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Simply... Making Peace


new internationalist
issue 261 - November 1994

[image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Illustration by JACKIE MORRIS Illustration by JACKIE MORRIS [image, unknown]
Illustration by JACKIE MORRIS

SIMPLY... Making Peace

More co-operative and less competitive ways of learning and playing may encourage future generations to share resources rather than fight over them. Traditionally, children have been taught that human history consists of a series of wars and battles. A non-militaristic education would look at the benefits of peace and the social impact of violence rather than raise warmongers to hero status. And a non-sexist education would release boys from the stereotypes that make them feel they have to be 'fighters'.

Defence company Dowty Aerospace (UK) has diversified into civil production, making landing gear for Airbus. A GEC-Marconi subsidiary has successfully moved into making TV satellite dishes. But the former USSR has undergone the most dramatic conversion programme - with 778 establishments and 347 research organizations converted since the Cold War ended. There were major job losses, but two-thirds of the 877,000 defence workers affected were rehired on civil work. The IMF suggests that an internationally co-ordinated 20 per cent cut in defence spending would actually boost world trade.

Supporting the forces for democracy - human-rights groups, women's groups and unions - is one way of helping to maintain peace. Early support for democratic government structures at a time of mounting tension can help halt social and political deterioration to warlordism and civil strife. More democracy in North-South relations is crucial to peace too. If the countries of the South are exploited by those of the North, internal conflicts and tensions will develop in the South. Reducing Third World debt and Northern over-consumption of resources would help create real security and the conditions under which peace can flourish.

Funding peace researchers and campaigners, and founding peace academies devoted to the study and development of mediation methods, might not only help to resolve conflicts but prevent them flaring up in the first place. The savings, in both human and economic terms, would far outweigh the cost. At the global level, an invigorated and more democratic UN (not controlled by the current Security Council veto-holders, who are the main arms producers anyway) could enforce and oversee progressive disarmament. Researchers and campaigners have an important role to play in raising public awareness and developing a more positive consciousness.

Turning military economies into civilian ones requires planning. But the benefits could be tremendous. The 'peace dividend' (the money saved from not having to build up vast Cold War arsenals) could be used to finance education, job-creation and international programmes to deal with other social and environmental needs. Global economic relations could be restructured to enable developing countries to have access to greater resources, and many of the problems that lead to war and conflict in the first place might then be avoided. Economic inequality is one of the main sources of conflict in the world - so converting from an economy of inequality to one of equality could mean converting from a war to a peace economy.

Weapons need not kill or maim. They could just halt violence in its tracks. Research is underway - especially in the US - into non-lethal defence weapons that could be used for peace-keeping purposes. These include spraying foam, stun guns, foul-smelling vapours, sleep inducing fog, lubricants and super-strong adhesives to spread across roads to impede the passage of tanks or troops, or on airstrips to stop aircraft taking off. Jamming electronics is already happening to enforce UN-mandated no-fly-zones in former Yugoslavia.

Military technology and scientific know-how could be put to good use clearing up the huge mess militarism has made - 400 million dollars' worth in the US alone. Companies could be given incentives; soldiers could do the cleaning up and become 'green guardians'. Then 'defence' would become 'defence of the environment'.

Accepting and respecting difference - be it racial, gender, cultural, religious, class or other - can help prevent conflicts from developing and escalating into violence and oppression. Many conflicts arise because people fail to communicate across each others' differences. Drawing from different philosophies - such as Buddhism or Quakerism - which offer approaches to violence and peacemaking different from the mainstream may also provide new ideas - and hope.

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New Internationalist issue 261 magazine cover This article is from the November 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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