Boots on the Ground: Catholic Sisters and Peacebuilding on Five Continents

by Carol K. Coburn and Ken Parsons

Introduction

From 2015 to 2019, the global Sisters of St. Joseph created, developed and taught a curriculum on “Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management.”  The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph received a major grant to address the growing cultural diversity and conflict present both within their global congregations as well as the congregation’s educational, healthcare, and social service ministries which include almost 60 countries on five continents.[1]  The grant was to address twenty-first-century issues of ethnic tension and local, regional, and global conflict.  For example: In some countries in Africa, St. Joseph sisters found themselves in novitiates with sisters from warring tribes.  In the Middle East, sisters’ schools had faculty, students and parents from predominately Muslim families.  In India, young St. Joseph sisters came together in large living situations, working with diverse age, religious, and ethnic populations, speaking multiple languages.  To strengthen global sisters’ networks and religious identity and to better serve constituents, the sisters’ project aimed to create and utilize a curriculum that would provide knowledge, skills, and spiritual identity and integration through the understanding and practice of cultural diversity, nonviolent communication, and conflict resolution.  As project consultants and evaluators, Professors Ken Parsons and Carol Coburn from Avila University, a Sisters of St. Joseph institution, were asked to collaborate and consult on the curriculum and evaluate its success.  Ultimately, this four-year, multilingual project documented successful outcomes and strategies used on five continents.

The historical and cultural foundations of the Sisters of St. Joseph and Catholic sisters’ global outreach, provides context on why they chose to advance their ministry in 2015, by adapting to the new realities of the twenty-first century.  For St. Joseph sisters, this adaptation to the changing times has been an ongoing theme – continuing to serve the “dear neighbor without distinction” –  first documented in their seventeenth-century founding documents and later Constitutions.  Also, the reality is that over the last half-century, the numbers of new sisters have declined in North America, Europe, and Latin America and are growing in Africa and Asia (particularly India), changing the global landscape for the religious congregation.  Additionally, the St. Joseph sisters wish to become a more integral and united global community and needed to take measures to understand cultural difference and global realities faced by their 10,000 sisters many who are ministering in extreme areas of ethnic and religious conflict on a daily basis. Finally, the historical power dynamics of North American and European influence in women’s congregations are giving way to a new reality where leadership and influence are shifting to Africa and Asia.

Women, Religion and Peacebuilding

Catholic sisters are only part of the growing numbers of women worldwide involved in peacebuilding.  Until more recent times, women have been portrayed only as victims of war and social justice inequality.  For over a decade, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), has documented the important role that women and religion play in negotiating, securing, and maintain peace in global conflicts.  The USIP researchers and website include online teaching units, micro-courses, speakers, and publications touting the importance of gender and religion as mitigating factors for success.  History has shown that civil resistance is most successful when women are engaged in the peace process.  Additionally, including women at the conference table and activism in the streets lowers a country’s propensity for conflict when paired with higher levels of gender equality.  “Research shows that when women effectively influence a peace process, it’s more likely that an agreement will be reached, implemented and sustained. . . . Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.” [2]

Other scholars who have researched gender and peace support the importance of a “gendered” peace initiative.  In her article, “What Sex Means for World Peace,” Valerie M. Hudson uses empirical data to demonstrate that the “best predictor of a state’s stability is how its women are treated.”  A more inclusive, equal environment for women promotes peacebuilding.[3]  Likewise, researcher Severine Austesserre documents the often ineffectiveness of only male elites or UN interveners at the peace table.  She states, “The problem is that currently we are always focusing our efforts on the top, on political leaders, on [male] elites, and we very rarely support peace at the grassroots.”  She tells the stories of the “ordinary yet extraordinary individuals and communities that have found effective ways to confront violence.”[4]

Because the Catholic sisters are religious women, many operating in their home culture and country, they have an insider’s view; and as workers in education, healthcare and social service are known and trusted by those in their communities.  This makes them important players in peacebuilding projects.

Historical Background and Context

To adequately understand this project, it is important to briefly put Catholic sisters’ work into a larger cultural and historical context.  The Sisters of St. Joseph congregation was founded around 1650 in Le Puy, France.  As an apostolic community who worked in private and public settings, they immediately began to work with the poor and sick, as well as providing education for girls.  Working with French society’s marginal populations, St. Joseph sisters provided care and succor maintaining hospitals and schools for those most in need.[5]

This pattern continued well into the mid-twentieth century but dramatically changed in the 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council met in Rome and mandated changes to modernize the global Church.  In the United States, the ministries of all Catholic sisters exploded into a vast myriad of programs and services focusing on the marginalized of society.  Sisters became activists in civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war movements, sanctuary movements for Central American immigrants, among many other signature social justice issues of the twentieth century.  Sisters have been avid supporters and lobbyists for free trade, water and land management issues for the poor, ecology, micro-financing, HIV/AIDs assistance, and anti-violence campaigns to protect women and children across the globe.  Attempting to take more active responsibility for the investment practices of national and global corporations, sisters also participated in protests and asserted power as stockholders and investors in multi-national corporations involving issues such as worker’s rights, healthcare reform, environmental sustainability, and human trafficking among many other pressing issues across the globe.[6]  By the twenty-first century over 30 orders of women religious, including the Sisters of St. Joseph, had accredited NGO’s recognized by the United Nations, helping to create and work toward the U.N. Millennium Development Goals which included gender equality and women’s empowerment, education, healthcare, poverty, environmental sustainability, and global partnerships and more recently the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.  This United Nations NGO designation represents 100,000 sisters from 200 congregations in 177 countries.[7]

In her chapter on Catholic women and peacebuilding in the twenty-first century, scholar Maryann Cusimano Love describes global  “advocacy networks” where Catholic nuns are plugged-in to social networks, the Internet, and are adept at using decentralized networks and participatory leadership, to gather and communicate information.  This provides sisters an opportunity to put out a call worldwide describing and assessing the current situation on the frontlines in hot spots such as Sudan or Congo among many others.  In reality, nuns’ global access was valued long before electronic technology made the world smaller.  In the 1980s, when long-time Boston politician and then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, was asked how he identified the burning issues from around the globe, he said, “Follow the nuns and you’ll never go wrong. . . . They have people on the ground and they know what is really going on in areas of conflict.”[8]

In light of this context, this twenty-first-century project continues this legacy of global presence and service.  It is significant because it expands knowledge, skills, and spirituality already present within St. Joseph ministries and religious life. Given the history of intercultural relations, multilingualism, and activism, this project deepens and extends the sisters’ myriad of knowledge and experience regarding conflict and its resolution, further developing skills for understanding nonviolent communication, cultural diversity, and difference within the St. Joseph global community.

Project Design Overview

Over a ten-day period in October in 2015, the global St. Joseph Design Team, consisting of nine sisters (from eight countries) and two university consultants, worked to create a teaching curriculum on “Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management.”  It was a “train the trainer” program and live, simultaneous interpretation was provided in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.  The Design Team members would create the goals, objectives, and essential elements of the program, design the curriculum, research content sources, study and debate pedagogical strategies, and ultimately two or three sisters (Design Team members) would team-teach the ten-day curriculum to approximately 125 sisters from five continents.  Two Avila University faculty would attend each session and evaluate the project’s effectiveness.  The training program would be taught five times over a two-year period between May 2016 and May 2018, ultimately bringing 122 St. Joseph sisters to Le Puy, France, for training in the curriculum. Here the sisters developed pedagogical skills necessary to return to their own countries and cultures to teach an additional 75 sisters and lay persons the concepts and strategies of this peacebuilding, educational program.  Ultimately, the program could potentially touch the lives of approximately 5000 people.

Curriculum and Methodology 

The Design Team based the curriculum and methodology of the program on three essential elements: 1) Nonviolent Communication and Conflict Resolution;  2) Critical Engagement with Difference; and 3) Role of Empathy for Understanding and Right Relations Within a Diverse Community.  Around these three themes the Design Team developed workshop content and methodologies asking a central question: “What do you want sisters-participants to leave with after their ten days in Le Puy”?   The Design Team created materials and content that provided knowledge and skills integrated with the congregation’s heritage and spirituality.  The focus of the grant was to teach 125 sisters-participants who were in early stages of religious life (postulants, novices, newly professed) and those sister-formators who mentored them.  Strategies and methods included, but were not limited to: readings, real-world case studies, experiential learning, discussions (face-to-face and online), role-playing, journaling/reflections, collaborative projects, listening circles, videos, performance activities, personal narratives, and study/thought questions.  The curricular template was not meant to be a one-size-fits-all document.  It had to be focused, yet agile, to work with diverse sisters and cultures within the St. Joseph congregation. During the ten-day training sessions in Le Puy, between May 2016 and May 2018, sisters from 27 countries participated, representing four distinct linguistic groups: Spanish, French, Portuguese and English.  Sister-teachers had to be flexible and innovative to teach curriculum in 5 separate sessions with the 25 sisters in each representing a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds.  By the seventh day of training, the participating sisters began to work individually and in small groups to begin creating their own workshops for their sisters and lay persons in their home settings.

