PEACEKEEPERS: Athena’s Champions
By SID HEAL
June 22, 2022
Historically, war has been represented by the mythical Roman god Mars, by all accounts a very powerful but cruel and ill-tempered being. His brutal and bloodthirsty nature personified the horrors and savagery of war. As the modern world comes to grips with the difficulties of establishing and maintaining peace, the barbarous nature of Mars may not be the most appropriate symbol. The Greek goddess Athena was not only a goddess of war, but of wisdom. Besides representing strategy, battle and victory, she was the embodiment of justice and leadership.
Making peace is not only fraught with danger, but misperceptions and criticism. Notwithstanding the best intentions and purist motives of peacekeepers, tyranny is not defined by how it’s imposed. Peace will be neither painless nor easy. As described by one political leader, “Making peace, I have found, is much harder than making war.”1 In today’s peacekeeping operations, the warriors of Mars must become the champions of Athena. To be seen as just is more important than to be seen as powerful. In the words of one U.S. President, “The greatest honour history can bestow is that of peacemaker.”2 It is in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the problem that these insights are provided.
IN TODAY’S PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, THE WARRIORS OF MARS MUST BECOME THE CHAMPIONS OF ATHENA. TO BE SEEN AS JUST IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TO BE SEEN AS POWERFUL.
PEACEKEEPING AS WARFIGHTING
Mobs and riots are not new phenomena. For at least 2,500 years, literature ranging from ancient Roman and Greek texts to the Bible recount their mindless violence and destruction. 3 Western history is likewise replete with notorious incidents such as the rioting over civil rights and the Vietnam War in the United States, to more recent problems in Ireland and Israel; not to mention the problems in failed states such as Yugoslavia, Haiti or Somalia. Governments’ efforts at quelling riots have ranged from local law enforcement to military intervention. While there are many similarities, an examination of peacekeeping and warfighting is a study of contrasts.
First, peacekeeping operations are highly sensitive to political objectives and tend to cast the military in a supporting, rather than a leading role. Through centuries of real-world scenarios, the military has developed doctrine and honed procedures to prepare for, and execute, warfighting operations. Peacekeeping operations, however, present new and formidable challenges for which there are no readily apparent solutions. The problem is particularly complex because of the need to work with local authorities, nearly always in a supporting role.
Second, adversaries encountered during peacekeeping operations are difficult to define and even more difficult to identify. Factions with shifting loyalties and alliances can be friend one day and foe the next, and then friend again the day after. These factions often seek to further their cause, not by winning, but by provoking a situation in which they can be seen as victims. The peacekeepers find themselves caught in a situation they wished to avoid from the start and then condemned for failing to effectively resolve it. While enemies can be conquered, this mercurial aspect of peacekeeping adversaries makes the application of any force difficult.
Third, while force is the predominant means of imposing the will of a commander in warfighting operations; it can be counter-productive in peacekeeping missions. The imposition of peace at any cost can be viewed as tyranny. The Roman historian Tacitus once noted, “A bad peace is even worse than war.”4 Victory is elusive, but it is more likely to be determined by how a situation is handled than whether peacekeepers prevailed.
Fourth, the inherent destructive influences in a community are always in a competing role with society’s legitimate right to restrain them. These influences are manifested as either compliance to mandates imposed by legitimate authority or as defiance in contempt of efforts to enforce them. Because these factors never exist in perfect harmony, there is a dynamic tension between those who comply with the rules and behaviour that govern civilized society and those individuals or groups who defy them. Consequently, a peacekeeping mission will never be completely achieved. When stability is restored, the mission remains. The military peacekeeping force is merely exchanged for civilian law enforcement.
CITIZENS AS WARRIORS
The evolution of a law-abiding member of the community to a dangerous and menacing antagonist is one that has been studied for centuries. In 408 BC, Euripides noted that “Mobs in their emotions are much like children, subject to the same tantrums and fits of fury.”5 Like children, members of mobs tend to be emotional, unreasoning and immature. They are inclined to act out their frustrations rather than make attempts at meaningful resolution. The manner in which this occurs tends to be one of growth and escalation. Mobs do not simply appear— they evolve.
