The Road to World Peace

It is widely held, particularly in the United States, that with sufficient determination and application, all problems can be resolved in a fairly brief period of time. The enormous strides made on the American continent since 1776, the landing of American astronauts on the moon, and the feats of modern technology all lend credence to this pervasive sense of human invincibility. But despite such feelings of euphoria, one should not expect quick or easy solutions to problems that have plagued mankind for millennia, such as war. However, I shall offer a frame of reference which I hope will stimulate thought and thereby help to illuminate the path to future peace.

My approach is cautiously optimistic. Without faith that human betterment is possible, despondency would stifle the initiative required to avert the fulfillment of human endeavor and only through confidence in the future can humankind muster the courage and strength to do what is required for survival. I have therefore chosen to view the historical glass as half-full rather than half-empty.

Despite all the threats of war, an objective analysis of the facts shows that humankind has been experiencing an erratic and turbulent evolutionary movement toward a more rational world order. More progress has been made during the past four decades in this respect than in all of previous recorded history. Only in fairly recent times have people begun to understand the interdependence, complexity and fragility of life on this planet. New organizations and instrumentalities are being created and improved in an effort to enhance the quality of life everywhere. There has been a gradual awakening of the human conscience. Awareness that changes for the better are taking place, and the ability to see the wavering line of progress, should lend encouragement to those who are determined to make such advances more effective.

To be aware of the action that is required now, it is important to understand the lessons of history. Misinterpreting the past leads to misunderstanding the present and misjudging the future. There are those who argue that history proves that killing other human beings is an immutable characteristic of man’s nature and that all efforts to curb this natural destructive tendency are futile. I am not inclined to accept this melancholy Hobbesian theory of inherent human brutality. I do not believe that we are foredoomed to share the fate of the dinosaur. The human instinct for survival, coupled with the intellect that distinguishes man from beast, has thus far intervened to protect humankind from extinction. Despite lapses and regressions, we learn, and are learning, from errors of the past. There is nothing inevitable about war or peace; whether we survive or not depends on us.

The reality we face is that close to five billion people of vastly different cultures and values – of varied national, religious, racial an ethnic attachments – now inhabit our planet. A few have great wealth, while hundreds of millions suffer hunger or malnutrition. Some nations have great strength, others are weak. Tyranny and fear dominate large masses. National pride swells in the hearts of newly independent nations, while self-determination remains an unfulfilled dream of oppressed minorities in all parts of the globe. By fair means or foul, hostile political and religious ideologies vie for acceptance and power. Acts that are condemned as illegal aggressions by some are hailed as wars of liberation by others. One group’s terrorism is another’s heroism.

The challenge we confront is whether we can subdue this explosive mélange to fashion the conditions needed for a peaceful world. Perfect solutions should not be expected. It is inevitable that conflicts will continue, just as they do within many families. The fact that remedies are less than perfect does not mean that the search for improvements should be abandoned; to do so would invite consequences infinitely more disastrous. We can find in the lessons of the past the needs of the present, new policies to guide us.

In our search for the path to world peace, let us focus on what had already been universally accepted as the essential structure for all orderly societies. Since ancient times, every village, town, city and nation-state has come to recognize that a peaceful society requires: (1) laws, (2) courts, and (3) a system of effective law enforcement. To the extent these three conditions are met, there is relative tranquility; to the extent they are absent, there is turmoil.

In the much more heterogeneous and complicated international arena, many laws are inadequate, courts lack binding authority, and enforcement is practically nonexistent. Small wonder that upon taking office in 1982, UN Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, referred to the “prevailing international anarchy.” Still, in each of these three vital areas some progress has been accomplished, although still much remains to be done.

Simply stated, my thesis is that the bridge to peace consists of these three major interlocking components: law, courts, and enforcement. They must all be set in place before the structure can be expected to stand. The foundation-stone of law remains barren without courts, and courts remain ineffective without enforcement. Each part is connected and depends upon the other for support. Moreover, each major buttress requires additional reinforcements. Thus, before international law can become more effective, there must be greater clarification and acceptance of the norms which are to govern international behavior. This, in turn, requires more universally shared values, mutual trust, confidence and willingness to reach agreement through compromise. Until there is general consent to codifying the basic minimum norms of international behavior, one cannot realistically expect broad acceptance of independent courts to interpret those standards – or the granting of power to any independent agency to enforce rules of national conduct.