Evaluation

As evaluators, we designed four assessment tools to measure program effectiveness for the St. Joseph sisters participating: Personal Background Questionnaire, Pre-Evaluation, Post-Evaluation, and Six-Month Follow-Up Questionnaire.  The Background Questionnaire provided important demographic (age, ethnicity, education, years in religious life, etc.), educational, and work/ministry data on each sister.  The Pre-Evaluation combined quantitative and qualitative questions assessing the participants understanding, attitudes, and ideas about conflict, cultural diversity, ethnic tensions, and non-violent communication strategies.  This was completed weeks to months before the course and before any reading materials were sent to the participants. The Post-Evaluation was conducted immediately on the final day of the ten-day workshop.  It included some of the same questions, quantitative and qualitative, as the Pre-Evaluation as a way to measure attitudinal and/or knowledge change (or lack thereof) after participating in the course.  It also allowed for comments on strengths, weaknesses, and attitudinal thoughts about the workshop as well as sisters’ personal reflections on the ten-day experience.  The Sixth-Month Follow-Up Questionnaire was completed six months after completing the course and attempted to gather data on who, when, and where they taught the curriculum in their own local settings.  It also included questions about their own attitudes and feelings about teaching the curriculum and how they measured their own success and well-being within their communities.

Results

The qualitative and quantitative data from this project is voluminous so we have provided an overview based on our four evaluative tools and our own direct observations and analysis to profile many of the key components of the research.[9]  The background questionnaire provided important demographic information about the sisters who attended the workshop.  Demographically, the 122 sisters provided an interesting profile.  Seventy-one percent of participants were between the ages of 18 and 49.  This emphasized the projects desire to educate young, newly professed sisters and/or those who were in charge of their formation.  Ethnically, 34% identified as Asian Indian, 17% African.  Overall half of all participants came from Asia or Africa which were the two focus areas for the grant. Both continents represented the locations of the fastest growing numbers of new sisters in each of the five sessions. Seventy percent spoke two languages or more, again most of those coming from Asia or Africa, which included tribal, regional, and national languages.  Approximately 70% of the sisters had completed some university education and 27% had some graduate education almost exclusively in healthcare, education, and social service occupations.  Approximately 72% of sisters had been in religious life between 1-24 years, many in Asia and Africa entering as adolescents.

Pre and post evaluation data were extensive and varied with questions focused on attitudes and knowledge about cultural diversity and conflict issues. The quantitative (5-point Likert Scale) and qualitative data (sisters’ comments) are both important to the process and document overall positive outcomes.   Sisters reported that they were less fearful of conflict, felt more capable to resolve conflict, and less fearful of cultural diversity within their communities.  They reported they better understood strategies for nonviolent communication and valued their knowledge about cultural diversity to better live in community and work successfully within their ministry.  Interestingly, they also reported that they better understood whether conflict arises from cultural differences or those inherent in religious life.  This was a critical component of the grant because this is an important distinction for culturally-diverse women living closely in community in sometimes highly stressful situations around the world.  Some of the sisters’ written comments also reflect the purpose and significance of the workshop for these sisters.

The sisters’ post-evaluation comments give the quantitative data “life” and in some cases reflect personal situations.  One sister wrote that she hopes to use these strategies on conflict in her own community, “[H]ad I not learned this I may have added to the conflict.”  Another wrote, “ I feel that I am leaving [the workshop] with a lot of tools [or strategies] and I intend to use them.”  One spoke of understanding that “multicultural, intercultural is a strength” not a problem.  And a sister in an African novitiate simply wrote, “I have a community of six members and five are from different countries. . . . [This training will help me] work with current sisters in conflict.”

The six-month follow-up questionnaire provided information and insights about how the Le Puy-trained sisters felt after going back to their local settings and becoming Second Generation teachers sharing the curriculum with other sisters and lay peoples.[10]   The Second Generation of sisters quickly understood that this curriculum could go far beyond training only younger or newer sisters in the community.  For example: In November 2017, three St. Joseph sisters from three different congregations in Brazil came together in Northeast Brazil in Cicero Dantas, Bahia.  They taught over 50 men, women, and youth between the ages of 18 and 80 in a three-day workshop.  A sister remarked that most participants were members of local “settlements and camps of people who daily struggle to find a place to live and work.”[11]  The participants included teachers, students, housewives, village leaders, senior advisers, and religious sisters.

Not an original focus in the grant, training and working with lay people within their local ministries was an excellent decision (made by the sisters).  Those trained in Le Puy saw the need and the importance of utilizing and demonstrating the adaptability of the curriculum by teaching  local lay people and other groups.  The data from the Second Generation programs in their home countries document the sisters’ dedication to create these workshops and their unique approach to making the curriculum their own.  The aggregate data show that participants in Second Generation workshops varied from locale to locale.  Although the curriculum is still being taught in workshops, as of November 2019, participants included sisters (59%), lay people (23%), educators (9%), and students/adolescents (10%).  The workshops were taught in over 25 countries, South America provided 33% of all workshops, Asia 31%, and Africa 17% of the total number of workshops six months after each Le Puy workshop.  Adapting to the lives of the people, Second Generation sisters taught workshops tailored for their populations who in most cases had very little “free” time.  The length of the workshops varied from 2-3 days to 9-12 days.  Sixty-one percent of the workshops were 2-3 days in length, and 25% were 4-5 days in length.  Only 11% of the workshops lasted between 6-12 days.  As of November 2019, sisters have reported 120 workshops, involving over 3200 people.  This is an underestimation because sisters have taught and are continuing to teach the curriculum so we do not have data for 2020.

Implications and Analysis

The success of the Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management workshops were demonstrated in both quantitative and qualitative assessment measures providing a road map for future research and program development, particularly for religious congregations of women operating in a global milieu.  In a world overwhelmed by conflict, locally and globally, women religious are in a unique position to reach a variety of constituencies including members of their own congregations and the lay people to whom they minister.

Although not part of the original grant, the sisters created their own diverse groups of participants including combinations of religious women and lay people in many of their Second Generation programs in their home nations and communities.  Working with the needs in their local communities, sisters adapted the curriculum for all ages, genders, religious, lay, and local NGO groups hoping to learn new strategies for nonviolent communication and conflict resolution.

The success of the project goes beyond curricular outcomes and evaluations.  Other factors are important to holistically explain the sisters’ effectiveness as teachers and peacemakers.  Their personal, educational, and religious backgrounds provided a unique workforce and presence in global peacebuilding. These include six critical factors for success, particularly significant in sisters’ interactions with people in their local ministries.

  • Sisters effectively identified the needs in both design and teaching, avoiding a formula or an implication that one-size-fits-all
  • Sisters adapted their curriculum to the local culture, including those participants outside of religious life who are necessary and important to the peacebuilding process
  • Sisters’ networks are vast and they are trusted and respected members of the local communities – before beginning the workshops they had already established credibility with the local populations
  • Sisters’ knowledge and skill sets reinforced and helped ensure success
  • Sisters’ foreign language proficiency enhanced outreach to a variety of populations
  • Sisters’ advanced education enhanced their ability to think critically, understand learning styles, and blend the curriculum with experiential learning opportunities and activities

Although not an explicit part of this grant program, three additional and important concepts stand out when reflecting on the successful outcomes and implications for the future; this includes the importance of sisters’ understanding the concepts of interculturalism, intersectionality, and transnational activism. The Design team and sister-instructors realized – very early on – that they were witnessing and experiencing interculturalism within the workshops in Le Puy.  Interculturalism refers to “support for cross-cultural dialogue and challenging self-segregation tendencies within cultures. Interculturalism involves moving beyond mere passive acceptance of a multicultural fact of multiple cultures effectively existing in a society and instead promotes dialogue and interaction between cultures.”[12]   With 25 sister-participants in each of the five sessions in Le Puy, interculturalism was an essential component.  Even in sisters’ four linguistic groups, intercultural interactions permeated the workshop.  For example, the French linguistic group included sisters from Haiti, France, and multiple countries in West and Central Africa as well as Madagascar.  They shared the language but also shared a need for interaction and at times blend their cultural backgrounds within identity and diversity.

Additionally, sisters also understood the importance of intersectionality.[13]  Feminist scholars stress the importance of intersectionality as an important concept when analyzing women’s lives.  Race, geography, religion, ethnicity, age, class, and other factors do not exist in isolation – they interface and overlap in the lives of all women.  Women’s lives and identities embrace a myriad of cultural, gendered, and social imperatives providing a complex matrix.  In fact, amid the Le Puy trainings, sisters themselves often discussed the nuances of their own identities: religious, gender, ethnic, racial, and class intersectionality.  The global sisters in this study, as well as the population they minister to, cross many boundaries in their intersectional tension and identities.  Because most sisters live with the population they serve, and in many cases come from the population they serve, they have a unique perspective.

