The message of internationalism is banning war

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Si vis pacem, para pacem
If you want peace, prepare for peace

This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War – 1914/1918 – a conflict that reconfigured the face of Europe and the entire world with the emergence of new states in place of ancient empires. The death toll from the First World War was at least 16 million.

From 19 to 22 April 2018, the French cities of Arras and Lille (and its surroundings) commemorate and celebrate the armistice of November 1918. Pax Christi International and several members of its national sections are participating in the programme.

From the ashes of the Great War, we can learn lessons that, sad to say, humanity did not immediately grasp, leading within the space of 20 years to a new and even more devastating conflict. Some experts, by including war-related deaths from disease and famine, put the total death toll from the Second World War at over 80 million.

Lessons learned

The first lesson is that victory never means humiliating a defeated foe. Peace is not built by vaunting the power of the victor over the vanquished. Future acts of aggression are not deterred by the law of fear, but rather by the power of calm reason that encourages dialogue and mutual understanding as a means of resolving differences.

This leads to a second lesson: peace is consolidated when nations can discuss matters on equal terms. This was grasped a hundred years ago by the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson[1] who proposed the establishment of a general league of nations with the aim of promoting for all states, great and small alike, mutual guarantees of independence and territorial integrity. This laid the theoretical basis for that multilateral diplomacy, which has gradually acquired over time an increased role and influence in the international community as a whole.

A possible third lesson is that people are made to pay for the wrongs of their state, especially when these states are losing wars. Collective responsibility has its limits. The role of an individual can take various forms from collaborator, co-perpetrator to dissident or conscientious objector. Countries that win a war determine the punishment of the transmitters, including the actions of some individuals.

Institutions to ban war

The ”Internationalists”[2] or “Multilateralists”[3] maintain that war is a barbaric way to resolve disputes and that the best way to resolve controversies is through international institutions such as the League of Nations and later the United Nations.

The League of Nations, established in 1920, was not able to make the last war the last war. The League of Nations was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. USA President Woodrow Wilson[4] was the initiator but due to the isolationist policies of USA Congress, his country never became member of that intergovernmental body. Throughout its history, the League has never really been able to prove its full value. There was a serious absence of an adequate organisation of international police action.

Ten years after WWI, in 1928, the Paris Peace Pact[5] was signed by 63 nations. Aristide Briand, the French foreign minister, and Frank Kellogg, the USA secretary of state, took the lead in getting the Pact realised. The message of the Pact was that the world would no longer treat war as a lawful mean to resolve disputes. War was deprived from its legitimacy. War is regarded as a departure from civilised policies. The Pact was aimed at ending war between states. It certainly had not ended all armed conflict.

The pact was supposed to end war, just as the League of Nations, but the Kellogg-Briand pact failed because of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, and the German invasion of Poland in 1939. The pact did some good for international laws and is still known in the US as a federal law.

International peacekeeping

The establishment of the United Nations[6] took place on 26 June 1945. The Charter has been signed then by 50 nations. During the WWII both USA President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill have been the big fore takers. Roosevelt had to fight against isolationism and Churchill had to learn that the UK was at its end of being a world power.

The main idea was that four countries (USA, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China – later on France was also de facto included in the P5[7]) should play a kind of police keeping in international relations. They gave themselves also a permanent seat in the Security Council and a right to veto draft resolutions and that became a serious blockage in specific cases, as happened in the recent wars in Syria and Ukraine for instance.

Peacekeeping is the main drive of the UN. Right from the beginning, NGO’s were also allowed to be part of the UN system mainly as consultative bodies.[8] In June 1945, the war with Japan was still ongoing and nuclear bombs were dropped on the country on 6 and 9 August 1945. The new constitutions after the war of the losing countries, Germany, Italy and Japan – the Axis – includes an article that made it impossible for these countries to go to war again. That article was enforced by the winning countries – the Allies.

They are the “United Nations”, not the “Western Nations”! The great benefit of the UN is that almost all countries are members of it. So also the countries with non-democratic regimes, some of which violate human rights on a daily basis. The UN is a forum where everyone can talk to everyone. This is a pragmatic approach.

When WWII ended, the tension between the rhetoric of self-determination and the reality of colonisation became difficult to maintain. After 1945, the number of states exploded. Two keys forms of state birth – decolonisation (notably in the 50s and 60s) and the fracturing of larger states into smaller ones – the former Soviet Union and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for instance in the 90s – led to the rapid increase in UN members. The membership has increased to a total today of 193 states and the present accommodation of the General Assembly has room for about 204 members. The most recent state is South Sudan that split from Sudan in 2011.

Still, a series of conflicts emerged since 1945 and many open conflicts have not yet been solved. The UN has almost no or not at all influence over certain conflicts. The dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir since 1947; since 1948, conflict between Israel and Palestine; war raged in Korea 1950-1953; in Vietnam 1955-1978. Genocidal conflicts erupted in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s; and civil war ravaged Sudan for more than two decades. In addition, in 2015 alone, high-fatality civil wars continues in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Ukraine.

Wars are costly!

The modern attitude is to regard wars as uncontroversial bad, moral catastrophes to be avoided at almost all costs. Waging war have always been very expensive. Wars are costly, in both lives and treasure, and often lead to unintended consequences – as the turbulent aftermath in both Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate. Wars between states are now rare. Conquest has been the exception, no longer the role. Wars within states still happen.

In a world where weak states can become failed states and failed states give rise to civil war and terrorism, it is not only good law but also good sense to pressure state institutions with outcasting – with sanctions policies for instance – rather than destroy them with war.

Need stronger framework for solving disputes via diplomacy

The concept and the right of “self-defence”[9] is and has been open for interpretations and has been allowing certain states for military interventions protecting their own territory or interests. Sure, war crimes and genocides need to be prevented. Reliance on “self-defence” as a justification for using force can only be justified in cases of “armed attack”. Good functioning international institutions should provide the framework for solving disputes diplomatically.

Throughout the world, anti-internationalist sentiment is growing. That is not a good evolution. Isolationism and unilateralism cannot be an option. We all bear responsibility for the world in which we live. Together we can and must continue to support institutions that have kept the peace, adapt them to changing circumstances, and develop new ones that will further reduce violence.

All states are by nature equal in dignity, as well as the acknowledgment of one another’s rights and the fulfilment of their respective duties. The basic premise of this approach is the recognition of the dignity of the human person, since disregard and contempt for that dignity resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind.

Indeed, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 affirms, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.[10]

Ideas are stronger than weapons

We live in a fragile world. The status of peace should be a condition in which globalisation has produced so many shared interests in trade and finance that states prefer to go to arbitration rather than war. To win a war over the future of the world order, one must fight not simply with powerful weapons, but with power ideas. Much has to do with the struggle of the minds! “Si vis pacem, para pacem” – “If you want peace, prepare for peace”.



[8] Pax Christi International has its consultative status with the UN since 1979.


Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.

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