Ministries of Peace?

EDITORIAL, 9 Aug 2010

#124 | Johan Galtung

The argument in favor is obvious.  There are ministries of environment all over; that gives in principle the bundle of issues around depletion-pollution a spokesperson in the government, maybe pitted against the ministers of industrialization or development.  Correspondingly, the peace minister could enter into a dialogue–peaceful we presume–with the foreign and “defense” ministers.

The argument against is equally obvious.  The forces for industrialization in general, the capitalist mode of production, and for war, are stronger in many countries.  Those ministries will be weak, patriarchy will allocate them to women, and they will serve alibi functions and in addition demobilize environment and peace movements.  Mother State takes care, go home, sleep well.

There is something to all of this.  But let us have a look at the problem from the angle of the state; what is that organization about?  From the state system in Europe, which got really off the ground in 1648–Westphalia-, there have been an overriding answer: monopoly on ultimate power, the ultima ratio, meaning force, at home and abroad.  At home to maintain law and order, as defined by the owners of the state–class, nations, districts, parties.  And abroad to implement the right of war.  That right has been limited by the UN Charter Article 2, but then with the famous loopholes: individual defense, collective defense, if ordered by the Security Council to do so, by invitation of the country to be defended.  And countries deeply accustomed to go to war will of course continue doing so under their old doctrine that the defense may have to be far away from their own lands, in the vast abroad where attacks may be brewing or even enacted.

But such countries are few, almost all in the West, and related to their colonial and imperial past and present, and to the solidarity among such countries as expressed by Article 5 in the NATO Treaty.  For them a ministry of pace would be an impediment, standing in the way of their right, nay, divine duty, to quench the fires of evil wherever.  The most belligerent of them all, the USA, Israel and the UK, will probably need some civilizing development before they are ready for that kind of ministry.  Their allies may differ on that, but many would be careful lest those three should feel offended.

Quite a different matter is domestic peace.  There is an inverse correlation here between long distance belligerence and deep domestic unrest.  Democracy is one way of settling the latter, one reason that democracies are so belligerent (but a little less against each other): their belligerence may be backed by a (near) consensus.  Hence we would expect the idea of ministries of peace to start in countries trying to overcome domestic unrest, like Nepal and Sudan.  Add Costa Rica which is permanently progressive in peace matters (even if the non-army militia is a little big) and we have the first three.  There will be many more coming; but the West may be slow.

I remember when some of us launched this idea in Norway 45+ years ago (see 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press, 2008, ch 6).  A dinner party with the prime minister (generally in favor, but not enough to override his colleagues), the foreign minister (totally unnecessary, my ministry is a ministry of peace) and the defense minister (totally against, his will undermine our will to defend).  We gave up.

However, quite a different matter, indeed, is “domestic peace”.  It is within the purview of the state in principle with no other states interfering.  What would such ministries do?

The text, the message of a ministry, is revealed in its subsections, like the 64 US Congressmen headed by Dennis Kucinich do so well in the proposal for a law to establish a US Department of Peace.  Let us think in terms of three major tasks: mediation of present conflicts, conciliation for the traumas of past violence, and construction of a more solid pace for the future.  The general formula would be equality and equity between genders, generations, races, classes, nations and districts.  This is not the same as human rights; human rights lift the bottom up, but equity is a relation, building equality into the interaction.

All three are difficult tasks and cooperation among such ministries would be a major step forward, exchanging experiences between, say, Nepal and Sudan.  Those experiences would question the role of Kathmandu and Khartoum, however, and that is where the ministries are likely to be located: for the rest see the two arguments at the beginning.  For heaven’s sake: movements, do not demobilize, to the contrary, be for these ministries what Amnesty International has been for human  rights, the extended civil society arms, while at the same time critical of when needed.

How about the global agenda, if we think in terms of a ministry with a domestic and a global wing?  Exactly the same subdivision.  But, as mentioned, these tasks are difficult.  Training is needed, and much of it.  There will be a lot of incompetence to start with and not enough professionalism to counteract pressure groups for their self-serving “peace”.  Like the perennial Western “free trade”, which generates immense inequities, as opposed to self-reliance, South-South trade, and fair trade.  However, and this is another argument in favor of such ministries: they may serve to highlight such crucial issues.

So, welcome Ministries of Peace!  Like anything else in the field of peace you are not the answer.  But certainly one answer.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Aug 2010.

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4 Responses to “Ministries of Peace?”

