Calming the winds of war

The Hague Appeal for Peace will be both a centenary celebration and a revitalization of the peace movement

By Colin Archer

IF THERE IS ONLY one unquestionable fact that emerged from the torrent of argument and speculation at the Kyoto conference, it is that climates can change. Drastically. Political climates change also, when a magical chemistry of elements occurs. The best contemporary example is the shift of awareness that led to the (nearly) worldwide ban on landmines. It is probably unnecessary to enumerate all the various sociological factors that led to this desperately needed development: the end of the Cold War, the burgeoning of internal conflicts and cheap methods of terrorizing the enemy all that combined to produce a silent epidemic of slaughter that had to be exposed and defied. The story of the international campaign, post-Nobel prize, is by now familiar. And everyone knows that the job is not done - neither in the diplomatic chamber nor in the (literal) killing fields where resources for demining have yet to arrive.

But such a shift in public and political awareness is immensely empowering in an era when many bright people are cynical about change and millions more are distracted from the appalling suffering caused by militarism, by the endless media circus, and by their own less dramatic struggles for employment, for inclusion, for respect.

It is exactly this perception of possibility and this hope for a better climate in the coming new century that has inspired the campaign known as the Hague Appeal for Peace '99. Four major peace internationals have come together with a broad network of other civil society groupings to create a framework - a global platform for the peace and social justice movements in the approach to the great Millennial Moment. It is a moment none of us have experienced before, and therefore one of huge but uncertain promise. Of course, it may well end as a tiresome damp squib, an over-the-top media binge that will have us all reaching for the off-switch long before we arrive at December 1999. But there is just a chance that it will not; that young people in particular will feel inspired to engage in a movement of the new century that is about positive values, rather than the fruitless warfare, waste and corruption of the last. The progressive organizations in all countries need to come up with some broad visionary campaign vehicles that can involve large numbers of such people. Not necessarily in mass demonstrations or the "people's movements" of the past, though these will not be disinvented. There will be new styles, new heroes, and certainly new issues.

The Hague Appeal for Peace is not the only, but undoubtedly a very important, vehicle. Using the broad slogan "Time to Abolish War!" the organisers have chosen to focus on ways that violent methods of solving disputes can be de-legitimized, in much the same way that apartheid, slavery, and colonialism have been consigned to the dustbin of history in many regions. There are other such examples of practices that are on their way out It is no longer acceptable in most societies to deny women the vote. Smoking is becoming marginal, just look at the airlines. Female genital mutilation is definitely an embarrassment to governments of states where it is practised. Politically correct officials in many regions, for whatever reason, have learned to confess their past crimes and policies. Even the insurance companies - hardly in the vanguard of radical social change - are challenging corporations whose record on CO2 emissions is doubtful.

But could we really imagine abolishing war? Is it enough to write "peace is cool" and then sell a billion T-shirts? Can there now be a peace movement revival? Tough questions.

The Hague Appeal for Peace (HAP for short) is gradually developing an approach to this vast problematic. The first element is that it must be an inclusive process. Peace has many faces. Our events will involve people and groups from all sectors of society and from many perspectives. We will not agree; that's a given. What is important is how we disagree and how we find ways to express our best creativity and commitment. Already we are forming some working groups and national coalitions and platforms.

The second point is that this should not just be another nineties' marketplace. We are determined to focus the process on certain key themes and demands. The three "tracks" pursued by the original 1899 Hague Peace Conference (a major piece of intergovernmental diplomacy convened by Tsar Nicholas with the support of the Dutch) were disarmament; the development of humanitarian law; and the peaceful settlement of disputes. To which we will add a fourth: peace culture and attention to the causes of warfare.

The third is that this is not another conference. It has a congress as a highlight (note the date: May 11-16,1999) but it is a peace process that must run from now well into the next century. We intend to offer specific and visionary goals, and to develop strategies for winning. Of course we want to put a regime in place to eliminate nuclear weapons, to wind up the arms trade, to shift those billions of dollars into the social sector. Any sane person would surely dream of this, and great quantities of research have been devoted to examining the why and the how. What we lack is a movement broad enough and firm enough so that politicians, the military, corporations, banks and even ordinary citizens find themselves making the changes in response to the changing weather signals. That is why we believe we must establish firm foundations for cross-sector cooperation in every region of the world. If the war system is global, so the peace system must also be global.

In the run up to May 1999 there are many opportunities to contribute to the changing climate. Already over 25 proposals have come in for preparatory conferences, seminars, and other gatherings in places as disparate as Costa Rica and Malaysia, the Baltic Sea and, yes, Canada. Publications are being prepared to focus the debate m areas such as peace-keeping strategies for the future; the role of truth and reconciliation commissions in the post-conflict phase; perspectives for limiting and eliminating the arms trade; analyses of what the weapons technicians are cooking up in their laboratories; and reflections on how the seeds of peace culture can be systematically cultivated.

Finally, the accent has to be on youth. This will be symbolized through a major concert at the end of the Hague Appeal program, and hopefully many youth-culture elements in the core programme itself. Already our youth coordinator in the Hague is reaching out to childrens' and students' movements at the international (and also Dutch) level. The plan is to set up a liaison group to oversee and stimulate what we believe will be a surprising range of youth initiatives.

Cooperation with governments is positive at this stage at least. They are well aware that this extraordinary historical moment will generate strong waves of radical demands. But they also know that citizens groups can articulate moral pressure in ways they can never do. Governments can build millennium domes and organize giant fireworks shows. But creating new norms for a new century must come from below, from the energy of progressive movements. The two levels will come together at the Hague, since in May 1999 there will be (immediately following the Hague Appeal for Peace congress) an important intergovernmental meeting to commemorate the pioneering 1899 peace conference. This will be followed by a further session in St. Petersburg and then two Red Cross/Red Crescent events in Geneva, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. The governmental track will be concluded at the UN General Assembly in New York with a ceremony to mark the end of the Decade of International Law

By then we should be ready for 2000 and eager to face what it can throw at us. I doubt anyone will be bold enough to claim that violent conflict will have been eliminated for ever. That is not the point. But if our efforts have the impact they deserve, the climate will already have been altered irrevocably.

The Hague Appeal needs every kind of help! Political, artistic, financial, mobilizational. Write for copies of the vision statement and information packs. Browse the website, raise it your group, endorse. The next century is waiting.

Colin Archer is Secretary-General of the International Peace Bureau, a founding member of the Hague Appeal for Peace. International Peace Bureau, 41 rue de Zurich, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland. Tel: +41-22-731-6429, Fax: 738-9419, Email: ipb@gn.apc.org, Web: www.ipb.orgHAP founding organisations are International Peace Bureau, International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, World Federalist Movement. HAP offices:
(1 } c/c WFM, 777 U.N. Plaza, New York, 10017 NY USA. +1-212687-2623, fax:599-1332, hap99@igc.apc.org (2) c/a IALANA, Anna Paulanastraat 103, 251 8 BC The Hague, Netherlands. +31 -70363-4484, fax: 345-5951, ialana©antenna.nl. Website: www.haguepeace.org
Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1998

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1998, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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