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Just Peacemaking – A Response

September 4, 2013

On April 10th I posted “Just Peacemaking – A Better Way” (it can be found here: denoting the benefits of the just peacemaking theory over just war theory or traditional pacifism. Recently a Twitter follower of @anafalz found the article and posted some wonderful comments. Instead of leaving a reply on that page, I felt his questions were significant enough to answer on a new post for all to benefit from. I would like to thank John Silvius (@wooster6) for his astute comments and concerns.

One of the concerns noted about the just peacemaking theory is a lack of historical support. The theory is lacking a successful historical example, at least in its entirety. Some individuals were successful in applying particular portions of it. For example, Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev conducted direct negotiations in an effort to bring the cold war to an end. This backdoor communication was similar to the negotiation occurring between high-ranking government officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

An area of notable failure of the American government regarding just peacemaking is the distribution of arms to other warring nations. For example, the arming and support provided to the Mujahidin in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union was one such instance. While it appeared to be a success in the moment as the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan, it was a failure which led to the attacks on 9/11 a little over 13 years later and the name of Osama bin Laden would become a household name. Those we armed to defeat the Soviets turned into America’s enemy. Another example would be the Iran-Contra affair. Between August 1985 and March 1987, the United States was covertly providing arms to Iran, through Israel, in trade for the release of American hostages. Another failure is the provision of arms to Iraq between September 1980 and August 1988 to be used against the Iranians. To point out the obvious, at one point we were providing arms to both sides of a war. As history now shows these two sides became America’s enemy. We fought two wars against Iraq while Iran dabbled in guerrilla attacks on the Americans in Iraq during both wars.

It can be seen that arming other nations is not a wise decision. It could be said it is not a moral decision. In a manner, it is entering into a war by using one side as an army by proxy. We see similar situations playing out in Egypt and Syria. The government is having difficulty picking sides. The question should be: “Should either side be endorsed? Or should the Obama administration facilitate a peacemaking effort in those nations to restore services to the citizenry?”

Another concern noted is the potential effectiveness of just peacemaking theory in the Middle East with the radicalization of Islam there. That is a valid concern. The radicalization of Islam is well documented and appears to need drastic force to stop it. One thing which is not taken into account is the young radicals tend to come from poverty-stricken areas. Just peacemaking theory holds that spending money in these areas to assist in building them up and providing health and opportunities is more effective, more humane, and costs less than the wars which are being waged. While it is difficult to prove that will work, it seems like a reasonable thought.

In summary, there are many concerns with the effectiveness of the just peacemaking theory. It has not been proven. But why not try? Traditional pacifism has proven itself powerless and just war theory has been perverted to become a checklist for governments to use before seeking approval for war. The current methodology has failed us and these failures belong to every political party. Yet, we continue to use the same methodology expecting different results and are stunned when the same thing happens again. Why not try something different? There is nothing to lose.

John, I would like to thank you again for your comments which drove this piece. I see people like Jimmy Carter trying to negotiate peace around the world and countries slowing their entry into war. There might be hope in this.

  1. Thank you, Glen, for taking time to reflect on my response to your April 10th “Just Peacemaking – A Better Way” in anafalz. It seems that we agree that the approaches of Presidents JFK and Ronald Reagan to the Soviet Union to reduce and all but eliminate cold war tensions, respectively, provide the best historical records in support of the validity of “just peacemaking.” Perhaps we would agree that in order for the tensions to be dissipated in both cases, there had to be an understanding that the United States was negotiating not only from a position of unquestioned military force but, perhaps more importantly, a position of objective moral authority.

