Who Can Bring Lasting Peace?
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
THE above text is from Isaiah chapter 2, verse 4, in the King James version of the Bible. The Human Development Report 1994, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), quoted these words and then added: “It appeared that the time for this prophecy had come with the end of the cold war [in 1990]. But so far this has proved to be an elusive hope.”
Paring Down the Military
One factor dimming the hopes for peace is that the change in the international political climate has not been matched by large reductions in military spending. True, there have been some cuts. According to UN figures, global military spending dropped from an all-time high of $995 billion in 1987 to $815 billion in 1992. Still, $815 billion is an enormous figure. It is roughly equal to the combined income of half the world’s population!
Another factor that works against disarmament is the view that military might brings security. Thus, even though the Cold War is over, many in industrialized nations argue that national security spending should remain at high levels. James Woolsey, when director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, told Congress in February 1993: “We have slain a large dragon [the U.S.S.R.], but we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.”
In developing countries high military spending also is justified as a means to deter an attack from countries perceived as possible dragons and poisonous snakes. But in reality, UNDP noted, “developing countries have fought few international wars, and many have used their armed forces to repress their people.” In fact, the UNDP report explained: “In developing countries, the chances of dying from social neglect (from malnutrition and preventable diseases) are 33 times greater than the chances of dying in a war from external aggression. Yet, on average, there are about 20 soldiers for every physician. If anything, the soldiers are more likely to reduce personal security than to increase it.”
The International Arms Trade
During the Cold War, the two superpowers sold weapons to allies in order to cement alliances, gain military bases, and maintain power. The armies of many nations grew mighty. Presently, for example, 33 countries own more than 1,000 battle tanks each.
Now that the Cold War is over, the political and strategic justification for the arms sales has diminished. Yet, the economic incentives remain strong. There is money to be made! So, as the domestic demand for weapons declines, arms makers persuade their governments that the way to preserve jobs and to keep the economy healthy is to sell arms abroad.
World Watch magazine comments: “Paradoxically, just as the superpowers are pulling back their big nuclear missiles, they are urgently seeking ways to sell more of their conventional bombs and guns to almost anyone who will buy.” The figures? According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the value of conventional weapons sold on the international market during the years from 1988 to 1992 was $151 billion. The biggest exporter was the United States, followed by countries of the former Soviet Union.
Nuclear Threat Remains
What of the nuclear threat? The United States and the Soviet Union (or its successor states) signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 and the two Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START) in the years 1991 and 1993.
The START treaties banned land-based missiles having more than one warhead and called for the elimination, by the year 2003, of nearly three quarters of the nuclear warheads on all delivery systems. But while the threat of a nuclear World War III has faded, there remain vast arsenals of nuclear weapons—enough to destroy all life on earth several times over.
Disassembling these weapons increases the opportunities for nuclear theft. Russia, for example, is dismantling and storing about 2,000 warheads a year, recovering from them fist-sized spheres of plutonium called pits. A warhead pit, which requires vast expense and technology to make, is the key ingredient in a nuclear bomb. Since pits are usually encased in a layer of steel that blocks radioactivity, a thief could conceivably carry one off in his pocket. A terrorist who acquired a ready-made pit could then surround it with detonation gear to re-create a tremendously powerful bomb.
Another concern is the threat of the spread of nuclear weapons to more and more countries. Five nations are acknowledged nuclear powers—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and several other countries are also thought to have the ability to deploy nuclear weapons quickly.
As more and more nations acquire nuclear weapons, the possibility that someone will use them increases. Not without reason do people fear the use of these awesome weapons. As the book The Transformation of War puts it, “so immense is their power that they make conventional weapons look like a bad joke.”
Disarmament and Peace
But what if the nations were to get rid of their sophisticated weapons of destruction? Would that guarantee a peaceful world? By no means. Military historian John Keegan observes: “Nuclear weapons have, since 9 August 1945, killed no one. The 50,000,000 who have died in war since that date have, for the most part, been killed by cheap, mass-produced weapons and small-calibre ammunition, costing little more than the transistor radios and dry-cell batteries which have flooded the world in the same period.”