  1. Dear Johann,

    I wish I could share your enthusiasm !!!!! alas, not possible. I have been with the projected British Ministry for Peace since its beginnings and have corresponded with several of Dennis Kucinich cronies (Kucinich never answers my letters) on the subject of their proposed US Department of Peace.

    Every politician, both in USA and UK say they are not opposed to weapon research, manufacturing and trade. This is is equal to saying “I am NOT opposed to wars”. Some are opposed to nuclear weapons, with the full knowledge that today’s conventional weapons are almost as lethal.

    Finally, any Government Ministry has to work to benefit its country’s economy and security. It is internationally considered that there is nothing better than the weapon business to improve a countries economy and the UN (United Necrologists to me) insists every country should have its own Armed Forces, in readiness for self-defence.

    Trade Ministries, with the support and co-operation of Foreign and Defence Ministries,are dedicated to the development of the Arms Trade. This equals “development of wars” For this, they receive their handsome salaries from their country’s Treasury. What point would there be in the same Treasury paying salaries to people who will oppose their own Government colleagues? (and at the same work “against” the country’s economy?

    Best wishes,


  2. Francisco Cordero-Gené says:

    John, we are all for this idea but it may go astray in practice. Already there is a law passed in Costa Rica, and for the first time during the administration starting May 1, 2010,our minister of Justice (in charge, among other things, of the institutional penal system)is now “Ministerio de Justicia y Paz”. The Quaker Peace Center along with the Human Rights Network is actively supporting public policies for peace education, but at the moment feel strongly threatened with the arrival of USS Iwo Jima with 1.500 troops authorized by our Congress on grounds of “humanitarian” medical and disaster control training. ¿What use is a Peace Minister, if the national police is receiving military training, supposedly to counter drug trafficking? The US military presence in the Caribbean is wiping out 62 years of unarmed tradition in peace loving Costa Rica. Nevertheless we have to go on and establish peace ministries, at least to counter armongers in every democratic cabinet. Thank you.

  3. Hans Sinn says:

    Dear Johann

    Thanks for your endorsement of the Department of Peace Initiatives – nationally and internationally. In Canada we are doing currently quite well with the C 447 Private Member Bill. C 447 foresees both a Federal Department of Peace and a Civilian Peace Service – comprised of thousands of trained and accredited Peace Professionals, to implement peace policies.

    I was convinced about the need for a Department of Peace by the German experience. In 1994 the Executive of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg and the German Federation for Social Defence published a well thought out proposal for a Civilian Peace Service. The proposal, supported by some eighty German NGOs, was partially implemented in 1999 by the SPD/Green coalition government. This German Civil Peace Service (CPS)has served for the past eleven years as a small Unit of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and International Cooperation.

    For Canadian purposes. It was clear from the start that a CPS, at home and abroad, on the scale foreseen by its 1994 German proponents(Vordenkern), requires its own structure. Therefore, the Canadian Department of Peace Initiatve has accompanied the Canadian Civilian Peace Service project, ever since our first Civilian Peace Service Consultation of February 7-9 2005, Saint Paul University, Ottawa.

    Johann, it was an inspiration and a pleasure to have you in April of 2007 as our keynote speaker, in Ottawa, for our conference on “Peace as a Profession for the 21st Century”.

    Currently, the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative and Civilian Peace Service Canada are planning, along with a number of other organizations,a working conference on “Youth and Peace as a Profession”, with the ultimate objective to enable young people in large numbers to chose peacebuilding and community development as their career.

    Thanks again and best wishes


  4. Bill Bhaneja says:

    Glad to see that Depts/Ministries of Peace are emerging in some parts of the world. They may not be perfect yet, but which govt. depts are. Do we not have Ministries of Environment and Ministries of Industry working side by side in the same govt. A DoP provides a strategic focus for nonviolent peacebuilding within a govt. making use of tax payers funds to build institutions for a genuine culture of peace. It helps a country’s leadership/cabinet in weighing alternate options to militaristic solutions. We need today capacity building and capability to develop badly missing nonkilling policy tools with knowledge of how to prevent, mediate and reconciliate violent conflicts in the governmental structures. In absence of these options waste of valued financial and human resources has continued with hollow power postures based on show of ineffective techno-industry military prowess which even generals have come to realize are not going to result in “winnable wars” in the 21st Centrury. Bill C-447 mentioned above, (text available on CDPI website is one such possible DoP model being proposed in Canada. There may be others such as one in Costa Rica or one in Nepal with its new Ministry for Peace and Reconstruction with focus on reconciliation, disarmament, and development etc.