The fervent advocacy of peace is conspicuously a moral stand. We chant, “No war!” as if it were a simple decision. But in reality, any refusal of violence entails both factual and policy judgments—“is” considerations about past and current reality and “ought” considerations gauging possible future outcomes. The formulation of a coherent foreign policy requires, therefore, not only a fine-tuned moral sensibility but also an alertness to human needs and political power realities at home and abroad.
This issue of Peace addresses some of the complexities confronting us, such as questions about (a) Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, (b) signs of a new liberalization in Burma, © the debate about Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the Arab Spring, and (d) the Occupy movement.
Most readers have a moral position on these topics, urging (a) no bombing of Iran’s nuclear installations; (b) a cordial response to the new Burmese government’s apparent political changes, while continuing to support Aung San Suu Kyi’s demands; © support for pro-democracy movements in the Arab countries, but without putting foreign “boots on the ground”; (d) support for the Occupy movement as a call for overdue economic reforms. Our shared moral assumption is that the best solutions are the peaceful ones—that “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” to use an old aphorism that makes sense only if you happen strangely to want flies.
But whether these morally-inspired policies are realistic often depends on the truth of certain alleged facts. Is Iran creating a nuclear bomb? Are the new political leaders in Burma trying to trick the world into trusting them and curtailing sanctions? Were the countries that intervened in Libya motivated to save rebel lives or to grab Libya’s oil wealth? Can rebels against dictators win by using only nonviolent methods? Do the majority of North Americans agree that economic inequality has become intolerable here? We need answers to such questions when devising our policies as peace advocates—but unfortunately there are disputes about them.
Indeed, even when it comes to moral principles, there are disputes among those who reject military solutions. Strict pacifists more often say what they would not do (i.e. not use violence) than what they would do to solve the problems for which military actions are invoked. At another end of the continuum, some peace activists see themselves as fighters for justice—entirely by using effective nonviolent means. You will find this debate underlying the discussions in this issue by and about Gene Sharp.