Additional inaccurate and unfair attacks against the ICNC


Michael Barker has once again (GLW #725, online edition) engaged in a series of false accusations and major leaps of logic in his attacks on the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) — an independent, nonprofit educational foundation that promotes the study and utilisation of nonmilitary strategies by civilian-based movements to establish and defend human rights, social justice and democracy — for which I serve as chair of its board of academic advisers.

First of all, ICNC president Jack DuVall's "connection to former CIA head James Woolsey" consisted of overlapping for a short period of time on the Arlington Institute board of directiors. By all accounts, they were both present at the same time for only two meetings of that board and they never once engaged in a one-on-one conversation. There is not nor has there ever been any personal connection between the two of them.

Secondly, founding ICNC chair Peter Ackerman was not director of the Albert Einstein Institute "until recently". He ended his ties with that group in 2002. While claiming that my pointing out in my earlier submission to (GLW #722, online edition) that there were no operational ties between the two organisations was "disingenuous", Barker doesn't explain why. And, as I also pointed out previously, Ackerman is no longer acting as ICNC chair anyway.

Thirdly, "the ICNC staff" does not have "impressive military links". No one on the staff has any current links to the US military or the military of any other country. One staff member had a brief internship at the Pentagon back when she was in university and DuVall served for two years in the air force 35 years ago (at a time when US males were subjected to military conscription and he enlisted into a non-combat position to avoid serving in Vietnam in a war which he strenuously opposed). That is the total extent of the staff's "military links".

Fourthly, Barker claims that "the ICNC's apparently progressive politics actually serves to insulate many of its anti-democratic funders from serious criticism". I am not aware of any "anti-democratic" entities or individuals who fund ICNC nor does Barker specify any. ICNC's tax records, which include information on its sources of funding, are available for public scrutiny. The ICNC receives no money from the US government or any organisation that receives US government funding.

Fifthly, despite Barker's claims to the contrary, there are not "numerous links between the ICNC and US foreign policy elites". The extent of contacts between DuVall and others on the ICNC staff with US foreign policy elites have never been anything more than occasional passing conversations at receptions and luncheons with State Department. Neither I nor anyone else on their board of academic advisors has any such links either. ICNC's independence from US foreign policy elites — and the strong personal opposition of most staff and advisory board members to the US foreign policy agenda — should be rather obvious to anyone who actually takes the time to learn about the organisation and its work.

Most significantly, Barker has failed to respond to my most important point in challenging his false accusations that ICNC focuses its efforts on undermining or overthrowing anti-US regimes. As I mentioned in my initial response, ICNC does not directly engage in efforts to undermine or overthrow any regimes anywhere. Perhaps more significantly, if you examine for whom ICNC has conducted seminars and workshops on strategic nonviolence, at least as many are for those who are struggling against repressive regimes supported by the US government as there are those who are struggling against repressive regimes opposed by the US government. In other words, ICNC does not have an ideological agenda. ICNC provides information on strategic nonviolence to those struggling against dictatorship and military occupation regardless of a given regime's relationship with the US.

Barker is totally wrong to claim that I "maintain associations with manipulative anti-democratic elites". Anyone familiar with my more than 35 years as an activist and scholar struggling against US imperialism and in support for human rights, democracy and a more just and equitable economic order would know that I would never work with such people. There's no question that politically I'm to the left of DuVall and even more so of Ackerman, but that doesn't mean that either of them are tools of the Bush administration or .. imperialism or that either or them are in the least bit "anti-democratic". Nor does it mean that the ICNC doesn't do very worthwhile work. ICNC's efforts, in which I have played a part, provide information on the theory and history of strategic nonviolence for individuals involved in pro-democracy movements against autocratic regimes and military occupation — a mission that I would assume most progressives could support, though Barker is apparently not one of them.

Barker is basically correct in recognizing that the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy's overall agenda of "democracy-promotion" is biased in ways that advance US hegemony. Where Barker is way off the mark is in his use of guilt by association: for example, his insistence that if someone affiliated with ICNC is also affiliated with a group that receives NED support, ICNC therefore has a hegemonic agenda as well. Furthermore, as I pointed out previously, ICNC itself has never received any funding or other kinds of support from the NED, nor does it have any direct links with the NED.

Though I have no affiliation with the Albert Einstein Institution and do not know it as well as I do the ICNC, I recognise that Barker's attacks on that group are also incredibly misleading. For example, his claim that Albert Einstein Institution director Gene Sharp "has no problems of accepting support from the US military" implies that there is an ongoing relationship between that group and the Pentagon. The full extent of US military support for Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution is this: Nearly 40 years ago (15 years prior to the founding of the institution), Sharp received partial research funding for his doctoral dissertation from a professor who had received support from the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense to fund doctoral students. That's all. Neither Sharp nor the Albert Einstein Institution has received any other financial or any other kind of support from the US military since.

Regarding the US Institute of Peace: While the Congressionally funded USIP has been a major disappointment to the grassroots movement that originally pushed for its establishment back in early 1980s, the idea that the USIP is "mandated to conduct ... operations traditionally conducted by intelligence agencies" is ridiculous. Some of their senior fellows have engaged in a limited degree of hands-on peacebuilding, such as facilitating negotiations to end the civil war in Uganda, but certainly not espionage, covert operations or other activities normally associated with U.S. intelligence agencies. Most of USIP's work consists of funding research and holding seminars on conflict resolution.

Like the NED, much of USIP's leadership comes from the US foreign policy establishment and much of its agenda reflects that, but that doesn't mean that the USIP doesn't also support a number of worthwhile projects as well. Indeed, many of their staff members and grant recipients have been progressives who have used USIP funding for quite a number of good purposes, so much so that the USIP has been regularly attacked by right-wing elements in Congress and elsewhere and is periodically subjected to threats to cut its funding.

Barker also seems to imply that my being a former USIP Fellow means I was somehow co-opted. In reality, my status as a former USIP Fellow is the result of being awarded a research grant in 1989 to study the role of the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations in efforts to resolve the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict. The conclusions of that research — which is finally being published next year as a book from Syracuse University Press — put the blame for the irresolution of the conflict largely on the US, France and other imperialist powers for supporting the Moroccan occupation. Indeed, my USIP-funded research was openly sympathetic to the struggle of the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi people for self-determination.

Finally, Barker is completely erroneous in charging that I support US intervention — through the NED or any other government-funded institution — to manipulate civil society institutions in foreign countries in the name of "democracy promotion". I fully recognized that the use of "soft power", like the use of military intervention, for the advancement of American imperialism or the neoliberal economic order is totally wrong and progressives need to be aware of this insidious and dangerous trend.

I do, however, support international solidarity efforts by independent human rights and pro-democracy groups as well as other global civil society initiatives designed to support popular struggles for freedom and justice wherever such support is needed and requested.

Barker's disingenuous and misleading efforts to meld these two very different phenomena together are a terrible disservice to all of those engaged in nonviolent struggles for liberation against tyranny, injustice and oppression.

[Stephen Zunes ( is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco and Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus ( He is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Zed Press, 2003) and the principal editor of Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell Publishers, 1999).]