Finally, Donatella della Porta and Raffaele Marchetti, authors of the article, “Transnational Activism and the Global Justice Movement,” document the importance of a transnational approach to peacebuilding.   They write: “Transnational activism entails transnational actors. . . . [including those in] global civil society, international non-governmental organizations [NGOs], transnational social movement organizations [or] global justice movements . . .”[14]  In much of the world, this is the daily experience of many Catholic sisters.  Utilizing this definition, we would argue that Catholic sisters have been involved in transnational work for decades.  This approach and understanding are a necessary ingredient to reducing conflict, locally and globally, and ultimately peacebuilding.  Understanding the importance of gender and religion to global peace and justice, editors Susan Hayward and Katherine Marshall recently published, Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen, an anthology on peacebuilding by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish women.  Using the resources and support of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), these real-world, case studies came from the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Israel, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Honduras. This USIP research documents the effectiveness of working with women in global peacebuilding.  Because of their years of onsite observation and networking, the work and effectiveness of Catholic sisters were an important component of that conversation.[15]

Consequently, for these reasons this unique, four-year grant is important and why we believe the curriculum has global applications for further peacebuilding by Catholic sisters.  The grant and program are not perfect, it is not universal, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to peacebuilding.  However, it is at the very least, a useful template for peacebuilding, particularly for congregations of women religious, who have historically adapted to the world as they find it – trying to make it better.[16]

In the next phase of this project, Avila University will house the archives and all materials from the curriculum project.  We hope to create a website and online presence providing access for other global religious congregations to utilize and adapt the template for their congregational and ministerial needs.  These needs could be identified by a variety of religious congregations’ NGOs and UN networking to support individual congregations and collaborative programs on Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management – needed throughout the world.  Additionally, Avila University and a St. Joseph sister, trained in Le Puy, developed and piloted an English online version of the curriculum.  In light of the on-going Coronavirus world pandemic, online work will become more important and necessary in the immediate future.  Not always a good or possible option for less developed countries, the online workshop appears to be very successful for those who have the internet infrastructure with opportunities to learn, discuss, and reflect on the curricular materials.  Avila University hopes to provide online resources and workshops in five languages (Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, Italian) for religious congregations whose sisters have the technological infrastructure to benefit from online training in peacebuilding.  The Sr. Martha Smith Archives and Research Center at Avila University will preserve all grant materials and we hope to establish a Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management website that will serve as an internet portal where digitized grant materials can be accessed for use by other religious congregations to adapt and utilize across the globe.  With approximately 700,000 sisters living and working worldwide, that’s a lot of “boots on the ground” for peacebuilding.[17]

Notes

[1] The authors would like to thank the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for funding this four-year project and for their understanding of its importance. We would also like to thank Sister Patty Johnson CSJ for her vision, support, and encouragement along the way.

[2] Susan Hayward and Katharine Marshall eds., Women Religion and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen (United States Institute of Peace Press, 2015).  Also, the USIP website https://www.usip.org/ provides extensive research for research, teaching, and online activism.  The quote is from Norway’s ambassador to the U.S., Kare R. Aas taken from USIP’s article “Women and Peace: A Special Role in Violent Conflict,” by Fred Strasser (March 18, 2016), 1.  See also two excellent documentaries by Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker, Women, War & Peace (PBS 2011) and Women, War & Peace II (PBS,  2019).

[3] Valerie M. Hudson, “What Sex means for World Peace,” https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/04/24/what-sex-means-for-world-peace/  (April 24, 2012).  Also see the full study in her book, Sex and World Peace, co-authored with Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[4] Severine Autesserre, “On the Frontlines of Peace: An Insider’s Guide to Changing the World,” Keynote Address at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame (November 9, 2019).   In 2021, her forthcoming book with the same title will be available through Oxford University Press.

[5] For an overview of the Sisters of St. Joseph from their roots in 17th century France until early twentieth-century America see Carol K. Coburn and Martha Smith, Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

[6] For the best up-to-date information on the transnational activities of women religious see the websites of religious congregations.  Most have a “social justice” link that gives past and present networks and activities.  Also, see www.globalsisterreport.org – weekly online report of sisters’ activities from across the globe.

[7] Kelly Litt, “Catholic Sisters at the UN: Bringing the moral voice to the debate,” in Global Sisters Report www.globalsistersreport.org  June 29, 2015.

[8] Maryann Cusimano Love, “Catholic Women Building Peace: Invisibility, Ideas and Institutions Expand Participation,” in Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding, 64.  The quote from Tip O’Neill was also taken from this source from Love’s  interview with St. Joseph Sister Janet Mock, December, 2011.

[9] All quantitative and qualitative data on the sisters and the grant is being archived at the Sr. Martha Smith Archives and Research Center, Avila University, Kansas City, Missouri.

[10] “Second Generation” is the term we assigned the 122 sisters who trained in Le Puy and returned to teach in their own countries.  The “First Generation” are the nine sisters on the Design team who were the instructors for the five workshop-training sessions in Le Puy.

[11] Excerpt from “Report to Evaluators” from Sr. Griselda Morales Martinez, Project Director the “Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management” grant, November 2017.

[12] Ibanez B. Penas and Carmen Lopez Saenz, Interculturalism: Between Identity and Diversity (Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2006), 15.

[13] There are a variety of resources and articles that discuss this concept including, Kimberly Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43:6 (July, 1991), 1241-99 and “What Does Intersectional Feminism Actually Mean?” International Women’s Development Agency  https://iwda.org.au/ (May 11, 2018) among others.

[14] Donatella della Porta and Raffaele Marchetti, “Transnational Activism and the Global Justice Movement,” www.academia.edu, 428. Also see Sidney Tarrow, The New Transnational Activism (New York: Cambridge Press, 2005). For more on the importance of women in the peacemaking process see the work of documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney, who produced a two-part series for PBS titled Women, War and Peace, Part I (2011) and Part II (2018) describing successful peacebuilding by women in the twenty-first century.

[15] Hayward and Marshall eds., Women, Religion and Peacebuilding.

[16] In an effort to broaden accessibility and information about the project the authors have given presentations in fall 2019 at the Peace and Justice Studies Conference at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Canada and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

[17] This 2017 data and many more statistics can be found at the online website for Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)  http://CARA.georgetown.edu.  (Washington, D.C.)

 

Carol K. Coburn is a Professor Emerita in Religious Studies and a consultant for the Buchanan Initiative for Peace and Nonviolence at Avila University.  She is the author of two books including Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920.  She has over 30 refereed articles and 40 national/international presentations, most focused on Catholic sisters, social justice, and peacebuilding.

Ken Parsons is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Avila University. He is also a consultant for the Buchanan Initiative for Peace and Nonviolence and the Director for the Center for Global Studies and Social Justice (2013-2019). He teaches and presents papers at conferences around the world on structural violence, notions of difference, and human rights

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Like Other Global Catastrophes, Reveals the Limitations of Nationalism

By Lawrence Wittner

We live with a profound paradox.  Our lives are powerfully affected by worldwide economic, communications, transportation, food supply, and entertainment systems.  Yet we continue an outdated faith in the nation-state, with all the divisiveness, competition, and helplessness that faith produces when dealing with planetary problems.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the coronavirus, like other diseases, does not respect national boundaries, but spreads easily around the world.  And how is it being confronted?  Despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, the governments of individual nations have largely gone their own way―some denying the pandemic’s existence, others taking fragmentary and sometimes contradictory steps, and still others doing a reasonably good job of stemming the contagion.  The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) should be at the center of a global campaign to contain the disease.  But its early warnings were ignored by many national officials, including those of the U.S. government, who rejected the WHO’s coronavirus testing kits.  Moreover, the WHO has limited funding―more than three-quarters of which now comes from voluntary contributions rather than from the dwindling assessments paid by individual nations.  Undermined by parochial national concerns, the WHO has been less effective in safeguarding the health of the world’s people than it could have been.