There must also be increased respect for the judicial process and greater willingness to rely on courts rather than on arms to resolve international disputes. If international law enforcement is to become a reality, the United Nations Organization and similar organs for international cooperation must be improved. Nations cannot be allowed to decide for themselves when they will use armed force to protect their interests. National armies must be brought under international control and self-help through warlike action must be replaced by a system of coordinated economic or military sanctions supported by the world community. An International Peace Force must be created as the international law enforcement agency.

The immediate and compelling requirement is for a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons that pose an impending threat to civilization. It is common sense that defusing the nuclear hazard must be given top priority. Arms control and disarmament are imperative for other reasons as well. Budgetary deficits, caused primarily by the enormous expense of preparing for war, pose a threat to the economies of the world. The arms race squanders vast resources that are desperately needed to ameliorate economic and social privations that give rise to national unrest. There can be no peace without social justice and no social justice without peace.

The present international community consists of 159 sovereign nations. Obtaining universal, or near-universal concurrence to a major revision of the prevailing order cannot be easily achieved. However, as educational and economic inequalities are diminished, and as ideological rivalries become less strident and intolerant than they are today, the pace of progress may be enhanced, although it will take time. As long as law, courts and enforcement (including improved international agencies, disarmament, sanctions and social justice) are lacking, powerful nations will arm themselves and prepare for the defense of their perceived interests. Like an intricate jigsaw puzzle, all of the pieces must fit together and be in place before a more tranquil world can emerge as an acceptable alternative to the present system of terror.

If peaceful sanctions prove inadequate, then as a last resort, nations must turn to the international military force that was promised by both the Covenant of the League of Nations and the UN Charter. Article 43 specifically provides accordance the members will “make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance and facilities . . . .” A Military Staff Committee, representing the Chiefs of Staff of the five Permanent Members is to assist the Council in maintaining peace. A detailed plan for the creation of the international force was worked out and consensus was reached on the most important principles in 1947. But very soon thereafter further progress came to an end. The agreement mandated by the Charter was never reached and the vital enforcement arm of the Security Council was never created. The implied promise of the nations that drafted and signed the Charter was never kept.

Harry Truman was President of the United States when the “cold war” put an end to American and Soviet cooperation. He unleashed the atomic bomb, inaugurated the United Nations, block Soviet expansion in Greece and Turkey, broke the Soviet blockade of Berlin, created NATO, and ordered US troops to Korea. After he left office, Truman, writing about the requirements for world peace, noted:

The leader of one of the greatest nations whose voice can be heard and listened to should go to the Assembly of the United Nations, and advocate an international control of nuclear energy in the interest of all mankind. He should advocate an international police force for the enforcement of control and the maintenance of peace in the Near East, the Far East, the Pacific, the Atlantic, and all around the world.

In calling for an international army, Truman was echoing ideas that had been espoused by the amphictyonic councils of ancient Greece, by the French after World War I, by Winston Churchill and other world leaders and that had, in fact, been clearly envisaged by the United Nations Charter. That an international military force can be created and that it can be operated effectively, has already been demonstrated by the workings of the embryo UN Peacekeeping Forces in many parts of the globe. It is not unreasonable to insist that those who hold high office should make greater efforts to honor the spirit of the pledge made to the peoples of the world.

A properly equipped UN force, drawn from non-aligned nations or small states that have no major stake in the particular conflict, would be the most appropriate instrument for disarming belligerents and maintaining peace. What terrorist band or group of insurgents, mercenaries or religious fanatics could long stand up to a UN Force – say of a quarter of a million men – assigned to prevent the use of armed vigilance as a means of settling differences?

The time has come for all those who believe in a peaceful world to insist that the Charter plan – even on an ad hoc basis – be honored and tried. Failure of UN members to cooperate in measures of collective security will be a clear indicator that the recalcitrant nation prefers to play power politics with the lives of large numbers of human beings. As long as Permanent Members of the Security Council are unwilling to exercise their enforcement responsibilities under the Charter, many wars will have to be fought until one side collapses in exhaustion, or the combatants themselves recognize that the cost in human suffering demands that some compromise be reached. A system of sanctions under effective international controls, backed by an international peace force – controlled by the would community rather than big powers that have failed to discharge their obligations or live up to their world – is what is needed as an essential component of the effort to enforce international law and peace.

