Keeping the peace or making war

By Rick McCutcheon

IN CALGARY last May, at a conference on U.N. peacemaking, I presented a pacifist view of peacemaking. I suggested that pacifists' voices needed to be heard. Since then, I have watched headlines from around the world indicating worsening situations in U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping efforts, notably in Somalia, Cambodia and the Balkans. I remain convinced that people with pacifist convictions can bring a message of positive action and hope. Without moral principles positive peacemaking actions are not possible. Two principles form the basis of my thoughts. They are:

1) Because war is not an option we seek to remove the causes of war. When people get together to discuss their nutritional needs, they do not begin with the idea of cannibalism is a source of nutrition. They do not put resources into studying how one goes about a cannibalistic life. On a rare occasion cannibalism does happen, but it is not planned, and usually there is horror and revulsion. The same is true of war. We should not be planning for it or expending great resources in studying how to do it better. It is already done all too well.

2) Human beings are communal and social; altruism is as much part of our collective values as self interest, and there are common elements within human life and nature which bind all of us together in a positive fashion. Those who believe that humans are violent by nature should consider: human interactions are more often based on common concern for the welfare of the whole than on self interest.

Some say that "it's a jungle out there." Actually, the rich life of the jungle shows how peacefully living creatures interact most of the time; otherwise there would be nothing but two lone tigers staring each other in the eye. And no jungle. The view of humans as exclusively self-interested and violent is similar to the militaristic culture relying on fear and force to control populations.

The central document outlining a basis for U.N. acts of intervention in Boutros Boutros-Ghali's "An Agenda for Peace" of January 1992. This important document is having a pronounced effect on governments and heads of states. Barbara McDougall, then Secretary of State for External Affairs, reiterated its points, sometimes using the same words, in her address to the Standing Committee on External Affairs and International Trade last February. In her talk she did not criticize any aspect of "AnAgenda for Peace." This lack of an intelligent critique is Canada's loss. Analysis of the moral underpinnings of U.N.-sponsored acts of intervention in countries like Somalia reveals that the U.N. "Agenda for Peace" remains an agenda for war.

Genuine peacemaking requires a change in this, which would lead to a change in attitudes and action.

To paraphrase a well known UNESCO statement, we must direct our efforts towards changing the minds of men, because it is in the minds of men that war begins. The two most serious flaws in "An Agenda for Peace" are its weak articulation of the very notion of peace and its continued reliance on the use of fear to resolve conflict. Perhaps it is not fair to criticize the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, for failing to articulate an understanding of peace before suggesting ways to achieve it. However, I fail to see how any proposed plan of action can be put forward without clarity about the object sought. My definition of peace is taken from Ursula Franklin, who said: "We understand peace to be more than the absence of war. It is also the absence of fear: fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night, fear of hunger and helplessness, fear of the absence of justice. Peace is, then, the presence of justice for all, peace means respect for all human needs as well as the condition that force, in all its forms, is not an instrument of national or international policy."

By this definition the U.N. agenda falls short of a positive peacemaking document. Many of its central tenets would be precluded if the focus were instead on achieving peace through peaceful means. Without understanding the causes of peace, one uses what seems to work in the short-term-fear enforced by violence. This agenda, as articulated in an "An Agenda for Peace," is an old one. It provided the foundation for Mutual Assured Destruction, and the cornerstone of institutionalized violence is a predominantly a male model of conflict resolution.

Remember the world of the school yard? There, the game of one-up, one-down is played out every day. Who's the strongest, who's the fastest, who has the largest number of loyal pals? Ultimately, who can instill the most fear? Fear is often the driving factor in many male interactions, political matters, international relations; and fear is the driving principle of "An Agenda for Peace."

Two statements in Section 43 give clear notice of the unwritten agenda. We find: "While such [military] action should only be taken when all peaceful means have failed, the option of taking it is essential to the credibility of the United Nations as a guarantor of international security." And, "The ready availability of armed forces on call could serve, in itself, as a measure of deterring breaches of the peace since a potential aggressor would know that the Council had at its disposal a means of response."

Let me clarify these sentences. The first one says, "If we as the United Nations want to be seen as the big boss, then we must have a big stick firmly grasped in our hand." The second sentence says, "If anyone thinks they are going to mess around with the U.N. then they had better know that we have a very big stick firmly grasped in our hand and we certainly will use it."

It is a misnomer to use the word "peacekeeping" with reference to U.N. military actions. There has never been any peace to keep when the U.N. forces were dispatched. There have only been wars put on hold. I work from an understanding of peace that goes far beyond the mere absence of shooting. Cyprus? Cambodia? Korea? Lebanon? Iraq? Somalia? In none of these areas, to this day, is there "peace." At best, U.N. peacekeeping has put a "hot conflict on ice." At best it has kept a neutral buffer zone that could have been used to buy time for conflict resolution. "Peacekeeping" was designed to enforce an armistice to allow for conflict resolution. That never happened. The world community did not pick up the ball.

Keeping conflicts on ice has only meant new generations of children have been raised apart, and no closer to peace. It's a failure of the world community not to perform part two of a two-part deal. The guarantor of the unresolved conflict has not helped the resolution of the war. Stephen Dale refers to "the myth of peacekeeping." "Agenda for Peace," does reveal some understanding of the causes of peace but, for the most part it expresses the interests of political and military elites. It is not a people's agenda for peace. Until the people of the member countries of the U.N. create their own agenda for peace, drawing upon the experience of those who have dedicated themselves for centuries to making peace, all agendas will only lead to further war.

Pacifists do not agree on all matters but, most pacifists would at least hold an independent, well-reaonsed position on the use of force, rooted in some understanding of a moral universe! Out of those roots we offer a different understanding of conflict resolution.

Rick McCutcheon coordinates Canadian Friends Service Committee, the peace, social justice and international development arm of Quakers in Canada. The views expressed are the sole responsiblity of the author. I thank Margaret Ford for her help.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1993

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1993, page 21. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Rick McCutcheon here

Peace Magazine homepage