As a result of the demonstrations in the United States concerning the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, a large amount of research was done in this area during the latter 1960s and early 1970s. After a hiatus of some years, more advancements were made in the 1990s with the studies of the Intifada uprisings in Israel and the “marching season” disturbances in Ireland.6 Based upon this research, some generalizations can be made that provide a snapshot of the process. One of the most important is that the long-held and widespread belief that individuals in mobs are transformed into mindless automatons surrendering to the desires and actions of the masses has largely been debunked.7 Contemporary sociological research reveals the following:
Crowds are not simply a collection of individuals who happen to be at the same time and place but rather are comprised of “companion clusters.” These companion clusters are small groups of people who are friends, family members or acquaintances who tend to arrive, gather, act and leave together.
Crowds are not homogenous entities; that is, participants retain their personal feelings of identity, goals, mores, motivations and inhibitions.
Behaviour of individual members of a crowd are always objective oriented; that is individual motivations are purposive and directed at attaining some goal. Actions that do not achieve satisfactory results or result in personal penalties tend not to be repeated.
Members of a crowd nearly never act in unison, and when they do, their actions tend to be shortlived. Even benign collective actions that seem to be unanimous, such as applause, booing, singing, etc., will not achieve 100% participation. The more complex and malevolent the behaviour, the less likely the uncommitted members of the crowd are to participate and the more complex the behaviours, the more short-lived they tend to be overall.
MOBS AS ADVERSARIES
Mobs do not fit the customary understanding of an enemy. While a violent mob can be every bit as formidable as an army, it lacks conventional attributes such as a formal command and control architecture, definable objectives or a unified focus of effort. There is no independent will but rather a loose and temporary coalition of intentions. Their motivation may be more evil than ideology. Members are driven by emotion rather than a sense of duty. Leaders are more likely to be charismatic than competent. The “operation” is more likely to be spontaneous than preplanned. Furthermore, unlike armies, mobs can win by losing, because issues are ultimately decided by how a mob is treated, not whether their actions were successful.
Nevertheless, a lack of an enemy in peacekeeping operations should not be confused with a lack of adversaries. In fact, adversaries abound. Factions of the community may be aligned along family or ethnic ties; religious, economic or political beliefs or any combination. Further complicating matters is that, when circumstances dictate, these factions often seek temporary alliances with other factions to further their own ends. The relationships between these groups are perpetual and dynamic. The only thing certain is that intervention of any type will appease some, while infuriating others.
Because mobs are evolutionary in nature, there are distinct phases that comprise the “life cycle” of a crowd. Even an elementary understanding of these phases provides reliable clues for making decisions, exploiting weaknesses and avoiding conflict.
The first phase is the assembling process. This involves the congregation of people from different locations to a common place and time. During the assembling process the companion clusters autonomously arrive and move to an assembly area, either impromptu, or as part of an organized effort, as in a protest or demonstration. Impromptu assemblies are, by nature, spontaneous and ad hoc, and the process proceeds by a consensus, usually by word of mouth. Besides an attraction of some sort, the two conditions that favour the impromptu assembling process are easy access to the assembly area and no competing demands. Organized assemblies, however, tend to follow the suggestions from a common source. Accordingly, strong clues are available for determining intentions. Furthermore, organized assemblies heavily rely on networks to attract, coordinate and focus the individual members into a cohesive force. 8 During the assembling process the dispersion, lack of cohesion and lack of focus of the still evolving crowd present the best opportunities for interventions without widespread resistance.
The second phase is the temporary gathering. This is achieved when the individuals and small groups converge and often (but not always) engage in some type of collective behaviour. While about 40 different types of behaviour have been observed, they can be generally grouped into six distinct categories. These are: locomotion, as in marching in a protest; orientation, as in facing a common attraction during a speech or other activity; vocalization, as in whistling, hissing, or booing; verbalization, as in speaking, chanting, or singing; gesticulation, as in gesturing, flipping “the finger,” or waving fists; manipulation, as in applauding, grasping, lifting or throwing objects, overturning cars, barricades and so forth.
