Peace and a New World Order
Apr 6, 1991, From a speech held at the International Citizens’ Assembly. Rome 6-7 April 1991Peace movements have to make an effort to ensure they are ever less forced to improvise when reacting to individual emergencies. They have to equip themselves and develop strong ideas and proposals which are able to help not only to solve crises and conflicts, but also to prevent them.
The need for firm principles and a solid vision of justice between populations and individuals is great and recently has probably been realised more in the East than in the West: our partners in Eastern Europe have often reproached us for a certain laxness in terms of rights and justice and have, on their side, emphasised these aspects to the point of solidarity - like, for example, President Havel, who already in October 1990 had set up the first Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Prague - with the war against Iraq, seeing it as a painful necessity with no credible alternative. We therefore need to consider credible alternatives, unless we want to end up surrendering to “just wars”.
Two profound antinomies need to be understood and accepted as contradictions that have to be worked on:
2. Non Violence/The Binding Force of Law
At first sight these antinomies appear to be insuperable and not for the first time in international law: we need only think of the contemporary call for the inviolability of frontiers as well as the self-determination of peoples seen in the conclusions of “Helsinki I” (1975) and it is no wonder that today the Baltic States and the USSR, the Slovenians, the federal authorities of Yugoslavia and so on only refer to these as and when they need them.
Of course the sovereignty of a state is an important milestone on a long road, but it is probably not the final or most important step. We have to understand that those nations which attained sovereignty late, or uncomfortably (as with industrialisation or nuclear arms and so on), may tend to take it more into account than those who nowadays seem ready to go beyond this in favour of cross-national sovereignty. Therefore, where it can help to limit the will of the strongest, we have to try to increase the value of sovereignty while at the same time pointing out the need to gradually go beyond it. There are two major points that cannot stop at the threshold of national sovereignty: human rights and environmental emergencies. These are both of extremely high value, a common heritage for all mankind.
However, if we profess a law/right to interfere in order to defend human rights or to protect the biosphere, then we have to count on either the interference of the general population, of non-governmental organisations, or on that of international bodies, all of which are a far cry from the interference of one sovereign state in the affairs of another.
Non Violence/The Need for the Binding Force of International Law
Unless we want the law of the strongest to triumph, we have to look for ever more efficient ways of obliging those who do not want to obey the law, to do so spontaneously. Some possible objectives for today are: the need for cross-national, “jurisdictional” authorities; the need to develop a means of non-military sanctions (i.e. economic, commercial, political, cultural, sporting and so on) which are to be applied not only by international organisations and states, but also by NGOs and the general population; the need to develop real actions of international policing, which differ from military intervention through the appropriateness of their means and the fact that war between states is excluded; and maybe identifying something like an internationally guaranteed “emergency exit” for those who wish to retreat in good order, i.e. for those who, after having badly violated international or local law, are now ready to surrender without spilling more blood (something like St. Helena was for Napoleon). And who knows how many other forms of pressure there are still to be developed as long as there is the patience to wait for the right moment when sanctions take effect - South Africa is a good example of this.
Traditional demonstrations and demands are not the only tools which peace movements can use immediately in order to create a situation where we are not just paying lip service to pacifism. Tools such as:
a) The use of information: “bombarding” with true, direct information can be far more destabilising for an unjust, oppressive regime (maybe an occupying regime), than real bombardments which end up with the regime further oppressing its victims;
b) The creation of interethnic, intercultural and interdenominational groups, forums or associations, showing, even if only to a few, that conciliation and cohabitation are possible, that there are no insuperable fences between peoples, ethnic or political groups, confessions and so on. Messages which come from groups that have managed to break down and overcome apparently insurmountable hostility, will have far more credibility and will inspire much more hope. We have already seen this on a small scale through the interethnic experience in South Tyrol, and through the experiences of the Neve Shalom kibbutz or the “Women in Black” who are to be found amongst Israelis and Palestinians alike;
c) Adoption or twinning in particular situations (peoples, villages, institutions, conflicts and so on): the watch-groups which follow certain situations with dedication - as Amnesty International does with prisoners of conscience - and with wisdom, manage to generate concrete involvement around them, guaranteeing constant public attention and information;
d) The time has come to overcome the unilateralism which at times has made us look only to the south or maybe today risks making us look only to the east. Now is the ideal time to choose a constant “triangulation between north/west, east and south” in each of our peace activities. This would mean involving somebody from the south or east in each of our efforts in favour of this or that conflict situation or crisis. In so doing we would be more able to protect ourselves from insensibility or dangerous unilateralism which might otherwise restrict our point of view or have a negative effect on our sense of justice.
From a speech held at the International Citizens’ Assembly
Rome 6-7 April 1991