Achieving World Peace

by Ed O’Rourke     July 4, 2005

 Vaclav Havel says that to achieve the seemingly impossible you must first be unafraid to dream the seemingly impossible.  For some, peace is but a dream.  However, world peace can be achieved in incremental steps breaking the endless cycle of war and terrorism.

 The first step is recognition of the limits of military power and a willingness to make serious efforts in pursuing non-war strategies to achieve national and world security.  A look at the U.S. efforts for regime change in Iraq is enough to see the limits of military power.  The firepower of the world’s mightiest military is unable to achieve it goals of bringing stability to a troubled country.  

 Human rights organizations could list several dozen brutal dictatorships that deserve regime change, among them, North Korea, Burma, China, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Cuba and Swaziland.  The difficulty is that there are not enough soldiers from the “good” countries to accomplish regime change by military means, much less enough resources to rebuild societies under occupation.  

 Our military establishment cannot deal with the terrorists.  If the United States had twice as many aircraft carriers, tanks, ships or soldiers as we actually had in 2001, the terrorists would have struck anyway.  US efforts to kill, capture or neutralize terrorists have had some success.  However, informed sources estimate that there are two or three times the number of terrorists now as compared to September 2001.  Our tactics have encouraged terrorist recruitment.

 Furthermore, military power is useless in dealing with challenges to man’s existence on earth.  Global warming is bringing crop failures, rising ocean levels, floods and droughts.  This suffering and distortion of life on earth caused by famines, floods and droughts are less dramatic but more insidious than any thing that terrorists have been able to achieve.  The lesson is that all the bombs and bullets in the world are useless to deal with problems that threaten our existence – population explosion, disease, poverty, ignorance, and environmental deterioration. 

 If military might is useless to solve our root problems, non-war strategies must be employed and war-making activities must end. 

 General Douglas MacArthur advocated the abolition of war.  The following are quotations from his address to the U.S. Congress on April 19, 1951:

“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.”….“Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, our Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence, an improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”

 Pope John Paul II came close to advocating the abolition of war in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year), “ While it is true that since 1945 weapons have been silent on the European continent, it must be remembered that true peace is never simply the result of military victory, but rather implies both the removal of the causes of war and genuine reconciliation between people.  For many years there has been in Europe and the world a situation of non-war rather than genuine peace.” … “An insane arms race swallowed the resources needed for the development of national economies and for the assistance to the less-developed nations.”

 As a teenager in the early 1960s, I heard of pacifism but never met a pacifist or read anything written by one.  This seemed like a noble but naive idea.  How could the Allies beat the Axis powers or contain the Soviet Union by abolishing the armed forces?  Then, in college years, I read about the concept of graduated unilateral disarmament in which the United States could reduce military spending or the number of nuclear warheads by a significant but not critical amount.  The State Department would inform the Kremlin that if the Soviet Union were to perform similar measures, then the U.S. would consider future reductions.  Leading by example would be faster than tedious negotiations. 

 I believe that present and future conflicts between nations must be dealt with by commerce, diplomacy, science, technology, education, international law and human investment.

 An old saying is that you cannot have peace as long as you have injustice.  Our Declaration of Independence was a response to British injustice symbolized by George III.  Colonists in the 18th century took certain truths to be self-evident just as people in the 21st century rebel against injustice: the Declaration of Independence has been a justification for independence movements ever since it was written.  It can be moral to use violence to change the established order.  However, different persons may interpret the violence as fight for freedom or a terrorist act.

 World peace can be achieved if there is serious attention to the root cause of conflict and terrorism.  A second Marshall Plan for the world’s poor will be far more effective than airport security and anti-terrorism measures in reducing the number of desperate people who do desperate things.  The first Marshall Plan helped restore participating countries’ economic output to prewar levels by 1951.  A second Marshall Plan will take more time and resources to raise the standard of living of the world’s poor.  More than two billion people live on less than $2 per day.  A long-term effort to build societies, which provide access to jobs, housing, food, health, services and education with environmentally friendly guidelines will be a major step to achieving world peace.