    Though they were imperfect human beings, both JFK and RR argued that the differences between the Soviet Union and America was ultimately one of disagreement about the ultimate source of human rights and freedom–that, contrary to the suppression of freedom by the Soviets, America stands on the foundation that all humans are created equal and are endowed with inalienable rights from their Creator. For either JFK or RR to be successful, they had to first win the support of the American people rooted in the “moral argument” and therefore, possessing a “just cause” for acting. Having done so, they were able to negotiate from a position in which it was clear to the Soviets that America was knit together with enough “moral threading” backed by military might to be a formidable opponent. I believe Gorbachev’s presence and testimony at the funeral of President Reagan suggests that the outcome of the US-Soviet standoff was more than one of military or political might; but one in which two men had learned to personally respect and trust each other. Perhaps this is one of history’s greatest lessons that it is possible to dissipate the furor of political leaders who would otherwise drag thousands of their respective citizens to tragic deaths while fighting for causes that might have been argued on the battlefield of moral ideas.

    I agree fully with your argument against trying to bring peace though indirect efforts such as supplying arms to one side or another. You make strong points based on the recent history in the Middle East. Perhaps one of the reasons for the failing of these efforts is that our presidents who have engaged in this have erred in not forthrightly making the moral argument to gain solidarity of Americans behind them.

    As you have implied, I believe that our exchange of ideas here has been helpful in considering more fully the merits of the “just peacemaking” theory. I hope my response here conveys that I’ve given more careful consideration to the theory. Having stated what I believe is the inadequacy of military strength (or “peace through strength”) alone, I have come to realize more clearly the importance of “moral strength” as a foundation for solidarity in a nation. Returning to my second concern about negotiating a just peace in the Middle East with its radical Islam, I am now even more persuaded that morality and religious faith issues must be addressed. Currently, there is less of a sense in America that we are acting from a position of the “moral high ground.” It should not take Assad’s gassing of his people to raise moral outrage. But, instead our leadership has been reluctant to present a solid moral objection to immoral acts in several Mediterranean and Middle East flare-ups over the past few years. Without a clarion call that would awaken respectable opponents in these nations in turmoil like Egypt and Syria, neither side can understand what to do. In America, there is no moral solidarity for action (instead we look to “saving face” or to what action might do to the stock market or oil prices). Washington has not communicated to Americans that justice and morality are valued anymore; hence, a lack of trust of our own leadership. On the other hand, in nations in turmoil, and among our allies, there is a sense that America has lost her moorings and is not trustworthy. The grounds for negotiating “just peace” are weak at best. Yet, your points are well taken, and “just peacemaking” may serve as a new standard to which to strive– one that shows us clearly just how far we have to go if America is to contribute its part in world peace. Thanks again for facilitating this exchange of ideas.

    • One thing that strikes me about JFK and RR is they both made a radical decision which was not the first choice of their advisors and stuck with it. They felt they had had to go all in and risk it. They turned out to be brilliant decisions. I have read (in a distant past) a book about the relationship between RR and Gorbachev and they did develop a friendship over the years starting with their private negotiations. They respected the strength it took for each to take the risks they were taking to make the world a more peaceful place.

      I think we agree that we must invest much conversation in our colleges, seminaries, and churches about peacemaking. It can start on a neighborhood level. When people see continual investment and dialogue can bring peace in a neighborhood they may be bold enough to see it grow at the next level. Peace requires more than a passive effort, it requires hard work over long periods of time. It will require politics to be set aside and a desire for humankind to be picked up as the driving force.

      I like your comments on morality. There is no value for morality, or at least a Christian version of morality, on a national level. If we learn to speak to a natural morality, such as genocide is wrong, then we can connect on a common ground and attempt to move forward from there. I think this is a strength of just peacemaking. It removes religious language so it can be used by anyone of any belief system. It is religiously neutral.

      Thank you again for participating in this conversation.

  2. Thanks for your elaboration on the “radical decisions” of JFK and RR to “stick with it” and “go all in and risk it” with respect to policy with the Soviet Union. To me, you have defined a quality that is necessary for a statesman. Can we then postulate that any success in “just peacemaking” will require statesmanship which in turn is based on “justice” or judicial application of morality? If so, than as you suggest, what we ought to pursue is a moral common ground or “common denominator” that could be agreed upon.

