan. The
conditions for a movement are ripe for a long time: the problem has
clearly been recognised, and public opinion is even more opposed to
the war than could be expected. However, it is also fair to say that
the movement has failed to use the conditions, to take it further.
This for several reasons:

  • The
    Iraq-war might have taken up the energy of many activists, and led
    to burn-out
    and disempowerment
    Consequently, there is a lack of “rebels” within the
    anti-Afghanistan war movement, which could launch nonviolent action
    campaigns to dramatise the problem. And
    without this crucial role, the movement is stuck.

  • A
    lack of an alternative
    vision for Afghanistan
    which could add credibility to the demand for withdrawal from
    Afghanistan, and counter the propaganda that NATO is in Afghanistan
    to fight for women's rights. Such an alternative vision can only be
    developed in close co-operation with Afghan civil society and peace
    movement organisations, which exist, but are not being listened to
    (with few exceptions)6.

  • A
    failure to put
    the issue on the public agenda
    the leaked CIA report quotes polls which indicate that few people
    see the war – although they might be opposed to it – as an
    important issue: “Only
    a fraction (0.1-1.3 percent) of French and German respondents
    identified 'Afghanistan' as the most urgent issue facing their
    nation in an open-ended question,
    These publics ranked 'stabilizing Afghanistan' as among the lowest
    priorities for US and European leaders.
    Felix Kolb points out in his book “Protest
    and Opportunities
    a favourable public opinion might still be irrelevant if salience is
    means we as a movement are failing to show how the war affects all
    segments of society, but
    also that we can make a difference.

see a need in two main areas:

  • local

    to root the movement against the war in all sectors of society, and
    to bring across an alternative perspective. As Bill Moyer would put
    it: the basic purpose of the movement in this stage is to
    educate, convert, and involve all segments of the population. And

  • nonviolent
    direct action campaigns
    which used intelligently can help to keep the issue on the public
    agenda, reduce apathy, and counter the alternative strategies of our
    governments and NATO.

the public has somehow overtaken the movement, and quietly opposition
to the war in Afghanistan has risen to levels which almost indicate a
success of the movement. But as the movement did not build up its own
strength, we are not able to capitalise on it, and to really push for
withdrawal from Afghanistan. As the CIA put it in a leaked
memorandum: governments can count on apathy, and therefore ignore
public opinion. To make sure this remains so, the memorandum
suggested ways to manipulate public opinion especially in Germany and

in response to a mostly apathetic public opposition, but also to the
military failure of NATO in Afghanistan, NATO and most governments
involved are changing their strategy: dates for withdrawal from
Afghanistan are set (we will see how realistic they are), and the
building up of the Afghan army and police has been stepped up
considerably. We can see a replay of the response to the opposition
to the war in Iraq: parts of Afghanistan are handed over to Afghan
security forces, which is presented to the public as a first step
towards withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, neither has a
withdrawal from Iraq really happened, nor can we take the dates being
mentioned for withdrawal from Afghanistan serious.

the movement to get into the next stage, there is a need to take
opportunities. A movement take-off is often a response to something
that happens – opportunities being taken. This could have been the
bombing of the tankers in Kunduz for the German movement. In other
countries there might have been other opportunities, which have not
been taken.

movements can also create the take-off themselves. An idea could be
to organise major events on 8 October 2011, the tenth anniversary of
the intervention in Afghanistan, which are slightly different. What
about human chains instead of the usual demonstrations? In Britain
for example from Brize Norton (the main transport hub to and from
Afghanistan via High Wycombe (RAF Strike Command) and PJHQ Northwood
to Whitehall (about 100km), thus linking important military bases and
headquarters with the seat of government. Similar human chains in
other European (and non-European) countries could create a global
human chain of 1000km – a challenge, but a challenge which could
lead to its own dynamic which could trigger the take-off of an
anti-Afghanistan war movement.

such an event to be successful – and more importantly, for a
movement to be successful – it is important that the different
groups and organisations within the movement work together, and
accept their differences. Even though we – as war resisters –
prefer nonviolent direct action, NVDA alone will not build a movement
or end the war. The same applies to other “roles” within the
movement: we need the reformers talking to the government, we need
the rebels (that might be us), the involvement of citizens, and the
organisers and social change agents. Only by working together and
respecting the role each one of us has to play can we be successful.