 The rich countries will carry out a second Marshall Plan for a variety of motives, just as they do with the current foreign aid.  Humanitarian or religious feelings combined with national interests have been the driving forces.  In addition, some U.S. efforts were made to limit Soviet expansion.  With all the aid provided since 1945, we have a good idea of what works and what does not.

 There are many things that people need which we take for granted:  cleaning drinking water, sufficient food, physical security, health care and education.  Fully fund and train the government employees of Third World countries.  Build up the institutions of public administration, education, police, the courts, regulatory agencies and health care.  Do this for 10 years.  How anyone thinks that they are getting a bargain by giving low wages to the police is beyond me.  The police enhance their income by bribery and extortion.    A systematic program of career training and decent pay would ease the lives of Third World citizens.

 Administrators of the second Marshall Plan will continually monitor projects for effectiveness and lack of corruption.  The people being helped must approve the projects from inception to completion.

 European based groups have been establishing detailed proposal for a second Marshall Plan.  Refer to: and  In his new book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Jeffrey Sachs’ calls for funding of the Millennium Development Goals that all 191 United Nations member states unanimously agreed to do in 2002.

 The first Marshall Plan cost $12.4 billion over four years.  This would be about $75 billion in today’s dollars.  Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, projects an additional $50 billion per year from the rich countries for the second Marshall Plan that would provide universal primary education, ensure environmental sustainability, provide access to safe drinking water and reduce extreme poverty.  Since Americans spend more each year on garbage bags than 90 of the world’s 210 countries spend on everything, this is something that we can afford.

 A Tobin Tax on foreign currency exchange transactions could raise $150 billion per year for the second Marshall Plan and other poverty reducing programs.  Named after James Tobin, a Noble Prize winner in economics, such a tax would reduce speculation on currency fluctuations and reduce the power that financial markets have over national governments to determine fiscal and monetary policies.  Currently about $1 trillion is traded daily.  Only about 5% is related to generating goods and services.  The rest is fueled by speculation on exchange rate fluctuations and international rate differentials.

 Since the International Monetary Fund has a record of burying the poor in more international debt and the World Bank has been serving corporate interest rather than the public good, I recommend starting entirely new institutions, probably a new United Nations agency, to administer the second Marshall Plan.

 Other measures will help.  The United States could start a one-year moratorium on weapons research.  There would be no research and development expenditures for computers, aircraft, tanks, bullets, radar, star wars or anything else.  None. Existing weapons could be upgraded.  There would be no new weapons contracts issued during the moratorium.    The U.S. would extend this moratorium if a significant number of countries have to start a moratorium too.  Since the United States spends about as much for defense as the rest of the world combined and has the most advanced weapons technology, there is little risk to such a moratorium.  About $62 billion a year for research and development could be at least temporarily to peace making activities.

The world’s armed forces could start disaster relief training for their own and other countries.  Learning the logistics of bringing food, medical service and temporary shelter to flood, earthquake, tornado or hurricane victims is training for logistics when there is actual combat.  Rebuilding roads, communications systems and power are what soldiers do.  Learning the language and culture of countries will be beneficial to maintain or restore peace.  Logistics experience gained on disaster relief missions will serve well for the real thing.

By international agreement, there could be a sales or transaction tax on international arms sales. The tax may start at 2 % and slowly rise to 50% of the arms value.  The revenue would go to an international development fund.

Each country has a war department although it may be called something else, as the Defense Department in the United States.  It is time that every country establishes a peace department.  US Congress House Resolution 1673 envisions proactive work in disarmament, Peace Academy graduates trained in nonmilitary conflict resolution, development of policies addressing domestic violence, promotion of racial and ethnic tolerance and other such task.  The Peace Department would contact militant dissident groups to resolve conflict.  For example, there is no government agency charged with investigating the concerns of the white separatists.  Local, state and federal law enforcement monitor and sometimes infiltrate these groups.  Most of the work comes after a confrontation.  Conflict resolution can help channel frustrations through the legal and political processes.

