Thursday, October 5, 2017

Believing in Peace

by Galen D. Kirkland

If humankind is to survive, we need to believe that peace is possible. We need to believe that we can prevent organized violence by nation states or non-state aggressors that inflict violence upon populations. While most people would assert that they want peace, they also do not think that it is attainable. We must identify the impediments to peace and decide how they can be overcome.  Violent conflicts between nations, religious groups, and different ethnic groups dominate world history because of repeated failures to accept differences in race, ideology, and faith. Very significant obstacles to achieving peace include conflicts related to nationalism, land claims and natural resources; the arms industry; historical grievances; and aggression stemming from the will to dominate. Most people are observers to the ravages of war that are visited upon other people. Because our world remains vulnerable to nuclear annihilation, we must act as if our lives and the lives of those we love are also at stake.

While we cannot have a world without weapons, we can have a world where the arms trade is regulated by international treaties, drastically reducing the marketing of armaments that produce so much devastation and suffering. The pursuit of global peace requires that an effective system be created to curtail the almost unlimited circulation of lethal arms of all descriptions. Clearly, the world would be a much safer place if ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations did not have free access to arms. The nations of the world that exploit the arms trade can support new international arms restrictions with the knowledge that their citizens will be safer and that the world will be more peaceful. The world community can insist that companies relinquish profits from manufacturing armaments and redirect their businesses to produce nonlethal products.  This drastic change in the capitalism of death is necessary for the world to extricate itself from the violence pervading the globe.

The arms trade is one of the main facilitators of violence around the globe. The military-industrial complex in the United States and arms manufacturers around the world resist disarmament in order to protect their profits. This is a structural impediment to peace that requires direct confrontation. Amnesty International reports that the total global military expense “…increased from $US1.14 trillion in 2001 to $US 1.76 trillion in 2015, a rise of 50%.” The Guardian reports that the global arms trade has reached its highest level since the Cold War era and that the United States provides major arms to at least 100 nations, “significantly more than any other supplier state.” The U.S. News and World report states that, “Business was booming for U.S. arms exporters in 2015 according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service that shows the U.S. last year accounting for more than half of all arms transfer agreements worldwide.” Confronting the arms industry successfully requires a major cultural transformation in the perception of the arms industry.  Instead of viewing the arms trade as just another business, we need to help people to understand that arms manufacturers are really trading in death. 

The United Nations has succeeded in many ways where the League of Nations failed. The United Nations is composed of all major nation states in contrast with the League of Nations where the United States Senate prevented the United States from joining in 1920. While the League of Nations required unanimity for all of its decisions, the United Nations can act when some of the five permanent members of the Security Council abstain. Consequently, the United Nations has a record of humanitarian actions and conflict intervention that was previously impossible for the League of Nations in the early Twentieth Century. 

Resolving conflicts nonviolently is a challenge we confront in the quest for peace. The world is fortunate to have a Security Council at the United Nations where international crises can be addressed. However, the promise of the United Nations to administer diplomatic solutions to conflict has repeatedly been disappointed.  A primary reason for this failure is the Security Council where five nations have veto power. This arrangement is a vestigial organ from World War II. The victors from that war decided that they should prevent other nations from turning against them and that they should dominate the world for the foreseeable future. Therefore, they created the United Nations Charter so that China, Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States would have the power to determine whether the United Nations took action to address the most serious world crises. The regular practice of these powerful nations has been to obstruct any action that represented a challenge to their national power. The disaster in Syria where over 400,000 people were killed and millions displaced is clear evidence of this failure. While people consumed by violence know that everything humanly possible should be done to avoid such a tragedy, the rest of the world is complacent in its assumption that they will not suffer the depraved horror of war. 