When disturbances begin, they also tend to follow an evolutionary progression. The process usually begins with disruptive acts that may be obnoxious, and even illegal, but relatively harmless, such as blocking traffic or yelling profanities before progressing to crimes against property, especially acts of vandalism. More serious crimes, such as looting and arson, may then ensue before attacks against people, especially the authorities. The larger the gathering, the less likely all members will participate and often members of the gathering are at odds with each other when some of them attempt to maintain or restore order.
The last phase is the dispersal process. Dispersals are simply the dissolution of the temporary gathering. There are generally three types of dispersals. The routine dispersal is as the name implies, uneventful and may occur either by the general inclination of a crowd at the conclusion of an event; or in the case of organized gatherings, be predetermined, often specified during the assembling process. Emergency dispersals result from members of a crowd fleeing from a perceived danger, such as a fire, explosion or bomb threat. Coerced dispersals are the third type. As the name implies, this type of dispersal is by force. Coerced dispersals are usually employed only as a last resort because, at best, they are difficult to achieve, and at worst, may provide a catalyst to incite members of a crowd into violence. Because of the informal bonds and alliances that often develop amongst people even casually acquainted, intervention during a dispersal is usually ill-advised and second only to the gathering phase for inciting an antagonistic response.
THE CITY AS A BATTLESPACE
Some little known, but interesting facts about riots are that they almost never occur in the morning, or during weather extremes. They rarely occur in rural areas and almost always last less than one day. The rioters are mostly males in their late teens through late twenties and unarmed. When they do arm themselves, it is with rocks and bottles or with primitive weapons, such as clubs and slingshots.9 Their leaders emerge from the mob rather than being chosen by it. Certainly, there are exceptions, but they are anomalies. Regardless, urban terrain is their chosen ground and when understanding the city as a battlespace, the following seven characteristics distinguish it from rural terrain:
Urban terrain provides a definite defensive advantage. Even the most novice adversary quickly learns to exploit the “well-fortified” positions, which offer cover and concealment. Authorities must manoeuvre over terrain, which makes them vulnerable to missiles thrown from upper stories and behind buildings. Manoeuvre is constricted because of the channelized and compartmented terrain.
While a 50-foot cliff is a formidable obstacle in the rural environment, a two-story building can be a “show stopper” in the urban environment. Rioters frequently move up and down multiple story buildings or even through basements, sewers and crawl spaces. This three-dimensional quality makes for difficult tactics as well as command, control and communications.
Adversaries are engaged at extremely close ranges, often less than 20 feet. Targets appear fleeting and along restricted lines of sight.10 Snipers are just as likely to be armed with handguns and take shots of opportunity rather than use a long rifle from an established position.
Communications over urban terrain are often restricted and sporadic. Coupled with spontaneous and brief encounters at close ranges, the necessity for decentralized control becomes apparent. Small units are required to operate almost independently yet rely upon adjacent units for reinforcements and higher headquarters for logistical support and sustainment. Consequently, centralized planning is critical.
There is always the presence of a civilian population. It is virtually impossible to move through a populated area without being detected. Likewise, people may become involved in tactical operations
simply because they are present.
Unlike the rural environment, which has few reflective surfaces and no direct lighting, the urban environment has both. Under all conditions except war, a city is characterized by harsh shadows and glaring, often dazzling lights. This uneven ambient light prevents the attainment of night vision.11
Buildings in the city are more than hollow terrain features. Buildings have value. Besides tactical significance, buildings may have cultural, historical, religious or political value. Churches, synagogues, museums, city halls and so forth are only a few examples. The loss of a retail outlet which sells guns would have greater tactical significance than the loss of a grocery or clothing store. These types of buildings are defended more vigorously than others.
RIOTS AS BATTLES
Anyone who has ever been in both riots and battles can attest to the almost palpable emotion. Both foster widespread feelings of rage, fear, confusion, anguish, indignation and excitement. Both give rise to the best and worst of human motives and actions. Feats of extraordinary heroism are as commonplace as despicable acts of cowardice and selfishness. However, there are two fundamental differences. The first is that while battles are joined by deliberate and conscious effort, riots erupt from a unique and temporary set of circumstances. This is because what starts riots and what causes riots are distinctly and fundamentally different.
