Is the vision of peace achievable?

Members of the US Peace Alliance promoting the proposal for a US Department of Peacebuilding


Questing for peace has to do with asking all sorts of questions about human life, about peace, about conflict, about the meaning of life, and also about which life skills are the most important to learn in the world’s schools, in the world’s families and in the town halls of local communities.

Searching for peace
A basic question may be this one: Will there always be violent conflict and war among humans? And a more inspiring question may be this: Could the vision of permanent peace one day become a reality?

Searching for peace has to do with our outlooks. I think that we all perceive the world, humanity and the ongoing game of the global whole a little bit differently. Our perceptions of our communities, cultures, countries and beliefs and of the world, these outlooks on what is around us are formed, influenced and transformed by many factors.

How important are the impressions we receive through television, newspapers, films, computer games and the new social media? Can authors, journalists and filmmakers change the world for the better? And the ideas and thoughts we get in our families and during our meetings with others, how important are they? Can parents and grandparents one day become a formidable force for peace, in all villages and cities? And if so, what does it take for every child to be brought up to become a pacifist, a child becoming a teenager curious about the mechanisms of violence and peace, an adult thinking of the value of becoming a peace activist, or a peace politician.

Our different perceptions
How many different perceptions of Syria or Somalia are there? And how did they come about? Why are not all Syrians with different backgrounds embracing their differences, and learning from them? Why is there civil war in Yemen but not in Switzerland? There are an almost endless number of questions we need to find good answers to as we pursue our quest for dignity and peace.

Is there actually a global culture of violence? If so, does it affect Syria and Switzerland the same way or differently? John Keegan’s book about the history of war in its pocket form is almost 500 pages. Each one of them is worth reading. Humans are curious and they like to invent things, and as we know they have steadily produced ever more lethal instruments to kill each other.

States, businesses and idealists
How can this side of destructive curiousness be transformed to something meaningful and dignified? Personally, I believe that the vision of peace for all is perfectly achievable. I actually think that the eight possible peace contributors described in the last chapter of my book Perspectivesembrace most of the solutions. I call that text The way to a world beyond violence – the contributions of states, businesses and idealists to a peaceful and humane future.

As these eight contributors to peace I have defined (1) The State, (2) The Local Communities, (3) The Political Parties, (4) The Researchers, (5) The Schools, (6) The Businesses, (7) The Peace Movement and (8) The Other Voluntary Associations. Besides the individuals all these societal sectors are needed for humankind to achieve the vision of peace.

The tradition of militarism
There are many factors that so far have prevented the achievement of peace for all. The producers of weapons and war plans first come to mind. The tradition of militarism is obviously a powerful force. What about the ever growing amount of what can be called entertainment violence?

Beyond continued militarization and the historic structural violence against women, men and children, entertainment violence in different media seems to have become a widespread phenomenon. It looks to me that entertainment violence is a crucially important part of the global culture of violence, the regrettable culture that characterises our era, and that certainly has been a part of many earlier eras.

Entertainment violence
No one seems to actually grasp what entertainment violence produces and I certainly do not know to what extent it can be held responsible for what is going on in Yemen, Syria or South Sudan or the Ukraine. Perhaps it in some way contributes to a belief among ordinary consumers of mainstream media that yes, there will always be war among humans.

The war scenes vary from year to year. Right now Yemen is in the headlines. In the less troubled regions of the world newsmedia continuously remind us that violence and war create endless misery and tragedy for fellow human beings in those unfortunate regions hit by violent conflict. In the midst of this endless process of situations and people caught in the nets of violence, some have, since thousands of years, tried to promote the peaceful alternatives.

Permanent peace
I know of no figures telling us how many of us actually think that permanent peace can be achieved. The believers in this theory of permanent peace sometimes point to countries like Switzerland, New Zealand and the Nordic countries, saying there many wars were fought in the past in those lands, now there is peace, something must have happened. Or the believers say: Look, since 1948 we have the idea of universal human rights on paper. Or they say: Now we have more students of peace and conflict at more universities than ever before, so there should be hope. Evidently there are many diplomats, researchers, activists and concerned citizens who more or less energetically quest for peace. We seem to have a world community of transnationally minded thinkers and doers we might call the peacequesters.