Similarly, the unfolding climate disaster presents a stark contrast between a worldwide problem and the behavior of national governments.  The world’s leading climate scientists have concluded that urgent changes are needed by 2030 to rescue the planet from irreversible climate catastrophe, including extreme heat, drought, floods, and escalating poverty.  And yet, despite an upsurge of social movements to save the planet, national governments have been unable to agree on remedial action, such as sharps curbs on fossil fuel production.  Indeed, two of the biggest oil producers―the Russian and Saudi Arabian governments―are currently opening the spigots in an oil production war.  For its part, the U.S. government has turned sharply against the solar power industry and is heavily subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.  This national irresponsibility occurs despite the urgent pleas of UN leaders.  “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in late 2019.  “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

Warfare, of course, constitutes yet another problem of global dimensions.  Over the centuries, war has shattered countless lives and brought human civilization to the brink of annihilation.  It is estimated that, during the 20th century alone, war (including two world wars) caused 187 million deaths, plus far greater numbers of injuries, widespread devastation, and economic ruin.  Furthermore, nuclear war, unleashed in 1945 as the culmination of World War II, today has the potential to wipe out virtually all life on earth.  And how are individual nations preparing to avert this global catastrophe?  By getting ready to fight wars with one another!  In 2018 (the last year for which figures are available), world military expenditures rose to a record $1.8 trillion, with the governments of the United States and China leading the way.  Ignoring the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the nine nuclear-armed nations, at enormous cost, are currently busy ramping up their nuclear production facilities and producing a new generation of nuclear weapons.  In response to the looming nuclear menace and climate catastrophe, the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently reset the hands of their famous “Doomsday Clock” at an unprecedented 100 seconds to midnight.

Nor are these the only global threats that the nation-state system has failed to adequately address.  Among other things, the world is undergoing a refugee crisis of vast proportions, suffering from the predatory policies of multinational corporations, and experiencing widespread poverty and violations of human rights.  Do we really think that the current crop of flamboyant, flag-waving nationalist leaders, busy promising to make their countries “great” again, are going to solve these or other global problems?

Of course, for centuries there have been great ethical, intellectual, and political leaders who have sought to move beyond nationalism by emphasizing the common humanity of all people.  “The world is my country,” declared the adopted American revolutionary Tom Paine, and “all mankind are my brethren.”  Albert Einstein dismissed nationalism as “an infantile disease,” while British novelist H.G. Wells, like Einstein, became a staunch advocate of world government.  The idea of limiting national sovereignty in the interest of global security helped spark the creation of the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.

But, unfortunately, the rulers of numerous countries, though often paying lip service to international law and international security, have never accepted significant limitations on their own government’s ability to do what it liked in world affairs.  Thus, major military powers hamstrung the League and the United Nations by refusing to join these world organizations, withdrawing from them, vetoing or ignoring official resolutions, and refusing to pay their annual dues or other assessments.  A particularly flagrant example of contempt for global governance occurred in mid-March 2020, when the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, ridiculed the International Criminal Court and threatened its staff (and even their family members) for daring to investigate U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

Thus, although robust and capable global governance is now more necessary than ever, a primitive, shortsighted nationalism continues to frustrate efforts to come to grips with massive global problems.

Even so, an extraordinary danger presents humanity with an extraordinary opportunity.  The coronavirus disaster, like the other current catastrophes ravaging the planet, might finally convince people around the globe that transcending nationalism is central to survival.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally published to History News Network.

New Online History Resources: The Cold War and Post-Cold War Era

By Roger Peace

History is most useful when approached as a series of decisions rather than events.  Those choices can be analyzed in hindsight and assessed as to their wisdom or faults.  Moreover, choices made at certain times can have long-range and profound effects.

One such time was the 1945-1947 period, when the Truman administration adopted policies and attitudes that set the stage for a long Cold War.  Another was the 1989-1991 period, when the Cold War ended and the possibility of building a new world order was at hand.  In both cases, the “peace dividend” that many citizens sought – a transfer of funds from military to domestic programs such as education and health care – evaporated.  Instead of mutual aid and support, a vicarious “empire identity” was parlayed as the glue to unite Americans.

Two recent essays on the U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website, “Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990,” and “The post-Cold War era, 1989-2001,” delve into how and why decisions were made in Washington at the outset of these periods.  In the case of the Cold War, for example, six possibilities are laid out from which President Harry Truman could have chosen, the first three being on the peaceful side (he chose the fourth and fifth):

  • A global New Deal as suggested by former Vice President Henry A. Wallace;
  • Cooperative internationalism and full support for the United Nations as advocated by Eleanor Roosevelt;
  • Peaceful coexistence, or détente, which emerged twenty-five years later;
  • Containment or encirclement of the Soviet Union and opposition to “communist” movements around the world;
  • Rollback or subversion of “communist” governments and movements; and
  • Nuclear attack, the most aggressive option for which plans were drawn up but never implemented.

Having charted the decision-making process, the Cold War essay moves on to assess results.  Viewed from a peace-oriented value perspective, these results are examined not primarily in terms of military success and national prestige but in terms of ethical considerations and international norms.  Was it a war of aggression?  Did the U.S. intervention contravene international law?  Were the Geneva Conventions respecting civilians observed?

Apart from the Korean War and the Vietnam War (examined in separate essays), most U.S. interventions during the long Cold War were covert.  The international relations scholar Lindsey O’Rourke, in Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War (2018), identifies 70 “regime change” interventions during the Cold War, of which 64 were conducted clandestinely through the CIA.  Of these 64, five involved assassination plots, 13 involved U.S.-backed military coups and insurrections (9 succeeded), 16 were directed at manipulating elections (12 resulted in the U.S.-backed candidate winning), and 14 instigated sabotage and destabilization operations in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.   Astoundingly, according to O’Rourke, “The United States supported authoritarian forces in forty-four out of sixty-four covert regime changes, including at least six operations that sought to replace liberal democratic governments with illiberal authoritarian regimes.”

The contradiction between stated U.S. principles and actual policies leads us to a third component of peace history – unpackaging official rationales and ideological presumptions.  In the case of the Cold War, this requires a lengthy section on the origins of socialist and communist philosophies and movements, and the manner in which anti-communism has been used to support right-wing authoritarian governments.  During the Cold War, the U.S. supported a host of dictatorial and repressive regimes, and covertly overthrew a number of democratic ones.

In the conclusion of this essay, I offer a succinct summary of lessons that may be drawn from this study:

If there is a paramount lesson to be learned from the Cold War, it is that the United States should shed its imperial identity and become a team player on the world stage, pursuing cooperation rather than military preponderance.  Let Pax Americana follow Pax Britannica into the dustbin of history.  American citizens need to be aware of the history and effects of U.S. foreign policies, cross-examine official rationales, and strengthen mechanisms of democratic accountability, thus enabling critical assessment of current U.S. policies and actions in the world.  Ethical standards of behavior should apply to the United States no less than to other nations.

The latest essay on the U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website, “Post-Cold War era, 1989-2001,” takes a similar approach in (1) highlighting the choices at hand at a crucial time (and the missed opportunities for creating a more peaceful world), (2) assessing policy results, (3) critiquing official rationales, and (4) probing lessons that might be drawn – a general peace studies approach to international relations and wars.

As with all essays on this open resource website, the post-Cold War essay is written for students and the general public, offers coherent and well-organized narratives, and is accompanied by an ample number of photos and images – 119 to be exact (and 125 in the Cold War essay).  It synthesizes and builds on the work of expert scholars, offers analysis based upon available primary sources, and provides copious endnotes for independent examination of primary documents.  The authors, Brian D’Haeseleer, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, are scholars of U.S. military and foreign policy and experienced teachers.  Professors, instructors, and teachers are encouraged to assign the essay, all or in part, to their students.  All essays may be downloaded in PDF format, with or without images.

The Post-Cold War essay covers the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989, the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, “humanitarian interventions” in Somalia, Bosnia, and elsewhere, and the failed American crusade to remake Russia.  The story begins with a missed opportunity to build a more peaceful, just, and cooperative world order.

On December 8, 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev presented a challenge to the world community to create a new world order based on cooperation rather than domination.  “The formula for development at another’s expense is becoming outdated,” he told the United Nations General Assembly.  “It is evident, for example, that force and the threat of force can no longer be, and should not be instruments of foreign policy.”  To the surprise of many, the Soviet Union followed through and allowed the communist governments of Eastern Europe to fall as nonviolent revolutions swept through the region.

In December 1989, President George H. W. Bush met with Gorbachev on the island of Malta.  Bush seemed upbeat after the meeting, telling reporters, “The arms race, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle, all those should be things of the past.”  That was a good start for remaking the world order.  Rhetoric notwithstanding, however, the U.S. foreign policy establishment viewed Moscow’s retreat from great power domination as an opportunity to advance U.S. interests and establish the U.S. as the sole superpower in the world.  Less than three weeks after the Malta summit, U.S. forces invaded Panama in a classic “gunboat diplomacy” maneuver, denounced by the UN General Assembly as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Mikhail Gorbachev’s vision of a more cooperative and peaceful world order gradually receded from view during the post-Cold War period.  In its place, U.S. leaders advanced the idea of an American-led world order secured by U.S. military predominance.  Those who hoped for a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War were sorely disappointed as new threats from abroad were found to replace the vanishing “communist threat.”  As for Russia, the U.S.-applied capitalist “shock therapy” produced mostly shock and little therapy as social welfare systems were eviscerated and poverty rose precipitously.  All in all, as the historian Odd Arne Westad notes, “the 1990s was a lost opportunity for international cooperation, particularly to combat disease, poverty and inequality.”