Riots are predominately caused by deep-seated social problems such as bigotry, economic disparity, perceived injustice or discrimination. These entrenched and convoluted influences may have existed for centuries and are well beyond the abilities of any peacekeeping force to reconcile. The spark that ignites these emotion-laden issues, however, frequently results from an act of authority. Regardless of how unintentional or benign the action, in the context of emotion, nothing is so insignificant that it can’t be blown out of proportion.12 Even lack of intervention can become a catalyst because members of a mob feel empowered when authorities demonstrate a lack of ability or willingness to stop them. During the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, the image of a truck driver named Reginald Denny being beaten was repeatedly broadcast throughout the early stages of the disturbance. The lack of intervention by law enforcement was not only conspicuous but sent an implicit message that they were either unable or unwilling to intervene.
The second is that while battles are fought after careful deliberation and planning, riots follow a more impulsive and unconstrained path. Battles are joined; riots evolve.13 The progression from a law-abiding crowd to an unreasoning mob can occur very quickly but follows some identifiable steps that not only provide early warnings, but frequently offer opportunities to intervene at earlier and less dangerous stages. The most essential factor in understanding this progression is to recognize the difference between a crowd and a mob. This is especially critical in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and other countries where crowds are constitutionally protected! Unnecessarily interfering with a crowd will not only result in tactical problems, but legal ones as well.
A crowd is simply a gathering or assemblage of people. They are lawful in nature and, while they may be very vocal and expressive, they will generally follow instructions from legitimate authority. Tactical actions in controlling crowds are usually limited to traffic and pedestrian flow or resolving minor disputes over issues such as seating at a parade, blocking traffic or trespassing. Mobs, on the other hand, are belligerent, provocative and violent. They represent a formidable threat and are almost impossible to control. Tactical actions are usually defensive and protective in nature and include efforts to defend buildings, prevent looting and arson and avoid injuries. Crowds require control; mobs require intervention The importance of preventing a crowd from evolving into a mob needs no further justification.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AS LAWS OF WAR
Rules of Engagement (ROE) are the linchpin in peacekeeping operations. Without exception, every plan and action are shaped and adapted to conform with the constraints and restraints imposed by these regulations. They provide the framework\ that supports the legitimate imposition of power abandoned by an inept or nonexistent government. Without them, a peacekeeping force is doomed to ad hoc strategies where rules are impromptu and arbitrary. While other duties are important, the predominant role of peacekeepers is in restoring and maintaining the peace.
A predicament materializes, however, because “keeping the peace” and “fighting for peace” are distinctly different missions and require different rules of engagement. For example, peacekeeping operations are typically constrained to use the minimum force necessary to accomplish the mission. Rules of Engagement in these circumstances are designed to prevent the start or escalation of a conflict. Hence, use-of-force policies adopt a defensive posture, requiring demonstrated hostile intent before deadly force is justified. Force policies more closely resemble those for law enforcement agencies than military units. Accordingly, missions encountered by peacekeeping forces require the ability to adapt and use force proactively.
While this sounds easy in concept, difficulties arise in application. Historically, ROEs have only been required to address issues involving lethal force. With the advent of non-lethal devices, an array of options (and problems) has arisen. For example, commanders are gaining an increasing ability to impose their will at an earlier stage in a conflict. Because the effects of non-lethal options are temporary, however, adversaries quickly become more resilient, which then requires commensurately more force. Further, the same adversaries are free to return to the scene, often wiser and more defiant than before. When describing this phenomenon during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, one frustrated commander related that his efforts were the equivalent to “ploughing water.”
Second, political and humanitarian concerns usually require injured adversaries to be accepted and cared for. Thus, peacekeeping forces are required to live with the “enemy’s” wounded.
Third, employment doctrine, which has supported lethal options for thousands of years, is virtually nonexistent in the non-lethal arena. Tactical remedies tend to be extemporaneous, improvised and temporary.
