The Common Good

Obama's Remarks to the Indian Parliament and Just Peace

One goal of just peace theory is to make war obsolete. The idea is to establish justice, in all of its various iterations, so that peace will prevail. It starts with the intuitive insight that where there is no justice, there can be no peace. It therefore searches for ways to meet the basic needs of human beings, to provide both sustenance and joy for ALL of humankind. It works to solve both local and global conflicts through nonviolent means. In just peace theory, means and ends cohere. Thus to reach peaceful ends, one must use peaceful means.

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In my formulation of just peace theory, there are three basic elements to just peacemaking -- truth, respect, and security. President Obama touched upon these three elements in his remarks to a joint session of the Indian Parliament. He spoke of Mahatma Gandhi and his influence on the world, including his influence on the nonviolent commitment of Martin Luther King Jr. to Gandhi's concept of Satyagraha -- truth-force or soul-force -- the idea that nonviolent resistance ought to expose the truth of a situation, which will then lead to the recognition of what justice requires.

President Obama did not speak of Satyagraha, but he did applaud India's democracy and its progress toward building a vibrant civil society. Democracy and the strengthening of the institutions of a civil society are important elements of just peace theory because they help to promote truth-telling. Free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, and a free press help a society to allow for the contestation of ideas that can lead to a democratic consensus. It leads to the truth of the values that a society deems as vital to its existence and to its prosperity.

President Obama also spoke of respect. He said: "My confidence in our shared future is grounded in my respect for India's treasured past -- a civilization that's been shaping the world for thousands of years." Respect stands at the core of any true friendship, of any true partnership. The president spoke of his respect for the country, not only by his recognition of its past contributions to humanity, but of its present importance to the world.

This is evident when he advocates that India become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. President Obama said: "As two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security -- especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years. Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. That is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

This is the right thing to do. Large democratic nations from Africa and from South America also ought to hold permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. The intent is to develop an international system of cooperation in both economic and agricultural development, but also a system of cooperation that can put pressure on nations that fail to honor agreed upon universal standards of human rights. President Obama asked the Indians for help in putting pressure on the leaders of Burma to respect the human rights of their people.

When nations can work together to meet the needs of ALL of humanity with truth and respect toward the mutual security of all the world's peoples, we can finally lay down our weapons and study war no more.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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