What might the world be like today if different choices had been made in the post-Cold War era?  Might the transfer of money and talent to constructive activities been realized, enabling governments to competently address environmental threats, pressing economic needs, and epidemic diseases?  Though the opportunity was missed in the 1990s, the future is still open to this healing possibility.

The U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide is an open resource, non-commercial, educational website sponsored by the Historians for Peace and Democracy and the Peace History Society.  If interested in assisting this website project (production of essays or public outreach), please contact Roger Peace, website coordinator, rcpeace3@embarqmail.com.

The World’s Major Military and Economic Powers Find Happiness Elusive

By Lawrence Wittner

Long before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic left people around the world desperate for survival, a popular assumption emerged that national governments are also supposed to promote the happiness and well-being of their citizens.  This idea was expressed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that governments are instituted to secure humanity’s “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

What are we to think, then, when we find that the world’s major military powers, which are also among the world’s richest nations, are failing badly when it comes to enhancing public happiness?

According to the most credible study of military expenditures (with figures drawn from 2018), three out of the top four military spenders, in rank order, are the United States, China, and India.  Although Saudi Arabia is 3rd, France 5th, and Russia 6th on the list, Russia’s military expenditures do not fall far behind those of Saudi Arabia and France.  Furthermore, Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and fifth-largest army.  Therefore, Russia is usually considered one of the world’s top four military powers.

When it comes to economies, these same countries are also powerhouses.  Ranked by total wealth, the United States is 1st, China 2nd, India 5th, and Russia 11th.  If ranked by their number of billionaires, the United States is 1st, China 2nd, India 4th, and Russia 5th.

But happiness is quite another matter.  The World Happiness Report for 2020―a survey done by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations―produced a very different ranking of nations.  Based on how happy the citizens of 156 countries perceived themselves to be, the report concluded that, when it came to happiness, the United States ranked 18th, Russia 73rd, China 94th, and India 144th among nations.  Although the United States could take some comfort in outdistancing its major military-industrial rivals, the fact is that, despite its consistent pre-eminence in military and economic power, between 2012 and 2020 its happiness ranking dropped from 11th to 18th place among the nations of the world.

How should we account for this phenomenon?  The most obvious explanation is that great military and economic power does not guarantee a country’s happiness.  Indeed, it might even undermine happiness.  After all, spending on military ventures diverts resources away from civilian needs, while wars create death and destruction.  It’s worth noting that the United States, Russia, and India have all been busy for years engaging in bloody military conflicts.  China, despite its rising military power, has kept free of them in recent times, and this might help explain its rise in the global happiness ranking from 112th in 2012 to 94th in 2020.

Powerful national economies, too, do not necessarily lead to widespread happiness, particularly among the poorest citizens.  Economic inequality has certainly caused significant discontent within these nations, and the rise of “the billionaire class” has exacerbated it.  Moreover, these countries’ emphasis on consumerism and materialism has created desires that cannot always be satisfied by the acquisition of products or wealth.

We can get a better idea of what produces happiness by looking at the nations that placed in the top ten on the 2020 happiness scale. Ranked in order, they are Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, and Luxembourg.  None is a major military or economic power, and none is today fighting a war. What they also have in common, the World Happiness Report observes, is a “well-functioning democracy, generous and effective social welfare benefits, low levels of crime and corruption, and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions.”

Whatever the reasons for the greater sense of well-being among citizens of these top-ranked nations, it’s clear that they are considerably happier than the people of the United States, China, India, and Russia.  Perhaps it’s time for the citizens of the “great powers” to ask themselves if they are truly benefiting from the much-vaunted military and economic strength of their nations.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press. This article was originally published on Common Dreams.

Myth vs History: A Study of Vietnam War Stories and Journalism

By Jerry Lembcke

In 2007, I presented a paper on the myth of spat-on Vietnam veterans at a Queensland University conference in Brisbane, Australia. The paper drew on the history of homecomings experienced by U.S veterans of the war; it was well-received by the attending historians, most of whom were Australians.

In the Q&A that followed, however, assertions were made that the Australian case was different: Australian returnees, it was said, were met with great hostility and even acts of spitting by the antiwar movement. My surprise at hearing that claim was then surpassed by the acceptance of its merit by the roomful of scholars. With the unspoken certainty of something everyone-knows-is-true filling the room, the story of spat-on Australian veterans went unchallenged into the end of the session.

Later, over drinks and dinner, my probes into what research had been done by historians and students of political culture on the Australian homecoming experience hit a wall: It’s common-sense, isn’t it? The antiwar movement hated the war and the military establishment—why wouldn’t they spit on the “diggers” when they came home?

I returned to the States as certain that there was an untold story in the Australian memory of Vietnam veteran homecomings as I was when I began writing The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Alas, my pursuits of appointments and funding that would take me back to Australia to do that work were fruitless. Recently, I picked up Mark Dapin’s Australia’s Vietnam: Myth vs. History and it dispelled my lingering disappointment at the lost chance to interrogate some Australian coming-home-from-Vietnam stories. More importantly, Dapin does it in a way that advances the craft of myth-debunking while using his own growth from mythmaker to myth-breaker to show us what intellectual integrity looks like.

Dapin keeps himself on solid methodological ground throughout the book with repeated acknowledgments that he, the myth-debunker, cannot prove the negative, cannot prove what did not happen. But he can show what did happen: that hundreds of thousands of people turned out in 1966 and 1977 to welcome veterans home to Sydney, establishing as a myth the now-widespread claims that there were no “welcome home parades”; that government documents and official correspondence clearly record the obligation to serve in Vietnam when ordered, giving the lie to claims that Australia’s troops there were “an all-volunteer army”; that the first claims that returnees were called “baby killers” came in 1997, about thirty years after they came home.

Dapin takes the show-what-did-happen tactic to a higher level to attack the now-remembered demonstrations that greeted troops returning to Australian airports. So threatening were those demonstrations, it is claimed, that Qantas Airlines flights from Vietnam landed at night to thwart protester’s plans to assail the veterans. The truth, writes Dapin, is more prosaic: nighttime flights allowed Qantas to maintain the scheduled maintenance of the planes needed for daytime commercial flights.

Australia’s Vietnam is more than an empirical inquiry into the truth, say, of stories that Australian troops committed My Lai-type atrocities in Vietnam: did they happen or didn’t they? They didn’t, Dapin says, and the “memory” that they did began with a book published in the US. Dapin describes the book, Happy Hunting Ground by Martin Ross, as a former Marine “eager to impress his readers with the dangers and hardships he ostensibly faced while wandering around South Vietnam as a journalist. . . “(p. 110). Made-up atrocity stories function, as do other myths in Australian post-Vietnam folklore, to bolster the combat bona fides of Australian veterans by associating them with the imagery of American veterans ginned up by Hollywood.

Australia’s Vietnam is important for the rectification it brings to public memory of Vietnam War homecomings. Its relevance for Australian readers goes without saying and used in critical dialogue with the American war-story literature it should find its place on those lists as well.

But the book is equally important as a case study of journalists’ role in mythmaking. Dapin’s first chapter, “The Myths I Helped to Make,” is one of the best in the book. Told by members of a veterans biker club that 90% of them have PTSD, that others were spat on, sleep with pick-handles under the bed, live in isolated camps in the bush, or carried a bag of Vietnamese heads in Vietnam—he believed many of them and wrote some them into print. The journalistic malfeasance that Dapin owns-up to now is more than made up for by offering himself for study in why journalists believe what they do. Phenomenologists have covered a lot of that ground that Australia’s Vietnam would be stronger for having referenced but schools of journalism can make the necessary accommodations for that.

Afterword. At the Brisbane conference mentioned above, I also recounted my R&R experience in Sydney in July 1969. Coming down the steps to street-side from my Kings Cross hotel, I was greeted by a young woman. “Are you a GI?” she asked. Tanned (in the Australian winter) with no hair, I confessed immediately. “Would you like to go to a coffee house?” she asked. Agreeable to that, I walked a short distance with her to a coffee shop (and perhaps bookstore) stuffed with antiwar literature and paraphernalia. There, I was offered sanctuary if I wished to desert, and eventual passage to Sweden for more long-term refuge. I left with a stack of printed material that I passed around the 41st Artillery Group upon return to Vietnam and a heavy-metal peace symbol that still hangs on my dining-room wall. The Brisbane conferees had “no idea” that Australian peace activists had reached-out to GIs and even admitted to hunches that protesters would have been hostile to GIs. It was, after all, 2007 and years before they would see Dapin’s myth-busting work.