The impact ROEs have on a successful peacekeeping operation cannot be overestimated. In societies so bereft of meaningful government that military intervention is necessary to restore or maintain a peace, ROEs become the de facto “law of the land.” In this role, they personify the minimum standards of conduct by which civilized people are judged. After all, law is how we humans protect ourselves from each other. Consequently, ROEs become the standard by which the justness and humaneness of the peacekeeping forces are measured. In this manner, a “touchstone” is created.
The crafting of these rules then becomes of utmost interest to forces assigned to peacekeeping missions. Virtually all the treaties and agreements that govern the conduct and weapons of war predate non-lethal devices and are outmoded. International laws, treaties, national policies and customs may serve as guidelines, but completely adequate criteria have never been crafted. For instance, of the tens of thousands of policing agencies in the world, none share an identical force policy. It’s no surprise that military forces facing similar missions now find themselves in the same dilemma. The inherent right to self-defense is offset by the risk a commander must accept before acting. These are competing influences which are present in every peacekeeping encounter. Too late or too little, and peacekeepers can easily find themselves victims. Too soon or too much, and force becomes a catalyst for the very situation a commander
is trying to avoid.
WEAPONS OF PEACE
When dealing with riots and mobs, the ability to impose the will of the commander cannot be achieved by mere force. If it were that simple, more force would automatically equate with victory. What is more likely to lead to success in peacekeeping operations is not the amount of force but rather the type of force and how it is used. The American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, is reported to have said that “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to think of every problem as a nail.” Non-lethal weapons may take many forms, including foams, water, lights or even smells. Thus, the “weapons of peace” may not be weapons at all.
Generally speaking, there are five classes of non-lethal technology. The most well-known are those designed for anti-personnel. That is, restraining individuals from doing something. Devices designed to achieve this goal act either directly on an individual or indirectly through the use of barriers or area denial of some type. Because anti-personnel devices can be used to prevent a person from driving (anti-mobility) or entering or escaping from an area (area denial), they are the most versatile of all the classes. The second class is anti-mobility. These devices are designed to prevent the use of vehicles or other types of transportation. The third is area delay or denial. These are intended to inhibit or prevent passage through or access to an area. The fourth is anti-materiel. These attempt to render useless those necessary supplies and support necessary for warfighting. The fifth class attempts to affect an entire infrastructure. These may take the form of gathering and manipulating information, as from computers or communications, or in degrading or inhibiting their use by an opponent. Power, water, communications and mass transportation are common examples of functions that could be targets for this class.
In peacekeeping operations, a force that employs non-lethal options gains six distinct advantages over one which does not.
First, non-lethal options are more humane. Although this may seem overly simplistic, it is, after all, difficult to make a case for a humanitarian effort while killing the people you are sent to protect.
Second, they allow a commander to exert more control over a situation. Because non-lethal options require substantially less provocation before engagement, a commander can provide a quicker response and intervene at earlier and less dangerous stages of a situation.
Third, they provide a commander with much more flexibility and freedom of action. No longer constrained to apply lethal force and “repeat as necessary,” a commander can tailor his response to more properly fit the circumstances.
Fourth, they are less likely to provoke others. Consequently, bystanders are less likely to be sympathetic toward persons who defy a peacekeeping force but are not killed. Further, should it be necessary to resort to lethal force, the fact that non-lethal options had proven ineffective not only supports a need for escalation, but provides an implicit, and almost irrefutable, message of restraint.
Fifth, these options are less likely to raise public outcry. All peacekeeping operations are controversial and public support may ultimately be the key factor in peacekeeping operations. Even Napoleon acknowledged that “public opinion is the ruler of the world.”14
Finally, they force an adversary to declare intentions. The most difficult problem in using force in peacekeeping operations is not how much or what type to be used, but rather whether it should be used at all! For example, a potential adversary approaching a checkpoint may be attempting to get close enough for his weapon to be effective or simply not understand the English commands to halt. Continuing after the employment of a nonlethal option, however, presumes hostile intent because it sends a cross-cultural and language-independent signal of sanction.
