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topia, n. 1. the ideal made real (derived from utopia)ff
2. worldview based on universal compassion

Forging an Alternative to Permanent War
by Joel Federman

bush paratrooping into iraq, saying "are you with me?"
(Mike Thompson, The Detroit Free Press, from Slate.com)

"(T)he only peace it is meaningful to speak of is world peace."--the Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium

Historically speaking, the new millennium began on September 11, 2001, which was a turning point in global history. As a result of events set in motion that day, we are in a process of global transformation. The outcome of that process is uncertain, and will depend in large part on the nature of our collective response to the new world in which we now live. Our current government has presented us with policies that thus far are leading us toward a less secure world with fewer liberties than before. This does not have to be the case. We can choose to make September 11 a galvanizing event to change the world for the better, instead of for the worse.

The Bush Administration's broader response to September 11 has been primarily militaristic, both in tone and in substance, mounting a policy of permanent war to "defend the peace." Its approach involves military actions against a seemingly ever-expanding camp of "evil-doers" throughout the world. This approach needs to be reversed, in favor of a policy aimed at a new global peace, rooted in an emerging reality and perception of global justice. In its National Security Strategy of the United States, the Administration acknowledges the insight that fighting poverty will help reduce terrorism, noting that "(a) world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just nor stable." But, the Administration's policy priorities are reflected in the respective budget allocations it devotes to the military and to foreign development assistance (the primary US global anti-poverty program).

The Administration plans a three-year increase in the development assistance budget from a 2003 level of $10 billion to a 2006 level of $15 billion. At the same time, by contrast, the President proposed a one-year increase in the military budget of $48 billion, up from $350 billion in 2002. Doing the math, this means that the amount of US global development assistance aid is about 4 percent of the amount of military spending. An honest and serious devotion to dealing with the problem of global poverty as an element of securing the peace would require a major change in spending and policy priorities.

It is clear to me and to many others that the Bush Administration's hyper-militaristic strategy is taking our nation in the wrong direction. Those of us who find the Administration's monomania for war to be wrong and/or irrational need to do everything nonviolently possible to oppose and disempower the momentum toward permanent war, and to create peaceful alternative responses to the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Honestly Seeking Peace

If war is ever justified--and that is an arguable point that deserves much exploration--it is only as a stopgap measure, as a short-term evil. If the long-term strategic United States global foreign policy is honestly dedicated to the pursuit of global peace, then America must actively seek peace. If we are not hypocrites, if we truly desire peace, we must actively work to create the conditions in which it occurs. Instead of focusing primarily on military options, we need to seek, in the philosopher William James's brilliant phrase, the "moral equivalent of war," directed at the attainment of a just and lasting peace in the world.

What would it involve to create a moral, peaceful, equivalent of war on a global scale, a policy that directly pursues peace by peaceful means? To give one example, consider the cost of war with Iraq, now running at $146 billion (see below) What if we had to foregone that option and chose to mount the moral equivalent of war with the budget for that one war? What could be accomplished?

To see a counter showing the ongoing monetary cost to US citizens of the war in Iraq, click here to go to the National Priorities Project

How about the elimination of extreme poverty throughout the world for one year? The United Nations Development Programme cites a figure of $40 billion as an estimate of what would be required on an annual basis to provide "basic education, health, nutrition, reproductive health, family planning, and safe water and sanitation" for the remainder of humanity that does not currently receive those basic social services (Source: Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p. 22) That amount is less than one quareter of the monies thus far spent for the Iraq war and approximately 10 percent of the proposed 2005 US military budget. Channeling the money spent on the Iraq war toward that alternative end would have a profound effect on the world, not to mention the effect on world opinion. It might not eliminate poverty, but it would radically reduce its worst components.

Imagine the transformative effect on the world if this were to occur. Imagine the change in the perception of the United States throughout the world. Imagine the deflation of the energies of hatred directed at us today if this were to happen.

bush paratrooping into iraq, saying "are you with me?"

One element of such a policy might include the deployment of the US military to feed the hungry of the world.Think of what the US military could do in the direct service of peace. In a matter of days, the US military has the capability to transport tens of thousands of people anywhere in the world. It can transport millions of tons of material anywhere as well. It is quite conceivable that, within a time frame of one year, the US military could be deployed to help distribute foodstuffs to end hunger and starvation on a global level.

As detailed elsewhere, the world currently produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet several times over. The problem of hunger and starvation is therefore entirely due to the maldistribution of existing foodstuffs. The current global political-economic system condemns to death every single day many more people than died in the attacks of September 11, 2001; malnutrition is a significant factor in the deaths of more than 18,000 children each day (Source: United Nations World Food Programme) With a commitment of resources equivalent to that contemplated for war against Iraq, death from hunger could be put to an end, along with most of the worst elements of extreme poverty.

A Marshall Plan for the World

The potential for the success of such an approach in combating the threat posed by non-state terror organizations is by no means impractical or hypothetical. There is a perfectly analogous precedent of smaller scale that provides a model for what we need to do. That model is the Marshall Plan.