 

Jerry Lembcke is the author of eight books including The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of VietnamCNN’s Tailwind: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth, and Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. His opinion pieces have appeared in The New York TimesBoston GlobeSan Francisco Chronicle, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has been a guest on several NPR programs including On the Media. The 2006 film Sir! No Sir! featured his book The Spitting Image. This article was originally published to History News Network.

Lembcke was drafted in 1968 and served as a Chaplain’s Assistant with the 41st Artillery Group in Vietnam. He is presently Associate Professor Emeritus at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

The Two Internationalisms

By Lawrence Wittner

In recent years, internationalism―cooperation among nations for promotion of the common good―has acquired a bad reputation.

Of course, internationalism has long been anathema to the political Right, where a primitive tribalism and its successor, nationalism, have flourished for many years.  Focusing on their nation’s supposed superiority to others, a long line of rightwing demagogues, including Adolf Hitler (“Deutschland Über Alles”) and Donald Trump (“America First”), have stirred up xenophobia, racism, and militarism, often with some success in public opinion and at the polls.  Numerous nationalist imitators have either secured public office or are hungering for it in many parts of the world.

But that is new in recent years is the critique of internationalism on the political Left.  For centuries, internationalism was a staple of the progressive, avant-garde outlook.  Enlightenment thinkers promoted ideas of cosmopolitanism and the unity of humanity, critics of war and imperialism championed the development of international law, and socialists campaigned for replacing chauvinism with international working-class solidarity.  In the aftermath of two devastating world wars, liberal reformers roundly condemned the narrow nationalist policies of the past and placed their hopes for a peaceful and humane future in two world organizations:  the League of Nations and the United Nations.

A key reason for the decline of support for this internationalist vision on the political Left is the belief that internationalism has served as a cloak for great power militarism and imperialism.  In fact, there is some justification for this belief, as the U.S. government, while professing support for “democracy” and other noble aims, has all too often used its immense military, economic, and political power in world affairs with less laudatory motives, especially economic gain and control of foreign lands.

And much the same can be said about other powerful nations.  In their global operations during much of the twentieth century, were the British and French really concerned about advancing human rights and “civilization,” the Germans about spreading “kultur,” and the Russians about liberating the working class?  Or were they merely continuing the pattern―though not the rhetoric―of their nationalist predecessors?

To continue this subterfuge, starting in 1945 they all publicly pledged to follow the guidelines of a different kind of global approach, cooperative internationalism, as championed by the United Nations.  But, when it came to the crunch, they proved more interested in advancing their economies and political holdings than in developing international law and a cooperative world order.  As a result, while pretending to honor the lofty aims of the United Nations, they provided it with very limited power and resources.  In this fashion, they not only used the United Nations as a fig leaf behind which their overseas military intervention and imperialism continued, but ended up convincing many people, all across the political spectrum, that the United Nations was ineffectual and, more broadly, that cooperative internationalism didn’t work.

But, of course, cooperative internationalism could work, if the governments of the major powers―and, at the grassroots level, their populations―demanded it.  A fully empowered United Nations could prevent international aggression, as well as enforce disarmament agreements and sharp cutbacks in the outrageous level of world military spending.  It could also address the climate catastrophe, the refugee crisis, the destructive policies of multinational corporations, and worldwide violations of human rights.  Does anyone, aside from the most zealous nationalist, really believe that these problems can be solved by any individual nation or even by a small group of nations?

Fortunately, there are organizations that recognize that, in dealing with these and other global problems, the world need not be limited to a choice between overheated nationalism and hypocritical internationalism.  In the United States, these include the United Nations Association (which works to strengthen that global organization so that it can do the job for which it was created) and Citizens for Global Solutions (which champions the transformation of the United Nations into a democratic federation of nations).  Numerous small countries, religions, and humanitarian organizations also promote the development of a more cooperative international order.

If the people of the world are to stave off the global catastrophes that now loom before them, they are going to have to break loose from the limitations of their nations’ traditional policies in world affairs.  Above all, they need to cast off their lingering tribalism, recognize their common humanity, and begin working for the good of all.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally published online by the History News Network

How About a Peace Race Instead of an Arms Race?

by Lawrence Wittner

In late April, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that, in 2018, world military expenditures rose to a record $1.82 trillion.  The biggest military spender by far was the United States, which increased its military budget by nearly 5 percent to $649 billion (36 percent of the global total). But most other nations also joined the race for bigger and better ways to destroy one another through war.

This situation represents a double tragedy.  First, in a world bristling with weapons of vast destructive power, it threatens the annihilation of the human race.  Second, as vast resources are poured into war and preparations for it, a host of other problems―poverty, environmental catastrophe, access to education and healthcare, and more―fail to be adequately addressed.

But these circumstances can be changed, as shown by past efforts to challenge runaway militarism.

During the late 1950s, the spiraling nuclear arms race, poverty in economically underdeveloped nations, and underfunded public services in the United States inspired considerable thought among socially-conscious Americans.  Seymour Melman, a professor of industrial engineering at Columbia University and a peace activist, responded by writing The Peace Race, a mass market paperback published in 1961.  The book argued that military spending was undermining the U.S. economy and other key aspects of American life, and that it should be replaced by a combination of economic aid abroad and increased public spending at home.

Melman’s popular book, and particularly its rhetoric about a “peace race,” quickly came to the attention of the new U.S. President, John F. Kennedy.  On September 25, 1961, dismayed by the Soviet Union’s recent revival of nuclear weapons testing, Kennedy used the occasion of his address to the United Nations to challenge the Russians “not to an arms race, but to a peace race.”  Warning that “mankind must put an end to war―or war will put an end to mankind,” he invited nations to “join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.”

Kennedy’s “peace race” speech praised obliquely, but powerfully, what was the most ambitious plan for disarmament of the Cold War era:  the McCloy-Zorin Accords.  This historic US-USSR agreement, presented to the UN only five days before, outlined a detailed plan for “general and complete disarmament.” It provided for the abolition of national armed forces, the elimination of weapons stockpiles, and the discontinuance of military expenditures in a sequence of stages, each verified by an international disarmament organization before the next stage began.  During this process, disarmament progress would “be accompanied by measures to strengthen institutions for maintaining peace and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.”  In December 1961, the McCloy-Zorin Accords were adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly.

Although the accelerating nuclear arms race―symbolized by Soviet and American nuclear testing―slowed the momentum toward disarmament provided by the McCloy-Zorin Accords and Kennedy’s “peace race” address, disarmament continued as a very live issue.  The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), America’s largest peace organization, publicly lauded Kennedy’s “peace race” speech and called for “the launching of a Peace Race” in which the two Cold War blocs joined “to end the arms race, contain their power within constructive bounds, and encourage peaceful social change.”

For its part, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, created by the Kennedy administration to address disarmament issues, drafted an official U.S. government proposal, Blueprint for the Peace Race, which Kennedy submitted to the United Nations on April 18, 1962.  Leading off with Kennedy’s challenge “not to an arms race, but to a peace race,” the proposal called for general and complete disarmament and proposed moving in verifiable steps toward that goal.

Nothing as sweeping as this followed, at least in part because much of the subsequent public attention and government energy went into curbing the nuclear arms race.  A central concern along these lines was nuclear weapons testing, an issue dealt with in 1963 by the Partial Test Ban Treaty, signed that August by the U.S., Soviet, and British governments.  In setting the stage for this treaty, Kennedy drew upon Norman Cousins, the co-chair of SANE, to serve as his intermediary with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.  Progress in containing the nuclear arms race continued with subsequent great power agreements, particularly the signing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.

As is often the case, modest reform measures undermine the drive for more thoroughgoing alternatives.  Certainly, this was true with respect to general and complete disarmament.  Peace activists, of course, continued to champion stronger measures.  Thus, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize lecture in Oslo, on December 11, 1964, to declare:  “We must shift the arms race into a ‘peace race.’”  But, with important curbs on the nuclear arms race in place, much of the public and most government leaders turned to other issues.

Today, of course, we face not only an increasingly militarized world, but even a resumption of the nuclear arms race, as nuclear powers brazenly scrap nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties and threaten one another, as well as non-nuclear nations, with nuclear war.

Perhaps it’s time to revive the demand for more thoroughgoing global disarmament.  Why not wage a peace race instead of an arms race―one bringing an end to the immense dangers and vast waste of resources caused by massive preparations for war?  In the initial stage of this race, how about an immediate cut of 10 percent in every nation’s military budget, thus retaining the current military balance while freeing up $182 billion for the things that make life worth living?  As the past agreements of the U.S. and Soviet governments show us, it’s not at all hard to draw up a reasonable, acceptable plan providing for verification and enforcement.

