Ministries of Peace?
EDITORIAL, 9 August 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 August 2010.
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