Where are we at: NATO

Illustration 2: Unfavourable views on NATO and opposition to Afghanistan. Source: 27-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 17 June 2010
Illustration 2: Unfavourable views on NATO and opposition to Afghanistan. Source: 27-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 17 June 2010

is a completely different matter. Public opinion against NATO
is still pretty low – 21% in the USA, 17% in Britain, around 30% in
France, Germany, and Spain, and only 10% in Poland.10
The low figure for Poland is probably representative of many of the
Eastern European new NATO countries, which see NATO much more as a
guarantor of “freedom and democracy”.11

is difficult to look at the movement against NATO on a European scale
– differences between the countries are very significant. The
following therefore cannot be more than a rough outline.

official reason for NATO's existence is to provide stability and
security for its member states. And NATO presents itself as a success
story in this regard – despite its failure in Afghanistan. As a
movement against NATO, it is therefore an important objective to show
clearly that NATO as an institution is failing to provide security,
that NATO is part of the problem, and not part of the solution.

Wanie of the German Werkstatt für
gewaltfreie Aktion Baden
(Workshop for Nonviolent Action Baden)
wrote already in 2009 that “education about NATO's
war policy and the myth of the defence alliance
” has to be one
of five important objectives of the peace movement after the NATO
protests in Strasbourg in April 200912.

us as war resisters with a focus on nonviolent direct action, there
is a specific task at the present stage of the anti-NATO movement:
to create small, nonviolent demonstrations and campaigns that
can serve as prototype models and a training ground for the take-off
However, it is important that this does not happen in isolation from
the rest of the movement, but serves to strengthen it.

years actions at the NATO summit in Strasbourg could have moved the
movement forward, but an opportunity was lost due to the violence
that overshadowed the entire protest.14
To prevent violence at protests – whether it is provoked by the
police or committed by parts of the movements that believe in
violence – is crucial for any social movement that wants to be
successful, as violence leads to alienation, and ultimately harms the

we are making some progress, and the powers that are can feel it. As
the Madeline Albright report “NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic
Engagement” stresses, “NATO populations should be reminded
that the alliance serves their interests through the security it
This is a consequence of growing scepticism about the need and
usefulness of NATO – something we need to build on.

Our role in the movements

war resisters – as antimilitarists and pacifists – we have a
specific role to play in the movements against the war in Afghanistan
and against NATO. Although within WRI we have a variety of political
perspectives and approaches, what unites us is a principled stand
against war and militarism, and in favour of nonviolence. Both are
crucial within both movements.

pacifists, we will remain the minority in the anti-war movement. But
our insights into the need for nonviolence, and our experience with
nonviolent action, is highly important, as especially the events from
the NATO summit in Strasbourg in April 2009 show.

the coming years, we should continue to work with the national and
international coalitions against the war in Afghanistan, and against
NATO, and to push for more democratic forms of organising, and
creative nonviolent action. As Bill Moyer puts it: “participatory
democracy is a key means for resolving today's awesome societal
problems and for establishing a just and sustainable world for
This requires empowered citizens, and our movements are the place
where empowerment is to take place. But this requires much more
democracy and grassroots organisation within our movements, and less
hierarchical and “professional” anti-war organising.

of war and peace are too important to leave them to NATO, or to
governments and politicians. Let's do it!




Moyer et al, Doing Democracy. The MAP Model for Organizing Social
, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, 2001. A
brief description of the MAP can be found at

the relevance of Afghanistan for NATO see the article of Tobias
Pflüger in this issue of The
Broken Rifle

Global, Pew Global Attitudes Surveys (different issues)

accessed 9 September 2010

Daily Telegraph, Two thirds want British troops home from
, 29 August 2009,,
accessed 9 September 2010

Eventon, Transnational Institute: Afghan Voices and Our
, September 2010, unpublished, but a good read.

Red Cell, 11 March 2010

Kolb, Protest and Opportunities. The Political Outcomes of Social
. Frankfurt/New York 2007

Red Cell, Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the
NATO-led Mission—Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough

(C//NF), 11 March 2010, published by Wikileaks at,
accessed 9 September 2010

Global, 27-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 17 June 2010,,
accessed 9 September 2010.

is important to note that another survey – Transatlantic Trends,
published by the German Marshall Fund of the United States – lists
very different figures for some of the countries, with especially
higher scepticism towards NATO in Eastern Europe. See,
accessed 9 September 2010

Wanie, Pacefahne oder Hasskappe - wir müssen uns entscheiden!
In: Friedensforum 3/2009,,
accessed 15 September 2010

Moyer et al, Doing Democracy. The MAP Model for Organizing Social
, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, 2001. Page

Speck: After Strasbourg: On dealing with violence in one's own
ranks, 20 April 2009,,
accessed 16 September 2010

NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement. Analysis and
Recommendations of the Group of Experts on a New Strategic Concept
for NATO
, 17 May 2010,,
accessed 9 September 2010

Moyer et al, Doing Democracy. The MAP Model for Organizing Social
, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, 2001. Page


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