All that’s lacking, it seems, is the will to act.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally posted to History News Network

Reflections on International Peace: An Essay Series in Three Parts

by Sandra Simić

 

Part III – Common Heritage

 “Since wars begin in the minds of men (and women), it is in the minds of men (and women) that the defenses of peace must be constructed”, the UNESCO Constitution says.

Four centuries ago, in the heart of various beliefs – Hindu, Persian, Muslim, Christian – the emperor Akbar the Great gathered in his palace in Delhi philosophers, scholars, and mystics, in order to find together the core in which religions unite. (2) We may be inspired by such a noble initiative.

The vision of building instead of destroying the future together, by all members of the human family, must not be limited to rational science. Focusing on material globalization only is like building a house on sand. Spiritual globalization is needed as well, through a search for the common origin and a sense of shared humanity.

Opinions on whether religion is a cause of international conflicts vary. Some thinkers believe that religion is one of the interrelated factors causing conflict, while others believe that it is never the cause of the conflict. (3) Religion might also be hijacked for political purposes, presenting it erroneously as the primary reason for war, instead of economic or other interests.

Spiritual leaders are continually calling for peace. The Second Vatican Council renewed the Roman Catholic Church, a part of the process being the support for the international order, UN and human rights. (4) This support is most evident from the Pacem in Terris, a famous encyclical of His Holiness Pope John XXIII, which emphasizes in the point 61 that “any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force”. Further, it is noted in point 88 that some nations may have attained a superior degree of development, but this does not “entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress.”

When leaders focus on the relevant issues and create a positive context, things are starting to change. Sincerely positive global spirit uniting all cultures and religions together may be witnessed at the General Audience with His Holiness Pope Francis, who interestingly, took the name of the saint of peace.

In spite of dogmatic differences, we should seek to find the source which is the same for everyone and build togetherness from there. For example, The Golden Rule is worldwide accepted by all religions. (6) Reading its narrative through various religious traditions is illuminating, as the same idea is repeated over and over in different literary styles. Basically, it says that you should not do to others what you do not wish others do to yourself.

Focusing on shared values and common heritage might be further developed by establishing an organization which would serve the following purposes: connecting people and cultures physically and virtually, serve as a place where people could get accurate information about all religions, provide grants for artists promoting these values through books, movies, music, and visual arts, provide grants and resources for scientific research aimed at finding shared values and other noble ideas leading to this aim. A digital church might also be created, meaning a digital place where people from all over the globe can meet, discuss and share directly and in real time. Creating an appropriate setting for the expression of such ideas would make all the difference. Publishing and producing is a commercially driven business, meaning that it adapts itself to the market and follows trends. The prevailing themes are negative. This is why it is necessary to create a space where freedom of expression is not restricted to market trends, but it also opens possibilities for artists with an optimistic and positive vision of the future. Building relationships on shared values, while keeping cultural and religious differences as they enrich us. We are all on the same path of discovering life in its sophistication and beauty and every path is valuable.

Creating peace is possible. The positive context, organization and focus on shared values are necessary. It is also important being continually aware of the fine line between those who divide and those who connect people, especially when electing leaders. The old Latin phrase Acta, non verba (Actions, not words) teaches us that we should focus more on concrete results such as making peace deals which last or deciding not to send armed forces to war, instead of endorsing the elegant pacifistic rhetoric only.

It is unacceptable in the 21st century to judge someone on the basis of what she or he gained by birth, on the basis of something beyond their influence. It is particularly unacceptable to divide on the basis of religion. The path of every person towards spirituality merits respect. In Genesis 15:5, God promised Abraham/Ibrahim that He would give him as many children as there are stars in the sky. Looking at the sky, I believe Abraham/Ibrahim wanted to see that harmony and glow between his children. God made His promise. His descendants are Jewish, Christians and Muslims. It is upon us to build that harmony and not be misled by artificial worldly divisions.

By focusing on values we all share, instead of emphasizing differences, we shall build a more sophisticated and future-oriented culture.

References

  1. UNESCO Constitution.
  2. Mourad, Kenizé, „Tragom mrtve princeze“ (Croatian translation of the original title: „De la part de la princesse morte“), Znanje, 1989, p. 185. (vol.2.).
  3. Smock, David R. (eds.), “Interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding”, United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002, p. 127.
  4. O’Connell, Mary Ellen, “Belief in the Authority of International Law for Peace”, in: Justenhoven, Heinz-Gerhard, O’Connell, Mary Ellen (eds.), Peace through law: Reflections on Pacem in Terris from Philosophy, Law, Theology, and Political Science, 1. Edition 2016, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, p. 60.
  5. Pacem in terris, encyclical of Pope John XXIII on establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity, and liberty, April 11, 1963.
  6. Bowker, John, “World Religions”, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2003 (revised edition published in 2003, first published in London in 1997), p. 208.

 

Sandra Simić, mag.iur., LLM, is a lawyer specialized in Public International Law and European Law (University of London, Queen Mary&University College London), with extensive professional experience in private (Attorney at Law) and public sector. This essay represents her personal opinion. She may be reached at: sandra_law@europe.com; SandraSimic©2018-2020.

Reflections on International Peace: An Essay Series in Three Parts

by Sandra Simić

 

Part II – Peace Through Development 

Every initiative towards the creation of international peace is valuable and merits respect. However, we ought to make bolder steps in the search for solutions, as the fact that wars are still present in the 21st century means that the international community is immature.

International peace can be achieved by a multidisciplinary approach, through advancement in many areas and coordination between them. Public international law, interpreted correctly and changed where necessary, has the potential to secure peaceful relations between nations as well as their development.

In the internet era, when information is easily accessible to everyone, the legitimate feeling of injustice rises in people living in poverty. The desire for development is natural in human beings. Poverty is also one of the factors leading to conflicts. Differences in the level of development and living standards between nations, causing deep poverty and the lack of opportunities, call for smart investment initiatives.

We should intertwine the economic interests of nations in order to make them the threads of peace. No nation would wish to start a war if this would mean attacking their own economic interests. If the European Union has finally achieved peace, why wouldn’t that be possible for the rest of the world?

Every human being, regardless of origin, gender, nationality, skin color, or any other factor, should be given the same right to development. The United Nations Charter promotes economic and social progress and development in its article 55.

Economic development is stipulated in article 1.1. of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (ICESCR), while its article 2.1. emphasizes that with a view to progressively achieving these rights various steps may be followed, including the international cooperation. ICESCR is a legally binding international agreement.

There are other, legally non-binding international instruments which define this right. Its articulation in the Declaration on the right to development adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 41/128 on 4 December 1986 (articles 1 and 2) has helped support and develop the special and preferential treatment for developing countries and other principles. (3) Also, it influenced the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, which outlines the Millennium Development Goals of the UN (MDG). The MDG 8 in particular, is calling for a global partnership for development. (5) However, the impact of the MDG has been limited due to its non-binding legal character. The international community should seek to enhance the role of public international law in creating binding legal instruments for global development.

The author is pro meritocracy at the level playing field. There is neither honor nor success in winning at the global market if the field is not level. Obviously, the differences in development between various nations make the efforts of the underdeveloped countries non-sufficient for progress, as their products may not be competitive at the global market. The playing field is not truly level (6) because of the inequality between the players.

The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency monitors migrations due to various causes, most notably wars and poverty. It seems that the international community is overwhelmed by the numbers of people putting everything at risk in order to cross borders illegally in search of a better life. Migrations affect many policies in host countries, such as employment, education, health, and social services, culture, security, education, finances, and others. Therefore, this calls for a concerted effort by the international community in finding solutions for development in the home countries of migrants. Building refugee camps at the borders is a temporary solution which is not solving the problem. Human dignity demands equal opportunities for development. Various instruments for international help in terms of donations, food, shelter, medical supplies, assistance and other ways of reaching out to people in need are not a solution. If you are looking at people in need with pity, be sure that you lost their respect. You made them feel inferior. Instead, the honor lies in reflecting about justice, in expanding our intellectual horizons in search for ways of accepting every person as an evolving being, able to do great things.

Capitalism and free democracy create a positive context for development. When individual liberties are protected, people are able to express their creativity, produce and build their societies. In the quest for economic growth, the businesses are continually seeking new products and new markets. At the other end of the spectrum, the underdeveloped countries are continually looking for investments. We should be focused on how to connect the two sides of the spectrum in a way that would be profitable to both. In the globalized world of today, we should above all seek the innovative solutions within the public international law.

The author advocates the creation of an international legal framework which would give capitalism a more human face.(7) The global investment treaty may be concluded under the auspices of the United Nations. Its wide mandate and equality of votes will ensure the appropriate context for creating a fairer international investment regime through the fine balancing between social justice and capitalism. Such an agreement would create a framework where consensus is possible, while the bilateral investment treaties may continue to exist alongside. Investment is the key for economic development, but it must not be taken out of the context and become a value in itself. Investment should be seen as a tool for the greater good and sustainable international growth. This would positively influence the overall global stability and the creation of peace worldwide.

