Home Article Time to Plan for Peace

Time to Plan for Peace


Atle Hetland

Just before Eid, Dr. Evelin Lindner held her annual public lecture at the University of Oslo, Norway, which is the main hub of the Humiliation and Dignity Network, which she established two decades ago, today also with a peace university, conferences, training seminars, publishing activities, research and theory development, and global online debates. The theme of Dr. Lindner’s talk this year was: “From Humiliation to Dignity: Is a World without War Possible?” She said that people often say that if we want peace, we should plan for war. But that is not true. It is the opposite that is true: If we want peace, we must plan for peace. Alas, that is what so often has been lacking in the past and also in our time, in the ways we think, talk and act. I shall not try to summarize Dr. Lindner’s arguments in her lecture, so full of words and content. The lecture with slides is available on the Internet.
If we had planned for peace, not focused on rearmament and deterrence, becoming more and more powerful militarily and economically than the defined enemies, we would probably not have had any of the wars that rage in our time. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 would not have taken place, because Ukraine, with NATO and the West, would not have provoked Russia, and the two countries would have had honest and constructive talks. If there indeed was a will to maintain peace as first priority, talks and negotiations would have started immediately upon a possible violent conflict. As it is now, it will take decades to re-establish peace in Ukraine and true cooperation with Russia, between what is actually two brotherly countries, depending on each other for faster prosperity, and certainly, for creating peaceful mindsets and better lives for all people in the countries, the neighbouring countries, the West and beyond in an interdependent world.
If Israel and Palestine, with the neighbours in the region, the USA and Europe, had planned for peace over the last decades, the terrible terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel would not have happened, and Israel’s overkill retaliation on Gaza, would not have happened. Also, the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, would not have happened. Hence, there would not have been any reason for Iran to retaliate with missiles and drones, most of which were intercepted by Israel and its Western friends.
And now, if there was a plan for peace between Israel and Iran, and Palestine and the other countries in the region, there would have been no issue about further Israeli retaliation. Rather, there would have been a reason for Israel and Iran to apologize, yes, indeed, and so should the Western countries do, too, for the prevailing situation. Yes, an apology for this unfriendly situation and for the yearlong build-up of hostility between Iran and Israel, supported by the USA and the West. Iran and Syria should also often have behaved differently, and been able to establish a dialogue with the USA and the West. We must also be aware of the fact that Russia plays a role in it all. Like the Russian War in Ukraine, the current conflict between Israel and Palestine, and now also open hostility between Israel and Iran, make us understand that there are East-West and superpower issues at play – as there always is in most conflicts in the world.
Let us recall a few important pieces of history, notably that earlier, during the rule of the Western-oriented Shah Pahlavi of Iran, his country and Israel had friendly relations from 1953 till the Revolution in Iran in 1979 when Iran became a staunch supporter of the Palestinians. Iran was the second Muslim-majority country after Turkey to officially recognize Israel. It should be noted that Iran’s support of Israel was a clear Western-backed alliance against the predominantly Sunni Arab states. Iran and the West went further than they should have done. Let me also mention that earlier, there was a good number of Persian Jews, also with reserved seats in the Iranian parliament; today, the Jewish community is diminishing in number and influence.
If the countries in the Middle East, with the West, had actually planned for peace, we would certainly have focused much more on what unites, not what divides in peoples’ values, opinions, and pragmatic relations in the region. Rather than helping in creating understanding and harmony, it seems that the outside forces may mostly have contributed to the opposite. Former colonial powers and the international community can actually contribute to peace after the end of a colonial era of direct domination if they actually plan for peace. There should have been less focus on short and long-term benefits of the West’s continued presence and geopolitical dimensions.
In my earlier, more academic life, I found a few academic fields that I thought hardly should have be honoured with being called academic disciplines with true advanced knowledge and methods. I shall not tell you what disciplines I in my youthful years liked to criticise. Today, when I have grown older, I can afford to tell you what fields I today find must improve their performance, notably international relations and diplomatic studies, including the multifaceted fields of peace research and peace education, and other multidisciplinary fields. Sadly, the traditional fields of military studies and political science must become better, and not work against the peace, which they may have done many times, perhaps unwittingly. They have not done what they should do, notably contribute to peace in the world. Currently, NATO plays a counterproductive role in peace, but most people in the West don’t see it, and the powerful warmongering academic disciplines support the development.
The peace fields are underdeveloped in all countries, as well as in the leading countries in the West, including in the major organizations established for international cooperation, peace, development, equality, human rights, and so on. That certainly includes the United Nations, too, which was indeed created to avoid wars and create peace. “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”, begins the constitution of the UN specialised agency UNESCO, which was established with a special mandate to help create peace in education, culture, and more. Good work has been done, such as that of the Culture of Peace Programme, but it helps little when hardly anybody knows about it and implements it. The reigning development paradigm is growth, profit, and inequality, which includes per definition wars and conflicts, not peace and equality.
In Norway, there are just now discussions about making all youth have to take a one-year compulsory community service programme after secondary school; some would do military service, but it should be a broader type of service, maybe with an emphasis on social work. Discussions go on, but sadly, nobody has suggested we should introduce a year (or half a year) in peace education and international respect and understanding of living together in one world. During such a year, youth would obviously join peace organisations and revive the peace movement. This would make sense, not only in Norway, but in all countries.
Let us talk more. My intention today was to draw attention to the lack of focus on peace issues in debate and politics in a world where too much money and too much thinking is not about the opposite of peace, at the edge of the cliff, and further conflicts. That we must change fast. Now is the time to begin to plan for peace.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. He can be reached at atlehetland@yahoo.com