How do we evolve from the current lawlessness in so many places to an effective international system for nonviolent conflict resolution? What incentives can be created to induce the world to turn away from violence and to rely on nonviolent processes to settle disputes? The answer to these questions is a movement of individual peace advocates to change the international political dynamic. This movement should focus on cultivating justice, respecting adversaries,  communicating, establishing world governance, and rejecting all forms of violence. These objectives appear to be impossible in a world driven largely by brute force; however, meeting these basic requirements is essential to the transition from the current chaos of violent opportunism to a global civilization where humanity can continue to evolve. This would eventually entail an international agreement to ban all nuclear weapons while curtailing trade in conventional weapons as previously indicated. The catalyst for such a movement must be the establishment of strong bonds among those who embrace the quest for peace across national boundaries. A consciousness of the imperative to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction while creating global security must be the center of gravity. The impetus for such radical cultural change must come from within each one of us. There is no alternative to this ambitious agenda because world leaders and officials across the globe who are fixated on the past must be led into the future by billions of people who believe in peace. 

Cultivating justice means achieving social change for everyone to have access to sustenance and dignity. This work calls for nations that consume inordinate levels of the world’s resources and wealth to share more with developing countries that struggle to meet the most basic human needs. Dictators and oligarchs who steal the wealth of their nations must be removed by popular resistance and international sanctions. Cultivating justice means reallocating trillions of dollars from the arms industry and military expenditures to providing food, fresh water, health care, and education. The international movement for peace will link the rejection of violence with the commitment of resources to meet human needs. Cultivating justice will eliminate some of the most powerful motivations for violent conflict. People who currently feel barred from enjoying a decent life by a world order built upon the injustices of the past would find opportunities for a new investment in this ladder to peace in the future. 

Respecting other people and nations that appear to be adversaries is critically important because so many conflicts arise from perceived disrespect. Respect requires serious consideration of the concerns expressed by others with a good faith interest in addressing those concerns. This difficult task can test our ability to understand and accept various cultures and religions that conflict with our own beliefs. Learning how to respectfully communicate with populations that are different from our own is essential to traveling the path to peace. The purpose of our international conversation will be to establish viable strategies to address economic inequality and to defend human rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a presentation to the Nobel Committee on December 11, 1964 entitled, “The Quest for Peace and Justice” in which he stated:

“There is a sort of poverty of spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly like birds and to swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers… It is obvious that if man is to redeem his spiritual and moral lag, he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of the world. Poverty is one of the most urgent items on the agenda of modern man.”

“There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will. The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible.”

 The premise of Dr. King’s approach is that we can find ways to share the world’s wealth and to accept our differences without killing each other. The ongoing violent conflicts around the world can only be stopped by the will asserted by the vast majority of people who want peace. We can nonviolently express our will with political pressure on governments and economic boycotts where necessary. The present world order depends upon our cooperation to sustain the war system for resolving conflicts. If we refuse to finance violence and refuse to go to war, the world would have to change. Of course, the initial response of those in power would be to attempt to penalize those who refused to cooperate in sustaining the apparatus of violence. Overwhelming resistance would prevail. 

To believe in peace means to commit ourselves to the long, arduous struggle to transform our societies so that they abandon the obsolete policies of militarism, arms manufacturing, and violence. Dag Hammarsjold, who served as the United Nations Secretary General from 1953 to 1961, stated that:

“The pursuit of peace and progress cannot end in a few years in either victory or defeat. The pursuit of peace and progress, with all its trials and errors, its successes and setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”

We owe it to ourselves, our children, our loved ones and those who would otherwise be consumed by violence to exert ourselves in the promotion of peace. No matter how ferocious is the opposition to progress, our mandate as people who support the survival of humankind is to be relentless advocates for peace.

This work requires that we advocate for strong policies of nonviolence, or as Dr. King stated to the Nobel Commission, “…that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject of study and for serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding relations between nations.”  If we transform the United Nations into an effective federation of nations to establish and enforce a global system of laws, humankind will have the opportunity to eliminate aggression by misguided nations. A global peace treaty can be enforced by sanctions imposed by the 193 member nations of the United Nations. This work must begin by communicating to the people of the world that the attainment of peace will significantly improve their lives. If enough of us truly believe in peace, we can change the world.

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