It is important to reflect upon the voting system within a forum which is to develop, draft and adopt an international agreement, as perspectives may differ. For instance, the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, World Bank) have the voting system which gives the most developed countries the majority (weighted voting), while there is equality of votes within the UN. If the aim is to achieve international justice, it should be developed within the appropriate context. Due to equality of votes of all states and its wide mandate (covering economic and other topics like human rights, environment, labor law etc.), it is the author’s opinion that the penholder should be the United Nations. In this way, a balanced text would be developed, giving capitalism a more human face.

The economy is not the only way of creating peace through development. Advancements in technology offer new opportunities for creating peace as well, for instance, through the pacifist use of satellites. There is a practical example which has been successful in monitoring Sudan and South Sudan through the imagery captured by DigitalGlobe satellites, called the Satellite Sentinel Project, which was conceived by George Clooney and John Prendergast. Through the use of satellites, human rights abuses may be prevented and also better documented at war trials afterward.

References

  1. United Nations Charter.
  2. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December1966.
  3. Subedi, S. P., “International Economic Law – Section A: Evolution and Principles of International Economic Law”, Revised version, University of London, Queen Mary&University College London, University of London Press, 2007, Chapter 3, p.27.
  4. United Nations Millennium Development Goals, 2000.
  5. Subedi, S.P., “International Economic Law – Section B: International monetary and development law and policy”, Revised version, University of London, Queen Mary&University College London, University of London Press, 2007, p. 23-24.
  6. Subedi, S.P., “The notion of free trade and the first ten years of the World Trade Organisation: how level is the “level playing field?” The Netherlands international law review LIII:273-296, 2006.
  7. Simić, Sandra, “Our future is in the eye of the beholder – an initiative for a global investment treaty”, Croatian Academy of Legal Sciences Yearbook, Vol. VII, Number 1/2016, 2016.

 

Sandra Simić, mag.iur., LLM, is a lawyer specialized in Public International Law and European Law (University of London, Queen Mary&University College London), with extensive professional experience in private (Attorney at Law) and public sector. This essay represents her personal opinion. She may be reached at: sandra_law@europe.com; SandraSimic©2018-2020.

 

Reflections on International Peace: An Essay Series in Three Parts

by Sandra Simić

Part I – Peace Through Law 

Beethoven composed the Ode to Joy after becoming deaf because he could hear it in his heart and mind. The Ode to Joy has become the anthem of the European Union, celebrating peace between nations with a previously continuous history of wars. “The poem Ode to Joy expresses Schiller’s idealistic vision of the human race becoming brothers – a vision Beethoven shared”. Let this melody be the underlying music of this essay series, in search of new visions for international peace.

The history shows a long record of declared and undeclared wars and various types of violence. Even today, in the age we like to call the age of progress, there are too many armed conflicts and violence throughout the globe, with devastating consequences for the people affected. The fact that we have not been able to find a solution for international peace yet, while opportunities are everywhere, speaks for itself. Respecting many valuable peace initiatives, the author would primarily like to emphasize the value of the public international law in creating international peace, as it provides the legal framework for peaceful relations between nations.

This essay series was motivated by an increasing number of wars and conflicts worldwide, the desire to express a strong pacifistic voice and inspire others to do the same. Within the limits of our influence, we are all responsible for the creation of world peace, towards which the intellectuals, in particular, are called to make a contribution.

Public international law, interpreted correctly and changed where necessary, has the potential to secure peaceful relations between nations as well as their development.

Historically, the roots of public international law may be traced back to the times of Aristotle, who thought that the state and its citizens are the product of nature. Roman jurist Gaius in his Institutes divided all law into jus civile and jus gentium.  The former relates to the law written by the people for their purposes, while the latter is the law shared by all people because it is rooted in natural reason (naturalis ratio). According to Gaius, the Roman people applied both categories. Many notable legal scientists influenced the development of the public international law throughout centuries, however, the Dutch lawyer, theologian, philosopher, and poet Hugo Grotius, who lived at the end of the 16th and in the 17th century, made the greatest contribution. Consequently, he is called the father of the international law. Although he believed in God, and was a theologian, he distanced natural law from God, considering it based on reason and nature of human beings. (2)

The ideas of war being morally acceptable as self-defense and in order to re-establish peace were accepted a long time ago, for instance, in classical Greek and Roman theories and in the works of Saint Augustine. Saint Thomas Aquinas later developed the Christian Just War Doctrine. Many schools of thought developed throughout history on the subject of war and peace. The most interesting and inspiring ideas, seeking to re-connect mankind above religious differences, were those of Hugo Grotius. Grotius and other naturalist writers agreed that the basic principles of all law were derived from “principles of justice which had a universal and eternal validity and which could be discovered by pure reason; law was to be found, not made.” It is important to note that although “natural law was originally regarded as having a divine origin”, Grotius considered that “natural law would still have existed even if God had not existed”. (3) Some concepts like general principles of law are explained today as rooted in natural law.

Contemporary application of public international law by jurists represents a combination of positivist and naturalist approach, which means that positive law is applied first, while natural law theory complements interpretation only in cases when the law is ambiguous, needs updating, or may violate a jus cogens norm, in which cases a jurist will consider important values of the community and the purpose of law generally. (4) Consequently, the legal process theory is complemented with natural law theory, in order to balance the rigidity of the written norm with a human perspective. This might be compared to the role of the jury in trials, as the underlying idea is the same, it is not entirely possible to capture the fairness in the written law. Life itself will always be more creative and ultimately, what justice really means will be up to the jurist making the decision, which is why a lawyer is continuously on the path where law and justice meet.

The author shares the line of thinking which seeks to find something timeless, universal and natural in justice, something that transcends power struggles and national borders and offers a vision of shared humanity.

United Nations have a pivotal role in ensuring international peace, as they equally represent the world population and have the means and opportunity to create a peaceful world. Article 1 of the UN Charter sets out the purposes of the UN, such as maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations between nations and strengthening universal peace.

The UN General Assembly, recalling many previously adopted international instruments relevant to this subject, adopted on 19 December 2016 Declaration on the Right to Peace, which declares in its article 1: “Everyone has the right to enjoy peace such that all human rights are promoted and protected and development is fully realized.”

Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter prohibits the use of force. Chapter VI of the Charter lists ways for pacific settlements of disputes between states, while Chapter VII provides action of the UN Security Council with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. The authorization from the UN Security Council is needed for the use of force.

In conclusion, the Charter should always be interpreted in a way which leads to international peace, while the use of force is only an exception which has to be decided carefully and in a balanced manner, in order to maintain and restore peace.

Even though the international law is a binding system of authority accepted by governments worldwide, a renowned American Professor of Law Mary Ellen O’Connell warns that there are many publications which perpetuate misunderstandings about this area of law, particularly regarding the means of enforcement, the basis for authority and the rules restraining the use of force. (7). O’Connell’s work is outstanding. She writes systematically and in great detail about the origins and development of these erroneous theories, which affect the application of international law today.

We hold the legal key for international peace through correct application of public international law. It is necessary to understand and promote the importance of this area of law in order to distinguish myth from truth, as it all matters in our search for international peace. The inspiring legacy of Hugo Grotius teaches us that justice is natural, universal and beyond religious differences.

In the globalized and highly interconnected world of today and tomorrow, the influence and power of public international law will only rise.

References

  1. Paul Craig and Gráinne de Búrca, “EU law text, cases, and materials”, fourth edition, Oxford University Press, 2008.
  2. Degan, V. Đ., “Međunarodno pravo “, Pravni fakultet Sveučilišta u Rijeci, 2000, p. 33-47.
  3. Malanczuk, Peter, “Akehurst’s Modern introduction to international law” seventh revised edition, Routledge, 1997-2003, p.15-16 (two quoted sentences).
  4. O’Connell, Mary Ellen, „The Power and Purpose of International Law“, Oxford University Press 2008, p. 137-138.
  5. United Nations Charter.
  6. Resolution 71/189 adopted by the UN General Assembly on 19 December 2016 – Declaration on the Right to Peace.
  7. O’Connell, Mary Ellen, “Belief in the Authority of International Law for Peace”, in: Justenhoven, Heinz-Gerhard, O’Connell, Mary Ellen (eds.), Peace through law: Reflections on Pacem in Terris from Philosophy, Law, Theology, and Political Science, 1. Edition 2016, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, p. 50.

 

Sandra Simić, mag.iur., LLM, is a lawyer specialized in Public International Law and European Law (University of London, Queen Mary&University College London), with extensive professional experience in private (Attorney at Law) and public sector. This essay represents her personal opinion. She may be reached at: sandra_law@europe.com; SandraSimic©2018-2020.