Is World Peace on the Horizon?
THROUGHOUT history, there has been no lack of peace plans and peace declarations of one sort or another. Unfortunately, there appear to have been just as many wars to nullify them. As far as peace treaties and proclamations are concerned, most people have learned not to put too much stock in them.
Within the last few years, however, many observers and news analysts have begun to feel that something different is taking place. They have raised the possibility that, despite local problems, this time the stage may be set for world peace. “Hope for peaceful conflict resolution is better founded than in any other year since the end of World War II,” said the Stockholm International Peace Institute. A prominent news correspondent was led by the fast-moving events in Eastern Europe to declare: “Peace on Earth seems more possible now than at any time since World War II.” Even the journal The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reflected this mood. In 1988 it turned its famous doomsday clock from three minutes before midnight to six minutes before midnight, and then in April 1990 farther back to ten minutes before midnight.
All of this generated much optimism and euphoria before the outbreak of war in the Middle East. But even since then, some people are talking about the Cold War and the arms race between the superpowers as having ended. Some were speculating about what to do with all the money the governments hope to save from reduced military spending. Is it possible that the time for lasting peace has really come? Are the nations truly learning “to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears”? (Isaiah 2:4) What do the facts show?
The Forgotten Wars
“The end of the cold war and the new relaxation between East and West have tempted some to believe that peace is the order of the day,” observes The Economist of London. “It is not. Rid of one big source of tension, the world still has lots of little ones.” What are these “little” tensions, or conflicts?
The Lentz Peace Research Laboratory, an independent research organization in the United States, reports that as of September 1990, at least 15 wars were raging around the world. This did not include the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, since the report counted only wars in which at least a thousand people were killed per year up to that time. Some of these wars have been going on for 20 or more years. Together they have taken 2,900,000 lives, and most of these have been civilians. This figure excludes those killed in some of the bloodiest wars that had just come to a halt in the previous year, such as those in Uganda, Afghanistan, and Iran-Iraq.
Nearly three million people killed when the world is supposedly at peace! That in itself is tragic. The greater tragedy, however, is that most of these wars have been going on practically unnoticed—and unlamented—by the rest of the world. They are what might be called the forgotten wars, since most of them—coups, civil wars, revolutions—are fought in one or another of the less-developed nations. For most people in the rich, industrialized nations, the half a million people killed in the Sudan, or the third of a million killed in Angola, do not seem to have held much interest. In fact, there are those who argue that the world has been in an unprecedented period of peace since the end of World War II because there was no war among the developed nations and, in spite of the tremendous tension and weapons buildup, the superpowers had not gone to war against each other.
Is There Hope for Peace?
If peace simply means no global nuclear war, then perhaps one could argue that the nations of the world have already had some success in their peace efforts. The policy of Mutual Assured Destruction has restrained the superpowers thus far. But is that really peace? How can it be, when people are living in constant fear of instant and total annihilation? How can we talk about peace when, around the world, so many people’s lives are shattered, their livelihood ruined, and their prospect for a meaningful and fulfilled existence wiped out by wars, large and small?
Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel once wrote: “From time immemorial, people have talked about peace without achieving it. Do we simply lack enough experience? Though we talk peace, we wage war. Sometimes we even wage war in the name of peace. . . . War may be too much a part of history to be eliminated—ever.”
And recently the war in the Middle East again shattered the illusion of peace. Could it be that mankind has simply been looking to the wrong source for peace?
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“This generation of people on earth may witness the advent of an irreversible period of peace in the history of civilization.”—Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, at summit meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., May 1990
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“A new world of freedom lays before us . . . , a world where peace endures, where commerce has conscience and where all that seems possible is possible.”—U.S. president George Bush, at a world economic summit meeting in Houston, Texas, U.S.A., July 1990
“The walls that once confined people and ideas are collapsing. Europeans are determining their own destiny. They are choosing freedom. They are choosing economic liberty. They are choosing peace.”—Declaration by NATO at summit in London, England, July 1990
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Cover photos U.S. Naval Observatory photo (stars); NASA photo (earth)