It is not enough to settle disputes after they have arisen. If we are to expect voluntary compliance with international law, we must seek to eliminate in advance the injustices – real or perceived – that lead to conflict. Obviously, even major social engineering efforts are likely to remain inadequate until population growth is brought under better control, or there is some drastically new approach to planetary well-being. The time is rapidly approaching when humankind must regard all of the earth’s treasures as a common heritage to be shared on an international and equitable basis. Regional economic unions have already accepted the principle that resources must be allocated in a systematic way that takes account of varied human needs and disparate contributions. Socialist countries have worked with integrated economies for many years, and even every “fre society” or capitalist state has imposed controls and taxes designed to bring about a sharing of wealth between the “haves” and “have-nots.” A system of completely free enterprise no longer exists anywhere on earth. All governments recognize the need for regulations to maintain social equilibrium; it is essentially a matter of degree. The existence of extensive loans from rich nations to poorer nations – loans that may never be repaid – is another manifestation of the same trend.

Many countries, on all continents, persecute innocent persons who do not share the religion, race, color or political convictions of those in power. Those who are not themselves the targets of such abuses have too often been willing to shut their eyes to cruelty, if it could be rationalized as being in the interest of the of a cause. Too many people are too tolerant of intolerance. When the misuse of others is ignored or accepted, it threatens us all. If are to live in peace, we must recognize that all persons are entitled to equal opportunity and respect.

Oppression can take many forms. Whether a violation of individual liberty comes from the Right or the Left makes very little difference to the victim who is caught in the middle. Those who are denied spiritual sustenance are divested of a vital right. Those who cannot build their own social or cultural institutions, or cherish their ethnic traditions are robbed of their inheritance. Those who are condemned to poverty are deprived. There is nothing more poignant than the sight of an emaciated mother seeking food for her starving infant, or children fleeing in terror from the ruins of a home that has been destroyed by “freedom fighters.” To the father fleeing from his country to find support for his family, it makes little difference if he is restrained by a wall keeping him in, or by frontier guards keeping him out. Until national leaders are willing to accept common responsibility for ameliorating economic and social privation – wherever it occurs – no border will be secure. Political independence without economic independence must breed discontent. It is common sense that clamping down a lid of oppression cannot ease tensions, but only increase them and magnify the dangers of explosion.

It is not a matter of North-South dialogue, or South-South dialogue, or East-West confrontation. The Third World is part of our one world. Decision-makers must move away from parochial perceptions and accept the fact that if we are able to live together in relative peace on this interdependent planet, all of humankind must be brought under the protective shield of an enlightened international community prepared to shoulder the obligations of universal caring and sharing.

In the final analysis, eliminating justified discontent is a matter of self-interest and self-defense. The strength of a nation does not depend solely upon its capacity to destroy other nations and kill their citizens. National security is dependent upon the spirit of a nation, respect for the integrity and decency of its leaders, and confidence in the justice of its government. An exploitive community without moral fiber will lack cohesion and lost power, despite the vastness of its military arsenal. As long as significant portions of the population feel that they are being used as pawns in an uncertain political struggle – even if they are told that it is for their own good of to fulfill some historical destiny – the lack of confidence will encourage young people into activities and attitudes that will sap the stamina, determination and unity of the country. By contrast, a government that has earned the friendship and admiration of people everywhere need have no fear for the security of its citizens.

Fortunately, unbridled national sovereignty is being gradually restricted by the need of coping with common problems on a global basis. Binding international rules govern the environment and outer space. New international tribunals have been created to deal with a host of special problems which – by agreement of sovereign nations – are settled only by peaceful means. The processes of mediation and conciliation are being improved. Disenchantment with the visible weaknesses of the UN Organization has led to persistent demands for reform. Both inside and outside the UN there is a growing awareness of the need for improvements. The growth of regionalism and the alignment of many nations to protect or further their common interests is evidence of the evolutionary, coordinated and more human world is clearly discernable.

