04 March 2005

Just Peacemaking: a third way?

The other day I borrowed our library's copy of Glen H. Stassen's Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace. A part-time colleague is using the 2nd edition of this book in the course he's teaching this semester at Redeemer, and I was interested to know something of its author's thesis. Stassen argues that just peacemaking constitutes an alternative to the just war and pacifist positions held by most Christians. Here are his seven steps of just peacemaking:

1. Affirm common security: "affirm our common security partnership with our adversaries and build an order of peace and justice that affirms their and our valid interests" (p. 94).

2. Take independent initiatives. "The point of independent initiatives is to build mutual credibility, decrease the sense of insecurity, and provide incentives so our adversary can begin to consider rational alternatives" (p. 101).

3. Talk with your enemy. "Seek negotiations, using methods of conflict resolution" (p. 102).

4. "Seek human rights and justice for all, especially the powerless, without double standards" (p.103).

5. Acknowledge vicious cycles: participate in peacemaking process.

6. End judgemental propaganda, make amends: "Instead of judgmental propaganda, we can acknowledge to others that we have caused hurt and want to take actions to do better" (p. 107).

7. Work with citizens' groups for the truth: "participate in groups with accurate information and a voice in policy-making" (p. 109).

Stassen's favoured model, to which he continually refers, is the ultimately successful effort of East German Christians to change the oppressive régime under which they were living prior to 1989. All of this sounds good, of course, and it is difficult to dispute the conviction that it is better to seek peaceful reconciliation than to wage even a just war. Yet there are two difficulties with Stassen's approach which call into question its claimed general validity.

First, Stassen himself argues that "just peacemaking theory focuses on preventive and conflict-resolution measures early in a conflict, while there is still time to divert the forces that lead to war" (pp. 233-4). Furthermore, "to raise issues of pacifism or just war theory as we approach the brink of war is almost always too late" (p. 233). Perhaps. Yet it is not clear that just peacemaking has any advantage over these two positions when a country is staring down the barrel of a gun and attack is imminent.

Just peacemaking appears to be a strategy -- or composite of strategies -- intended to prevent war from arising in the first place. Yet even if we assume for the sake of argument that it can in large measure meet with success, there will inevitably be times when it fails. What happens then? Any theory incapable of dealing with the hard situations -- with extreme circumstances -- will have limited usefulness at best. When the Ottoman armies are at the walls of Constantinople or the gates of Vienna, just peacemaking would appear to have few, if any, resources for addressing the life and death dilemma faced by the would-be defenders, particularly if the sultan himself steadfastly refuses to negotiate. This suggests that just peacemaking cannot really be seen as a distinct alternative to just war and pacifism, because at that point the possible courses of action have been narrowed to only two: fight or don't fight.

Second, just peacemaking theory appears not to address the issue of who is responsible for implementing its proposals. In short, it neglects the issue of authoritative office. One of the advantages of just war theory is that it is careful to indicate that the responsibility for waging war belongs to a duly constituted political authority. Even the classical anabaptism of the Schleitheim Confession appears to recognize this. At this point I can do no better than to quote Brian Dijkema, who himself has been reading in the field of just peacemaking recently:

For example, the second step of taking independent initiatives to reduce threat might take on a whole number of different skins depending on who the independent initiator is. Might the sword rattling of the United States that some suggest led to Libya's transformation and Syria's pullout of Lebanon be considered an independent initiative? How might an independent initiative of a trade union, a group of businesses, the Christian Reformed Church, the Roman Catholic Church, or a council of churches differ from the Canadian government's independent initiative? Who is responsible for encouraging peacemaking groups? The church? The state? I might go on. To me, it seems that any necessary steps towards peacemaking must include an understanding of the differentiated competence of different organizations. Accepting these ten[*] steps without a clear understanding of the different jurisdictions of different institutions might lead to greater problems than already exist.

Excellent. Of course, it is difficult to quarrel with the intent of those strategies collectively labelled just peacemaking. But as an alternative to just war theory and pacifism it is not particularly persuasive.

* The number of steps has apparently been expanded from 7 to 10.

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