We need a Ministry for Peace

IssueApril 2006
Comment by Eddy Canfor-Dumas

In the UK we think education is important -- so we have a ministry for education. We think health and the environment are important -- so we have ministries for them. If we think peace is important, shouldn't we have a Ministry for Peace? A part of government dedicated to pursuing and promoting peace?

But what exactly would a Ministry for Peace do? Because isn't “peace” a woolly concept that can mean almost anything?

For many peace workers,though, its meaning is clear. To work for peace is to work against violence. But that raises another question -- what exactly is violence?

Forms of violence

On one level the answer is obvious -- violence is hurting people. It's rape and murder and war and everything like that. This can be called direct violence. But the circle can be drawn wider, to include all forms of violent abuse -- physical, verbal, spiritual, emotional and mental.

Direct violence, however, is merely the visible tip of a much larger “iceberg” of violence, which sustains and gives rise to direct violence. The invisible part of this iceberg consists of structural and cultural violence. Structural violence refers to social, economic and political structures, built on unequal power, that repress, harm and kill people. Examples include apartheid, slavery, imperialism, autocracy, and international debt. The enormous human and financial resources spent each year on armaments is another form of structural violence, since it denies those resources to human development. The millions of people who die each year from hunger are victims of structural violence. Cultural violence refers to those aspects of a culture that legitimise and normalise direct and structural violence. Films and video games that approvingly show the use of violence to “resolve” conflicts are one example. Religions and ideologies that condone violence towards non-believers or opponents are another. Cultural violence is usually so deeply embedded in a society that its members are unaware how it shapes their thinking.

The challenge

Those three aspects of violence support and reinforce each other. The challenge of a Ministry for Peace would be to tackle them in a joined-up way that creates new relationships, based on direct, structural and cultural nonviolence. Broadly speaking, this translates into five main tasks:

One: conflict transformation by peaceful means. Which means using empathy, nonviolence and creativity to transform conflicts in our own lives, our organisations, communities, countries and internationally. It also means working to meet the needs of all the parties to the conflict, not just those we judge to be “good” or “right”.

Two: ending direct violence. This normally refers to “ceasefires” but for a Ministry for Peace would mean targeting direct violence at all levels, in all its forms.

Three: addressing the root causes of violence, by transforming the deep structures and deep cultures from which violence springs. This involves working to create -- at every level -- social, political, and economic democracy. In other words, people power. And working to abolish the institutions and structures of war.

Four: building peace resources. That is, to develop and strengthen the skills, tools and resources for transforming conflicts constructively and resisting violence; to develop peace organisations that we can be involved in; to create a global nonviolent peace force; to encourage the establishment of Ministries for Peace in other countries; to develop peace education, peace journalism, peace institutes, peace advertising -- and much more.

The fifth task is healing -- from the visible and invisible effects of violence. Working for reconciliation between and within individuals, communities and nations; developing the ability to apologise and forgive -- and weaving this ability, this attitude, into our culture, into textbooks and monuments; removing the cult and celebration of war and superiority. And vitally, not continuing and repeating the very acts that cause harm (and require subsequent healing) in the first place.

The “peacemeal” approach

This, briefly, is our idea. Of course, world peace will not break out simply through establishing a Ministry for Peace -- although this is now an international initiative that more and more countries are joining. But a Ministry for Peace would take the above tasks as its permanent remit and, crucially, deal with peace in the round. Because presently peace is dealt with piecemeal, and it's far too important for that.