Organizing for peace
It is evident to me that peace activists of the world can organize themselves better. In most countries there are no efficient non-governmental umbrella associations specializing in long term peacebuilding. The international groups that exist like the International Peace Bureau and the International Peace Research Association have very limited resources in terms of staff and money. No mainstream media seem to take a serious interest in that regrettable lack of peacemaking resources.

World systems analysts as well as media reporters seem to be more interested in the actual violence, the threats and the shooting than in the political and educational paths to permanent peace. Has that fact to do with the allocation of money? National parliaments and governments give tons of tax payers’ money to military purposes, and only a few kilos to civilian peacebuilding, in spite of the fact that almost all want peace, and almost no one want more war. How logical is that? And why is resources distributed in that very uneven may, so much to preparation for violence and so little to building of permanent peace?

Government departments for peace
The answers to that question need to be looked into very carefully. What has to with fear of the others, the importance of tradition and conservatism, the role of nationalism or the lack of time and resources for the creation of scientifically based peace strategies? US Congress-woman Barbara Lee and many others in different countries have suggested that there should be ministries of peace, or ministries of peacebuilding, or ministries of peace and disarmament. Or perhaps ministries of peace and ethics? It is actually ethical to invest in preparations for mass killings of others because they happen to have been born in another nation?

Would establishment of such ministries after some time result in a more even distribution of resources to war planning on the one side and peacebuilding on the other side? At least that is a commonly held belief and it makes sense to me to expect such a development when we would have a dedicated cabinet minister with skills and enough many experts available to continuously point at the peaceful alternatives to violence and war.

A US Department of Peacebuilding
I think it would be useful if many took time to carefully study the Barbara Lee bill to the US Congress introduced in February 2019 proposing the establishment of a Department of Peacebuilding. This department, the bill says, shall be “dedicated to peacebuilding, peacemaking, and the study and promotion of conditions conducive to both domestic and international peace and a culture of peace”.

The names of the suggested offices within that department gives us an idea of the very important duties of its Secretary of Peacebuilding and its staff: Office of Peace Education and Training, Office of Domestic Peacebuilding Activities, Office of International Peacebuilding Activities, Office of Technology for Peace, Office of Arms Control and Disarmament, Office of Peacebuilding Information and Research. Besides those seven offices, it is proposed that there should be an Intergovernmental Advisory Council on Peace and a Federal Interagency Committee on Peace. Among the duties of the head of the department, The Secretary of Peacebuilding, is to “advise the Secretary of Defence and the Secretary of State on matters relating to national security, including the promotion of human rights and the prevention of, amelioration of, and de-escalation of unarmed and armed international conflict”.

Conflict awareness
Every violent conflict is unique, and all violent conflicts have things in common. As we learn more about the uniqueness and common-ness of human conflicts we are part of a process that one day may lead us to prevent violence and war as we embrace each other better and more.

I was astonished to learn that a study of human psychology has come to the conclusion that the average human makes 612 decisions a day. This equals to 4,900 decisions in a week and 254,800 in a year. How many of these decisions have anything to with the promotion of peace and human dignity? I certainly do not know, but I would like psychology and politics to join forces more often. Ministries of peace would be a good place to do. And it would certainly be interesting to find out how many more of these decisions that could promote the idea of a world beyond violence, or of a new Yemen or Syria in permanent peace for all times to come. Peace ministries in the government administrations throughout the world might in due time be able to teach many of us how conflicts can be managed in peaceful and constructive ways.

At its 2019 annual general meeting The Swedish Peace Council decided to support the idea that governments should create departments of peace with cabinet-level ministers, key resources for more long-term planning for a global peace order.

Valentin Sevéus, July 29, 2019