The war in Kosovo will teach us several lessons, but there are two lessons we should have already learned. The first — war never has a winner. One side just loses less than the other. The second — preventing war is always cheaper than fighting one.
Whether one supports the bombing of Serbia or not, it must be obvious that military might alone does not prevent wars. What can prevent war? This was the focus of a global gathering 100 years ago in The Hague, Netherlands, but it wasn’t until after the genocide and nuclear horrors of World War II that the world really got down to serious strategies of prevention. It was then that the United Nations was created and designed primarily as a global structure to prevent war. Now, after dozens of smaller wars, it is increasingly clear that something is still missing. That “something” will be the focus of discussion in the Netherlands this May, 100 years after the first Hague Peace Conference. This time an estimated 5,000 representatives of citizen organizations (NGOs) will gather to discuss and affirm a citizens’ agenda for abolishing war and reducing violent conflicts in the 21st century.
Realistically, what would be needed to make war obsolete? There are basically two different paths. The bad news is we are putting most of our resources into the one least likely to succeed: the path of peace through strength. This path was the fantasy of the inventor of dynamite, and the Nobel Peace Prize. He believed that his invention of dynamite would be so devastating a weapon that it would make war unthinkable. We know that didn’t work, but nuclear weapons are often credited for preventing World War III because it has not happened in over 50 years.
The consequences of the Cold War however have been almost as devastating. Minor wars, genocide, anarchy and their catalytic effect on poverty, have taken the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent people in those five decades. And there appears to be no end of violent conflict in sight. Wars between nations are minimal, but wars and anarchy within nations appear to be increasing. Nations seem less capable of providing real security for their citizens. Terrorism and desperate acts of retribution for grievances are also predictable threats. The relative affordability and universal availability of biological weapons deliverable in a suitcase now add a new level of urgency to action on the second path to peace.
This path is defined by three basic goals: strengthening international humanitarian law and institutions, investments in conflict prevention and peace building and last, but not least, protecting the inalienable rights of all people, an international police force to apprehend those who break international law, and an international criminal court to give fair trials.
Without these global structures, the next Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein will continue to threaten peace and security. We can’t build a U.S. Army big enough to defend us against terrorists and other nonmilitary threats now rising in the new era of globalization. From economic instability to biological or computer viruses, we need new global solutions to local problems faced by communities around the world.
Let’s hope that the U.S. Congress recognizes this new reality when they consider the budget for U.S. funding for the United Nations and human development around the world in the new millenium. War is not affordable, for victims or victors. We might even break the bank like the Soviet Union did in preparing for one. The most important lesson of Kosovo may be economic in nature. An ounce of United Nations funding is worth a ton of cruise missile cure.
This commentary was submitted by members of the Orono Peace Group, whose members include Marquita Hill, Kahterine and Stan Mugrave, Ron and Shirley Davis, Jean Adamson and others.