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February 1, 1999
With Responses From
Feb 1, 1999
6 Min read time
The program is too utopian and needs to be rooted in political realities.
Forsberg, Dean and Mendlovitz lay out a detailed road map that would, if followed, "give peace a chance." The destination is a world where states and non-state groups accept the primacy of law in resolving disputes, national armies are limited to territorial defense, and standing all-volunteer UN and regional forces keep the peace. It's a world I want to live in, and I thank them for showing a possible way. I respectfully offer the following.
Although the Global Action plan is intended to be visionary and long-term, the sweeping proposal currently reads as too utopian. Rooting the plan more strongly in present political realities would increase the likelihood that policymakers and activists will take it up with the seriousness it deserves.
For example, the authors cite the present absence of big power hostility as providing a window of opportunity for realizing the policy proscriptions they identify. But this opportunity has existed since at least 1991, when both the Cold War and the Gulf War had ended. Why didn't the international community pursue an anti-war agenda during the 1990s?
The answer, at least in part, is that peace ran counter to the economic and strategic interests of key states. In addition, the effectiveness of the arms lobby (in America and Europe, in particular), obstructionist policies of isolationist or anti-abortionist politicians in key positions in the US Congress, and global public apathy thwarted many of the policy proscriptions contained in the plan. As a result, since the end of the cold war, force has been "reinforced" rather than downplayed, and the United Nations system has been emasculated rather than strengthened.
Phase 1 of the action planãfor a refurbished and effective UN system to safeguard peace and international securityãis most urgent and is vital to achieving the subsequent steps. But the kinds of reform necessary involve ceding sovereignty. Will the United States, in particular, go along? Since the highly visible killing of US rangers in Mogadishu and the 1994 change in congressional leadership, the answer has consistently been "no."
Moreover, many of the goals that the authors identify are embodied in the 50 year-old commitment that almost every state in the world undertook when signing the UN Charter. Why have states thus far not lived up to their article 43, 45 and 47 commitments (concerning peacekeeping), as called for in the Global Action plan? What are the key stumbling blocks to doing so, and how can they be overcome? Addressing some of these difficult questions will, I believe, strengthen the program.
In terms of coverage, the Global Action plan is already exceedingly comprehensive and ambitious, but one additional measure needs to be added to achieve a world where law rules over force. That is a ban on government-backed military operations (usually covert) to topple other governments (usually, but not always, neighboring). Such a provision could be worked into the third phase, which calls on states to commit not to deploy their armed forces beyond national borders except in multilateral actions under UN or regional auspices. This section could be amended to include a ban on proxy forces.
I found the action side of the Global Action plan less compelling than the packaging of the substantive material. The authors state that in order to mobilize broad support, a pro-peace plan "should include means of overcoming domestic resistance to change rooted in inertia, ignorance, and vested interests." Precisely, but the program does not explain convincingly how it will overcome inertia and ignorance, and in the one instance where it does address political obstacles, the proposal blithely asserts that the gradual (several decade) period in which $75-150 billion annually is to be cut from current US military budget levels "will enable a smooth transition to non-military employment and production" and "mobilize local as well as national support by ending local "boom-and-bust" cycles of funding for arms production, strengthening economic growth, and releasing a large fraction of government spending for other needs." Past promises of a post-Cold War "peace dividend" proved mythical, as public support for the boon was insufficient to overcome vested interests of the military and arms industry. Why should we think that massive public support will materialize now?
The authors assert that the comprehensive framework they put forward unifies many diverse efforts, thereby broadening coalitions in support of any single initiative. In addition, they claim that the current "disaggregation of disarmament into separate projects has fragmented public and government interest, dividing support among many worthwhile measures."
While I agree that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, my experiences as an activist in Washington for the past decade underscore the difficulty of coordinated initiatives. In efforts to restrict surplus arms production and exports, victories were won only on highly specific, disaggregated issues-for example, singling out a particular weapon system for banning or cutting off exports to a particular repressive government. Most notably, the anti-land mines campaign succeeded precisely because the goal (a ban treaty) was not tied up with larger issues of UN reform or abolition of war. Salami tactics are used because they work more effectively than lumping issues together.
The simple fact is that joint action happens. I say this as a critique not of the Global Action plan, but of the way activist organizations work. Groups toiling in Washington to cut military spending, reduce arms exports, and support payment of UN dues (for instance) understand how inter-related their issues are, but they rarely backstop each other. Each is so over-extended that it guards its lobbying resources for its core mission. In addition, organizational mandates often limit the ability of groups to take positions on outside issues. Although Global Action makes eminent sense on this point, in reality a demonstration of the linkages is not likely to result in new and more energized coalitions.
Only when an issue is shown to "have legs"-as in moving forward quickly-do some of these mandate and turf issues melt away. Organizations want to be part of a winning movement. The land mines campaign was one of the few issues that achieved major crossover, with UN associations, church groups, development and relief organizations, human rights groups, and disarmament groups coming together. But, to reiterate, the narrowness of the campaign's focus allowed many of these groups to participate.
In my current efforts to help develop a campaign on small arms and other light infantry weapons around the world, I have found it hard to broaden the base of support because efforts to curb small arms supply are more fundamentally linked to the ability of parties to, among other things, defend themselves against repressive governments. Small arms control is a much more complex issue than land mines and, therefore, less assured of success (which is still yet to be defined).
An all-encompassing framework, such as that provided in the Global Action plan, is extremely important for showing the end point, as well as how all the bits and pieces fit together. But to get the key actors moving along the road, a global constituency for peace is vital, and most urgent (because of its preponderant clout) is a constituency for peace in the United States. To encourage this constituency, we need catchy, concrete, ambitious but realistic bite-size goals-like the land mines campaign. A string of such initiatives might really begin to awaken people to the power of peace and take us further down the road described in the Global Action plan.
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