The Common Good
January 2005

Winning The Peace

by Glen Stassen | January 2005

For peacemaking to be effective, we must not only say no to war, but provide viable alternatives.

During the buildup to the Iraq war,

During the buildup to the Iraq war, placards nationwide read: "War is not the answer." Some people asked: "Then what is the answer?" Public opinion polls at the time disclosed a powerful reality that our ethics has been overlooking: Just arguing no to a war, without providing a clear alternative, is a sure way to lose the national debate.

Americans initially supported every war in the 20th century. They initially supported even the Vietnam War, which failed all eight criteria of just war theory and which ultimately was viewed as a mistake by 80 percent of Americans. So it is no surprise that a majority supported the Iraq war near its beginning (albeit with the lowest initial support for a war in the last 100 years of American war-making).

In his book War, Presidents, and Public Opinion, political scientist John Mueller analyzed polling data surrounding the Korean and the Vietnam Wars. His data indicate that some 20 percent of Americans will support any American war out of national loyalty - the "rally-round-the-flag" factor. Another 17 percent initially support a war because the president supports it - the "deference-to-authority" factor. When a war actually begins, this factor doubles to about 35 percent - the "support-our-troops factor." Then there is the "threat-from-the-enemy" factor - worth about 16 percent when the phrase "to stop the communist invasion" was added to survey questions during the Korean War. Presidents regularly dramatize or even exaggerate the threat posed by the enemy, as President Bush did in claiming that Iraq had extensive weapons of mass destruction and had connections with al Qaeda. When these factors are added together, it is abundantly clear why a majority of Americans initially support wars of recent history, even wars that turned out badly.

If people see that a war is not working out well, support declines. The Korean War and the Vietnam War eventually became widely unpopular, and the parties in power lost their next presidential bids. So did the elder President Bush, after Iraq continued to be a problem and U.S. deficits and unemployment grew.

What does win the national debate? Articulating a clear alternative to the war does much better. Especially when it deals with the cause or threat and advocates a peacemaking alternative that has proven effective in other cases.

During the buildup to the current Iraq war, much of the peace movement focused on a clear alternative: "Let the inspections work." The pollsters noticed. In February and March 2003, the CBS News Poll asked, "Should the United States take military action against Iraq fairly soon, or should the United States wait and give the United Nations weapons inspectors more time?" Respondents preferred the clear alternative of giving inspectors more time by a ratio of almost two to one.

That debate - about a clear alternative to the war - was won by the war’s opponents, assisted by reports from the U.N. inspection team that weapons of mass destruction were not being found and that Iraq was cooperating with the inspectors’ demands for overflights, for immediate access anywhere, and for destruction of some missiles whose range slightly exceeded the limit. Therefore the White House shifted its argument at the last minute from the alleged threat of the elusive weapons of mass destruction to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and a promise to bring democracy and human rights to Iraq. That shift meant President Bush had to commit himself to the "nation-building" that he had previously opposed.

If the question is simply whether or not to support a war that the president advocates, majorities initially will regularly support the president. Posing the ethical question that way is basically a guaranteed way to lose the national debate. An ethic that focuses on "just say no," as pacifism and just war theory do if they are not assisted by an ethic of constructive peacemaking, is a recipe for losing the debate.

A constructive alternative has a much better chance. Jesus didn’t just say no to anger and revengeful resistance, but commanded transforming initiatives: Go make peace with your brother or sister; go the second mile with the Roman soldier (Matt 5:21-25, 38-42). Christians need something more than an ethic of "just say no"; we need an ethic of constructive peacemaking.

JUST PEACEMAKING theory - the new paradigm for an ethics of peace and war developed by a consensus of 23 Christian ethicists and international relations scholars - shifts the debate to constructive alternatives. It focuses on 10 practices that have demonstrated their efficacy in toppling dictators and ameliorating causes of war without the killing and chaos of war (see box, page 20). For example, the practice of nonviolent direct action toppled Marcos in the Philippines, and East Germany’s Eric Honecker and his Berlin Wall, without a single death.

A month before the Iraq war began, U.S. church leaders (including Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis) articulated a six-point alternative to the war that fit the practices of just peacemaking theory. The genius of their six points was that they addressed the evil of Saddam’s dictatorship directly and proposed a way to depose him without killing Iraq’s people and without the destruction and chaos of the war’s aftermath. The proposal developed broad support in England, including in the British cabinet, and with a little more time could have developed the momentum to prevent the war.

The "six point plan" and its implementation of just peacemaking theory should be seen as part of a new paradigm of peacemaking ethics that can guide us in future debates about war. Noticing how it exemplified just peacemaking theory helps us see how it can be a compass for future pathfinding in times of conflict, a creative exemplar of an emerging ethic.

First, the plan said, the U.N. Security Council should indict Saddam Hussein for war crimes and crimes against humanity and demand that he be tried in an international court. This implements the just peacemaking practice of supporting the United Nations and international efforts for human rights, which have helped to topple several dictators and prevent numerous wars. Second, the plan called for strengthening the inspections process and monitoring Iraq’s borders for weapons. These measures reflect the just peacemaking practice of reducing offensive weapons and weapons trade.

Third, the plan advocated that the process of organizing democracy in Iraq after Saddam be led by the United Nations. The determination to foster democratic institutions in Iraq follows the just peacemaking practice of spreading democracy and human rights. Fourth, the plan called for food and medicine to be delivered to the people of Iraq under the protection of a U.N. force with a Security Council mandate. Meeting these needs is part of the just peacemaking practice of supporting just and sustainable economic growth.

The fifth point put forth by the church leaders was that the United States should re-engage in efforts for peace between Israel and Palestine. embodying the just peacemaking practice of independent initiatives. The sixth and final point was to recommit to international cooperation in combating terrorism. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system is a practice of just peacemaking.

These six alternatives now point the way to increased international security and justice after the war. They continue to point to the need for international cooperation in carrying out a transition to a new government in Iraq and in the struggle against terrorism. These just peacemaking commitments, not unilateralist domination, are the way into a healthy and secure future.

The ethic we need for a viable future is not only an ethic of restraint in making war, but an ethic of just peacemaking initiatives for preventing war and building a future better than war after war, terrorism after terrorism. The practices of just peacemaking have proven effective in preventing wars in recent history. They are not merely ideals, but empirical practices that make for peace. They point the way to winning the debate - and winning the peace.

Glen Stassen is the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

10 Practices of ‘Just Peacemaking’

1. Support nonviolent direct action.

2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.

3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.

4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness.

5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.

6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.

7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.

8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.

9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.

Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups

and voluntary associations.

From Just Peacemaking, edited by Glen Stassen (Pilgrim Press, 1998)

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