Just Peace and Just Peacemaking – A Perspective

[1] The ELCA adopted on August 20, 1995 its first social statement on peace with the words, “We dedicate ourselves anew to pray and to work for peace in God’s World.” That statement advocates a set of principles outlined as the following three “tasks” to “keep, make and build international peace.

A Culture of Peace
An Economy with Justice
The Politics of Cooperation1
[2] It seems to me that those tasks and the principles they embody remain as valid today as they were ten years ago. We don’t need new principles; we need to press for achieving those already agreed in the face of the circumstances we confront today. We can learn from those efforts of the past decade that have had encouraging results and from the failures in efforts to influence the political, social, and cultural conditions that can lead to just peace.

[3] In spite of the pain we and other peoples have felt from the surprising flare up of Islamist terrorism in 2001, we should be thankful and encouraged by peace making efforts during this decade. Peacemaking has worked in the Balkans and Afghanistan and even in Iraq where we put an end to a regime that tyrannized its own people, threatened its neighbors, and stonewalled the efforts of the U.N. to verify that it had eliminated its weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

[4] There is progress in the Palestine-Israel conflict after years of disappointment. And in the rest of the Middle East there are signs of political change eroding the authoritarian regimes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and forcing the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon; and U.S. leadership, to its great credit, has been the catalyst for these changes. The Far East has remained politically stable, although we sorrow for the North Korean people under their yoke of tyranny. Also the globalizing economy has provided major economic benefits for people in the Far East and South Asia, especially, and contributes to social conditions that are necessary for a just peace within and between those peoples.

[5] Unquestionably the accomplishments listed here are by no means irreversible, and they require diligent efforts by the United States and the international community to build on their momentum else they deteriorate in the face of ethnic, communal, and political conflicts that will remain for decades to come. Yet we can learn from these modest accomplishments in continuing efforts to influence leaders and peoples to establish the conditions for just peace.

[6] We also must learn from failures. Two particular failures stand out. U.S. political leadership seems to have learned from the first; the second has such a complex pedigree that it is difficult to know how to apply the principles of For Peace in God’s World.

[7] Even before “9-11”, our political leadership announced by words and actions a withdrawal from the strong multilateralist John Lewis Gaddis, “After Containment,” The New Republic, April 25, 2005, p. 29. foreign and security policy that had prevailed for the entire post-World War II period. Disparaging remarks about “old Europe”, the U.N., foreign aid, and multilateral institutions coupled with outright rejection of other, albeit flawed, international treaties set a tone of arrogance and played into the hands of those who would characterize the U.S. not as a moral leader but as a hegemon determined to seek the advantages of its great-and now- unbalanced power. Our leaders initially wasted the opportunity which “9-11” presented to step back from this petulant behavior. We had the sympathy of most of the peoples of the world-including “old Europe”, but we refused their cooperation in removing the Taliban from Afghanistan.

[8] And our leaders’ insistence on the “WMD” rationale as the basis for a “just war” invasion of Iraq- a rationale bought with the compromising of intelligence analysis and an arrogant disregard for the views of others in the Congress and in other governments-served only to confirm the perception of hegemonic behavior. I, like many others, bought the rationale and in several fora defended the decision to invade. I do not regret defending the decision because I believe we had no choice if the particular brand of evil represented by Saddam Hussein was to be stamped out. I am only deeply disappointed in our nation’s leadership for failing to insist on integrity in the intelligence analysis that would become the basis of war.

[9] This unilateralist reputation has undermined the moral authority which the nation’s democratic experience and international leadership had given it, and it dredged up memories of similar behavior that had seemed to fade in the three decades since Vietnam. It will make regaining a respected position difficult, although the leadership has embarked on the task of repairing relations.

[10] The second failure is that of the continuing genocide, ethnic, tribal, and communal conflicts in Africa -from Sudan to the border of South Africa. The international community, preoccupied with the Balkans, the Middle East, and the global counter-terrorism efforts seems to have little energy to grapple with the great variety of barriers to just peace in that hapless continent. Africa is fertile ground for the application of the principles of the peace statement and requires a lengthy commitment by the U.S. and the rest of the international community.

[11] As we look to the next decade, I propose less concern on the part of our Church with adopting new principles and more concern with advocating for those we approved ten years ago. Our focus must be, with God’s help, to influence in anyway we can–through our government, as a church body and as part of an international religious institution, and individually– the efforts to bring about political, social, and cultural conditions conducive to gaining and sustaining just peace. Conflict and wars erupt when those conditions permit them.

[12] We have to reconcile ourselves to accepting that ethnic and inter-communal conflicts probably are a fixture in this world, as they have been forever. The challenge is to contain, defuse, and prevent their eruption into armed conflict and to interest the parties in peaceful resolution of their disputes. Islamist terrorism is but the most extreme case. A noted British author on international politics and strategy, Dr. Colin Grey, states in the Spring 2005 issue of Parameters, the U.S. Army War College Quarterly,

No guarantees can be offered, but it is as certain as anything can be in the inherently uncertain world of international conflict that al Qaeda will lose, and lose decisively. It will be beaten, but not by the United States and assuredly not by the US armed forces. Al Qaeda will be defeated by fellow Muslims devoted to moderate and modernizing policies.2
We should work to assure that the other Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad follow the same path, although the process is likely to take decades.

[13] Our attention should also focus on what is euphemistically called the “emergence of a near-peer competitor.” Could such be China, or North Korea, or Iran, or even Russia? They all have characteristics that could lead to motives for war. Again, Colin Grey writes, “If you read Thucydides, or Donald Kagan, you will be reminded of the deadly and eternal influence of the triad of motives or war: “fear, honor, and interest.”3 The difference in approach to these states is that they are nation states with much to lose from war- unlike many of the ethnic or other non-state entities. And only one, North Korea, would we consider at the present, an “enemy.” As a closed society with a totalitarian government, North Korea is virtually impenetrable by outside influences that could moderate its behavior. Its possession of a nuclear capability makes it even more dangerous. It, more than other states, seems open to Kagan’s “fear, honor, and interest” motives for war. Yet, North Korea, unlike China and Iran may be susceptible to influence by a transposed version of the containment policies that were so effective in the Cold War. Historian John Lewis Gaddis in a recent article suggests that one transferable principle from the containment strategy is encouraging the enemy to defeat it, as did the Soviet Union.4 That strategy, coupled with the assurance of the international community that there is no reason to fear, and managing relations so that aggressive interests are discouraged may in time bring about moderating change.

[14] For the other potential “near-peer” competitors the principles within the peace statement would seem to apply- a many-faceted outreach and engagement in spite of rebuffs and the leader paranoia that seems endemic to authoritarian governments.

[15] “For Peace in God’s World,” in my view articulated relevant principles for the post- Cold War world in the Church’s quest for just peace. Our energy should focus on strategies for implementing those principles in the changed conditions we face today. With God’s help progress will continue and barriers will yield.

End Notes

1 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, “For Peace in God’s World,” 1995, p. 1.

2 Dr. Colin S Grey, “How War Has Changed Since the End of the Cold War?” Parameters, Volume XXXV, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp14-26.

3 Ibid, p. 22.

4 John Lewis Gaddis, “After Containment,” The New Republic, April 25, 2005, p. 29.