A recent example of the use of low-tech weapons is the slaughter in Rwanda, a country of which The World Book Encyclopedia (1994) says: “Most of the people are Roman Catholics. . . . The Roman Catholic and other Christian churches operate most of the elementary and high schools.” Yet, in Rwanda up to a half million were killed by people armed with machetes. Clearly, to bring world peace, something more is needed than the reduction of conventional and nuclear weapons. Also, something is needed other than the teachings provided by the world’s religions.
Ethnic Rivalries Increase
Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees, stated recently: “Right after the Cold War, we thought all the problems would be solved. We didn’t realize that the Cold War had another aspect to it—that the superpowers provided order or pressed order on their respective zones of influence. . . . So now, post-Cold War, we are seeing the explosion of much more traditional, dormant, maybe pre-World War I kinds of ethnic conflict.”
Arthur Schlesinger, a Pulitzer prize-winning historian and writer, makes a similar point: “One set of hatreds replaces another. Lifting the iron grip of ideological repression in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union releases pent-up ethnic, nationalist, religious, and linguistic antagonisms deeply rooted in history and in memory. . . . If the 20th century has been the century of the warfare of ideologies, the 21st century begins as the century of the warfare of ethnicities.”
Between 1989 and 1992, according to a United Nations count, there were 82 armed conflicts, most of which were fought within developing countries. During 1993, 42 countries had major conflicts and another 37 countries experienced political violence. Meanwhile, the United Nations—its budget strained to the limit—struggled without much success to bring peace in just 17 operations. Clearly, mankind must look somewhere else for a peaceful world.
Increasingly, instead of looking to the future with optimism, many express foreboding. The cover of the February 1994 issue of The Atlantic Monthly summarizes one forecast for the decades to come: “Nations break up under the tidal flow of refugees from environmental and social disaster. . . . Wars are fought over scarce resources, especially water, and war itself becomes continuous with crime, as armed bands of stateless marauders clash with the private security forces of the elites.”
Does this mean that lasting peace is unattainable? By no means! The following article shows the reasons why we can look to the future with confidence.
[Box on page 5]
Religion—A Force for Peace?
When nations go to war, the world’s religions abandon teachings of peace and brotherhood. Regarding the situation during World War I, British brigadier general Frank P. Crozier said: “The Christian Churches are the finest blood-lust creators which we have, and of them we made free use.”
Religion’s role in war has been the same throughout the ages. Catholic historian E. I. Watkin acknowledged: “Painful as the admission must be, we cannot in the interest of a false edification or dishonest loyalty deny or ignore the historical fact that Bishops have consistently supported all wars waged by the government of their country.” And an editorial in the Sun of Vancouver, Canada, noted: “It is a weakness of perhaps all organized religion that the church follows the flag . . . What war was ever fought in which God wasn’t claimed to be on each side?”
Clearly, instead of being a force for peace, the world’s religions have promoted wars and killing—as was so powerfully illustrated by the slaughter in Rwanda.
[Box on page 6]
The Futility of War
In the book I Found No Peace, published in 1936, foreign correspondent Webb Miller wrote: “Strangely enough, the cataclysmic horror of [World War I] did not strike me with all its overwhelming obscenity and futility until exactly eight years after it was over.” On that occasion he revisited the battlefield of Verdun, where he claimed 1,050,000 men had died.
“During the war I had been deluded, along with millions of others,” Miller wrote. “The World War had succeeded only in breeding new wars. Eight and one-half million men had died in vain, tens of millions had suffered unutterable horrors, and hundreds of millions had undergone grief, deprivation, and unhappiness. And all this had happened under a stupendous delusion.”
Three years after this book was published, World War II began. The Washington Post noted: “Our 20th-century wars have been ‘total wars’ against combatants and civilians alike. . . . The barbarian wars of centuries past were alley fights in comparison.” According to an estimate by one authority, 197 million have died since 1914 in wars and civil insurrections.
Yet, all the wars and insurrections of humans have not brought peace or happiness. As The Washington Post said, “no political or economic system has so far in this century pacified or satisfied the restless millions.”
[Picture on page 7]
This mother is one of hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered in Rwanda—many by members of their own religion
Albert Facelly/Sipa Press