The sad fact is that war and preparation for war are activities with powerful constituencies.  Defense contractors have many well paid lobbyists that make powerful arguments for new weapons systems, more sophisticated equipment along with the more mundane supplies of food, clothing and transportation.  Peace advocates are almost always fighting after the fact.  Oppose the latest war, reduce defense spending and advocate humanitarian programs.  Peace activists are almost always reacting to events, whether it was the Gulf of Tonkin resolution or the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.  A peace department will enable strong constituencies dedicated to reducing conflict.

Peace activists now have specific goals outlined here:  1) a second Marshall Plan, 2) a one year moratorium on weapons research, 3) training our armed forces for disaster relief, 4) a transactions tax on international arms sales, and, 5) a Peace Department.

Truth is the first casualty in war.  To this day, there is no conclusive evidence on what caused the explosion on the USS Maine that triggered the Spanish-American War.  President Lyndon Johnson lied about the circumstances that lead to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that escalated US involvement in Vietnam.    In 1968, congressional hearings disclosed that the Maddox and the Turner Joy were in North Vietnamese territorial waters when they were attacked.  Now official reports show that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor gave any support to al-Queda.  In our society, the Congress and the media must ask unpopular questions before the troops are engaged.  For the Vietnam War and the Second Iraq War, the Congress and the media have failed.   After weapons inspector David Kay issued his report, the Houston Chronicle asked why the protesters got it right and the $30 billion a year intelligence community got it wrong. 

Talking and acting tough still gets votes.  Wrap the American flag around you and you get even more.  Bullies use shock and awe while real leaders do great things.  The American people must elect leaders who can improve the human condition. 

Mankind must break the cycle that makes war inevitable. history has demonstrated that such a change is possible.  The American abolitionist movement in the 19th century, the U.S. civil rights movement and the solidarity movements in Eastern Europe started with few people but grew to bring about the social and political changes that they sought.  The peace movement can be a similar force for change.

Other institutions have fallen by the wayside – monarchy, slavery, selfdom, judicial torture, human sacrifice, Jim Crow laws, imperialist empires and Soviet communism.  Each of the institutions was an integral and normal part of society.  The fall of the Berlin Wall was the most dramatic example of an institution’s demise.  In each case, there came a time when the effort to maintain them surpassed benefits achieved.  The economic systems could not satisfy the citizens’ aspirations or behavior that seemed routine became questionable or even barbaric. 

In each case, there were few, if any, who predicted what would happen.  Few forecasted the success of the civil rights movement in the United States or the Solidarity movements in Europe.  The US intelligence services did not publicly report of the deterioration of the Soviet Army, even though the German news magazine Der Spiegel covered these developments on a regular basis. Futurists, pundits and our intelligence services are as much in the dark as everyone else.

Our culture must change from accepting war as an acceptable instrument to solve our conflicts. As a grade school child in the 1950s, I read World War II comic books and saw numerous movies such as Guadalcanal Diary.  The people who have defended our country have made great sacrifices.  It is time to honor conscious objectors and peacemakers who suffered economic deprivation, beatings, jail and execution.  The only feature length movie about a peacemaker was one about Gandhi.   Now is time to look for new visions. 

 After the fall of France, Winston Churchill announced that when Allied victory came, the world would be able to walk in broad sunlit uplands.  A song in the 1960s by Tommy James and the Shondells gave a wider picture of world peace in “Crystal Blue Persuasion”.  Other artists through plays, poetry, song, dance, literature and movies will evoke more profound powerful visions that are necessary to engage the human spirit to end the vicious cycle of unending death and destruction.


Give peace a chance.