    It seems to me that the challenge is twofold: First, to agree upon the moral common ground; and second, knowing that the nature of man is bent toward injustice and immorality, there must be an enforcement of moral and ethical standards as a deterrent to doing evil, I recognize that we may disagree on the basic nature of man but I believe history testifies to the extent of evil even good men can do. Perhaps the current lack consensus on this point would jeopardize agreement on the nature of a system of justice. However, be that as it may, allow me to suggest a common moral foundation.

    I believe that a moral common denominator could be found in the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or as expressed in Judeo-Christian teaching: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the Galatians, Ch. 5, verse 14: “For the whole Law [i.e. Ten Commandments] is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Is there any more basic moral statement than this?

    Assuming that the Golden Rule could serve as the common foundation, the second challenge is to establish a just rule of law at the national level (respecting national sovereignty) and one that would bring moral behavior at the international level. Although I have not studied the code and mission of either Wilson’s League of Nations or the United Nations, I suspect that at least part of the intent of these international efforts was to produce and maintain a just peace. Their degree of success, to me, testifies that there is much to do if the “international governing body” approach is to work successfully.

    Thanks again for your stimulating responses, and I will appreciate continued dialog as you deem it worthwhile.

    • There is a necessity for dedicated statesmanship in just peacemaking. Not just in times of conflict though. For example, if we see a rise in poverty in Country X due to drought, we should be engaging the situation to relieve the desperate conditions which breed radicalism. America is great at doing that with allies or a nation that has a resource to offer us. We lack dedication to helping all nations.

      Problem is, we are still thinking governments doing the statesmanship. I see individuals and NGO’s being the cutting edge in this cause in the future. Politicians have too many hidden agendas to be considered trustworthy by other nations. For example, World Vision and Compassion International are in excellent positions to work towards peacemaking and change. They have long term trust equity in that they are there for the common good of all. They live there and are helping raise generations.

      The moral common ground you speak of does exist in most faiths. The key ingredient is even atheists and agnostics can agree that peace and fair treatment are a good ethical standard to strive for. Loving your neighbor is as basic as it gets. I think of the difference of rural living and urban living. In rural living neighbors typically watch out for and help each other – even when they may dislike each other. Whereas in urban living, in my experience, neighbors want nothing to do with you.

      The enforcement is the interesting part. Just peacemaking acknowledges coercion is necessary at times to motivate others to change. It also acknowledges coercion may necessarily include violence. I find this interesting. Why not try positive coercion first? For example, lets look at the “Obama Care” issue in America. Instead of using taxation penalties for not getting coverage (negative coercion ) why not use tax incentives to get coverage (positive, or rewarding, coercion)? Instead of penalizing because you don’t, reward because you do.

      The troublesome part is what international, or world, entity can be the moderator of enforcement. The United Nations has proven impotent with its corruption from all over the world. NATO appears to have fared better, but seems to have lost the world’s ear after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Maybe this is part of the problem – a lack of uncorrupted international leadership.

      Another excellent concession the designers of just peacemaking concede to is this process will never eliminate all war. Even if done perfectly, a war may still break out. This acknowledgement of the potential of failure despite a perfectly executed plan is a breath of fresh air. It is not resignation, but acceptance of reality.

  3. Thanks for your response to my most recent comments. I agree with your first paragraph point that US involvement is needed in more than just closely aligned nations to provide emergency aid and long-term assistance. Such deliberate programs with well defined goals that respect and motivate the responsibility of those being helped may go far to build relationships that might diffuse or prevent violence. However, I would also look beyond government to NGO’s, including legitimate Christian ministries that have good integration of spiritual and socioeconomic aims, some of which have demonstrated better “efficiency” than bureaucratic government agencies.

    Having written the my above response to your parag. #1 in Microsoft Word, I proceeded to read the subsequent paragraphs of your response, and found that you have already beat me to the punch with your emphasis on the value of NGO’s and particularly those with responsible records. Thanks for articulating clearly what I would have probably stated with less clarity.

    In summary, I find your perspective on Just Peacemaking to be quite reasonable and realistic, given your biblical understanding of the nature of humankind and the challenges of the post-modern world in which we live. Thanks for the opportunity to have this conversation, and congratulations on providing a helpful and relevant blog.
    John Silvius

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