Fundamental to employing non-lethal alternatives is a thorough understanding of a concept called the “force continuum.” Historically, military objectives have been achieved by killing or destroying an enemy. Force was always deadly, hence effectiveness was judged only to the extent and speed at which death or destruction could be introduced. A huge gap existed between presenting a threat and carrying it out. When force is viewed as a continuum an array of options present themselves. The beginning of this continuum is initiated by a threat, while deadly force takes its proper position at the other end. Non-lethal alternatives allow a commander to increase and decrease the amount of force necessary to accomplish a mission. Movement up and down the force continuum is generally continuous and seamless, yet a careful examination reveals five broad categories.
Entry into the force spectrum begins with a threat of some sort. This may be an “expressed threat,” such as when a commander makes known the consequences of defiance, or an “implied threat,” in which the nature of the consequences is left to the imagination of an antagonist. Of the two, the implied threat is far more powerful. Although there are several reasons for this, the most predominant is because what a peacekeeping force can do and what it is willing to do are often farther apart than an adversary realizes. Even the mere presence of a peacekeeping force creates an escalation of force because it creates a condition which requires an adversary to contemplate his actions. Thus, an implied threat is implicit in virtually every encounter. This condition prevails throughout the spectrum and should be exploited to the maximum extent possible.
The next major category involves physical force of some type, but which is not coercive in nature. Generally, this includes those devices that engage an antagonist strictly on his own volition without intervention by a member of the peacekeeping force. Examples may include concertina, caltrops, barbed wire or other obstacles. They are placed relatively low on the force continuum, not because of the amount of injury likely to be sustained, but because they are benign without the willful defiance of the individual attempting to thwart them.
Higher on the continuum would come munitions which cause physical discomfort but fall short of inflicting trauma. Examples of these options would include flashbangs, tear gas, pepper spray and the like. Although the discomfort or injury may be substantially less than from a caltrop or concertina wire, the employment of these options requires a decision to intervene and are thus subject to the idiosyncrasies of the individual employing them. Factors such as training, maturity, discipline, prejudice, emotion and judgment all play a part in their application and require them to be viewed more closely than those options that involve only one will.
Still higher on the continuum are those munitions that inflict trauma. Examples might include batons, saps, stingballs, bean bags, pellet munitions and so forth. They are generally the point on the force continuum that separates non-lethal from deadly force. Highest on the spectrum are lethal options. Although the particular conditions that merit deadly force should be identified, lethal options should always be regarded as part of the force continuum and not as a separate option altogether. This avoids ambiguity and confusion as to when they are authorized. Many situations rapidly evolve from less dangerous circumstances before requiring deadly force to resolve. An individual who is free to employ a variety of options is more likely to be proactive, retain the initiative and be quicker to recognize situations requiring deadly force than one compelled to examine a situation isolated by “either/or” parameters.
In the latter stages of World War II, U.S. President Roosevelt stated, “Peace, like war, can succeed only where there is a will to enforce it, and where there is available power to enforce it.”15 Making peace is a more noble calling than making war but it is not an easy pursuit. The road to peace more closely resembles a Mobius strip; twisted, never ending and somewhat mysterious. Likewise, the “peace warriors” must be imaginative, adaptable and prudent. When the battles are riots and the adversaries are mobs Athena’s champions are better qualified than Mars’ warriors.
Sid Heal retired as a Commander with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department after nearly 33 years in law enforcement, more than half of which has been spent in units charged with handling law enforcement special and emergency operations. At various times during his career he had served as an operations officer, watch commander, unit commander, incident commander and trainer in a myriad of law enforcement tactical operations, and was a court recognized expert in law enforcement special operations and emergency management. In addition to his career in law enforcement, Sid served with the Marine Corps Reserve for 35 years, with service in more than 20 countries and four combat tours. As a result of both these careers, he was personally present for the operations involving the 1992 coup d’état in Thailand, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, as well as the response to the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in 2001. He held a bachelor’s degree in Police Science from California State University, Los Angeles, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in management from California Polytechnic University, Pomona. He was also a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy and the California Command College. He was the author of several books, as well as more than 130 articles on law enforcement issues. He was also a founding member of the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO) and served as its president for many years. Sid Heal passed away in May 2022.