A bit of history is relevant here. The Treaty of Versailles which ended the first World War created geopolitical and economic conditions that impoverished Germany during subsequent decades. The suffering of the German people became fertile ground for the blame-mongering of Hitler and the Nazi Party that brought about World War II. The German people are not, despite the still-popular American stereotype, naturally militaristic. In fact, as recent international public opinion polls regarding war against Iraq show, they are currently less interested in war than the people of the United States. But, put in the proper conditions, pretty much any people can be charged up for war (or international terror campaigns).

More visionary leadership prevailed after the Second World War. Recognizing the folly of the earlier European "peace," American policy makers pursued an entirely different path, which became known as the "Marshall Plan." According to its chief architect, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the logic of the Plan was as follows: "It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist." (To read Marshall's entire speech, click here)

As a result of billions of dollars of economic aid to war-torn Europe, "militarist" Germany became a thriving democracy that now outrivals the United States in its pursuit of policies of peace. At the epicenter of two World Wars stands the European Union, confederating the protagonists of those wars into a prefigured United States of Europe. Not a bad policy.

As suggested by Mark Lance, professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Georgetown University, among others, that is precisely the kind of visionary policy that the United States now needs to create for the world as a whole--a Marshall Plan for the Earth. Such a plan, if implemented, would do much to dry up the wellspring of hatred against the United States around the world. In addition to its fundamental morality, this would be a policy based on a profound insight into human nature: dissatisfied people, rightly or wrongly, look for others to blame for their satisfaction; satisfied people tend to blame themselves for their satisfaction. (For more of this line of reasoning, click here) A policy sincerely dedicated to the pursuit of global justice is the best possible strategy to achieve global peace and security. (update: For more on the global Marshall plan idea, click here)

© 2003-2007 Joel Federman

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Links / Resources

Abolition 2000
CampAbolition 2000 is a network of more than 2000 organizations in more than 90 countries worldwide working for a global treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Campus Anti-War Network
The Campus Anti-War Network is an independent, democratic, grassroots network of students opposing the occupation of Iraq and military recruiters in our schools, at campuses all over the country.

The Peace Majority Report
The Peace Majority Report provides continually updated news and information for building the American peace community.

Control Arms
Control Arms is a joint campaign of Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms, and Oxfam. The campaign seeks the ratification of a global Arms Trade Treaty. Such a treaty would create legally binding arms controls and ensure that all governments control arms to the same basic international standards.

2005 Budapest peace demonstration

Photo: March 20, 2005 Peace Protest on 2nd Anniversary of Iraq War, Budapest, Hungary. Source: Common Dreams

How to End the Iraq War by Tom Hayden
In this Alternet article, Tom Hayden outlines a citizen strategy to end the war in Iraq. Hayden is a professor at Occidental College, Los Angeles, and was a visiting fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics last Fall. He has been one of the leading voices in the civil rights, peace and environmental movements for four decades.

Peaceful Societies
Peaceful societies are contemporary groups of people who effectively foster interpersonal harmony and who rarely permit violence or warfare to interfere with their lives. The Peaceful Societies website serves to introduce these societies to students, peace activists, scholars and citizens who are interested in the conditions that promote peacefulness. It includes information on the beliefs of these peoples, the ways they maintain their nonviolence, and the factors that challenge their lifestyles.

Campaign for a Department of Peace
The Campaign for a Department of Peace is a ctizen lobbying effort to create a U.S. Department of Peace. The primary function of a United States Department of Peace will be to research, articulate and facilitate nonviolent solutions to domestic and international conflict.

National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund
The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund advocates for US federal legislation enabling conscientious objectors to war to have their federal income taxes directed to a special fund which could be used for non-military purposes only. This fund would be called the Peace Tax Fund.

United for Peace and Justice
United for Peace and Justice is a coalition of more than 800 local and national groups throughout the United States who have joined together to oppose the US government's policy of permanent warfare.They maintain a calendar of peace and justice events all over the world.

Traprock Peace Center
The Traprock Peace Center explores nonviolence, fosters community, and works to end war, promote communication and take initiatives on justice and environmental issues. It is a portal to an extensive network of peace, justice and environmental activism.

Plea for Peace
The goal of Plea for Peace is to promote the ideas of peace through the power of music. They sponsored a national tour of music groups affliated with their message in April-June 2004. They've also got a great catalog of peace and anti-racism buttons and stickers.

Meetup.com Peace Meetings
Use this link to find a peace group meeting near you--wherever you are.

The International Action Network on Small Arms
The International Action Network on Small Arms is the global network of civil society organisations working to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. For a January, 2005 Common Dreams article on their work, click here.

Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children was launched in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2001. It calls on governments to declare their opposition to corporal punishment of children and to set a timetable for eliminating corporal punishment; this includes both explicit legal reform and also public education campaigns. Fifteen nations currently ban all forms of corporal punishment. In the US, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education advocates that children should no longer be excluded from the legal protections against assault and battery that apply to adults.