The most compelling stimulus today toward a peaceful world under law is the fact that there are no rational alternatives. Rival nations seething with hostility now possess weapons capable of destroying all living things. Such power is no longer a safeguard. It is a menace. Mandatory settlement of all international differences by peaceful means is a matter of self-interest, survival and common sense. In the conflict between communism and capitalism, mankind must not become the first victim.

It is also common sense that those who purport to believe in the rule of law should support clarification of international law and the strengthening of the international judicial system. If the international community decrees that there are international crimes, such as terrorism and hostage-taking, it is common sense that there should be courts to punish criminals. It is common sense that nations claiming to support the rule of law should accept the jurisdiction of an international court of justice. It is common sense that those who wish to live under the protection of law cannot seek protection in lawlessness.

It is common sense that you cannot stop an arms race without stopping the projection of arms. It makes sense to seek an objective inventory of all the world’s armaments, including an expert estimate of the destructive capability of different weapons systems. If it is confirmed that the capacity to destroy human life exceeds the number of human beings available to be killed, it makes no sense to continue to expand the superfluous destructive capacity. Furthermore, if nuclear weapons are not usable because they would destroy all of civilization, then it is only common sense to ask: “Of what use are such non-usable weapons?” They theory of deterrence through mutual assured destruction is based on mad logic. Those who support the argument that armaments are essential for deterrence often cite the Latin adage: “If you want peace, prepare for was.” But history proves that those who prepared for war usually got what they prepared for. Common sense prescribes: “If you want peace, prepare for peace!”

There is no quick or facile solution to the problems of world peace. Ingrained mistrust and ancient hatreds cannot be dissolved overnight. Nor can competing religions, cultures, values or political ideologies be suddenly reconciled. But the obligation of concerned citizens is to try to understand what needs to be done and then to do everything in their power to move in the right direction, in the hope that a more enlightened international order will be able to secure all of humankind.

At an unofficial conference, in the spring of 1985, former US Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter invited a number of experts and representatives from the Soviet Union and the United States and other countries to consider the arms problem. It was concluded that past arms agreements has been negotiated in good faith and that – with few technical violations by both sides – the accords had been honored. Jimmy Carter came away convinced “that even the more contentious issues could be resolved by the superpowers in a mutually satisfactory way.” He felt that if the President could frame future accords as “executive agreements,” approval by Congress could be done by majority vote without the necessity for two-thirds vote of the Senate that had members who “are philosophically opposed to any reasonable agreement” – and the path might thereby be cleared for further progress.

Leaders of the two most powerful nations have given public assurances in the forum of the UN that they are ready and eager to move towards the goals here indicated as being essential for a peaceful world. Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyk, addressing the General Assembly in 1984, acknowledged that world problems “cannot be solved by force.” He favored “prompt measures to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.” He saw both the possibility and necessity for raising the level of trust and for easing tensions among states. He called for “general and complete disarmament” as he appealed for peace and “normal relations with the United States.” He promised Soviet cooperation with all nations to help all nations to help ease tensions and create an atmosphere of trust. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy statement to his own Central Committee on March 11, 1985, was further confirmation to end the arms race.

President Reagan, in 1983, publicly acknowledged: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” When he addressed the UN General Assembly again in 1984, he pointed to the new ties between the United States and China as evidence that the American government was willing to improve relations with countries that ideologically different. “The United States welcomes diversity and peaceful competition,” he said. He acknowledged that there was no sane alternative to arms control and he outlined three objectives of US-Soviet relations:

1. “To reduce and eventually to eliminate the threat and use of force in solving international disputes.”

2. “To reduce the vast stockpiles of armaments.”

3. “To establish “greater cooperation and understanding” between the United States and the Soviet Union:

For the sake of a peaceful world, a world where human dignity and freedom is respected and enshrined, let us approach each other with tenfold trust and thousand fold affection. A new future awaits us. The time is here, the moment is now.

The President of the United Sates concluded his statement with a quotation from Tom Paine, the author of Common Sense: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

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[1] Dr. Ferencz served as a US Prosecutor at the Nuremburg was crimes trails and as director of post-war restitution procedures providing compensation to survivors of Nazi atrocities. He is the author of the prize-winning book Less Than Slaves and currently is Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University. “The Road to World Peace” is abbreviated from Dr. Ferencz’s latest book, A Common Sense Guide to World Peace, by permission of Ocean, Inc.