Just Peace Theory and Foreign Policy

Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com
Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com

Just peace theory begins with the idea that peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building is a day-by-blessed-day proposition. Unlike just war theory, it does not begin when violent conflict is imminent. There are 10 just peacemaking practices that have a record of success. A just peace foreign policy employs these practices for the purposes of both national security and of international peace.

The 10 just peacemaking practices are: support nonviolent direct action; take independent initiatives to reduce threat; use cooperative conflict resolution; acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice, and seek repentance and forgiveness; advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence; foster just and sustainable economic development; work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system; strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights; reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade; encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary association. (Just Peacemaking: the new paradigm for the ethics of peace and war Glen H. Stassen editor)

Cooperation, interdependence, human rights, and democracy are important elements of just peacemaking practices. I say this is a power-with, not a power-over model of foreign policy. This is not a model of weakness, but one of strength. The strength comes from building relationships and partnerships with other nations on the basis of mutual respect.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of a network of mutuality, and this is the way just peace theory understands the composition of creation. Atomistic singularity is a delusion. We each are connected to all of life by the breath of life we breathe. It is spiritual. When we misunderstand this connection, when we deny it, or when we think we exist outside of it, beyond it, or over it, we fall into the singularity and separation that is sin.

This becomes important in our thinking about peace and foreign policy when we understand that the network of mutuality and the imperative of cooperation in order to make peace means that no one leader or no one nation can or ought to work his or her will in another nation or part of the world. This has never been the case, and when the United States has tried this in the past, we have only gathered ashes.

In my interpretation of just peace theory, I posit three principles — truth, respect, and security — that at once emerge from the 10 peacemaking practices and transcend them to locate their warrant in The Golden Rule: In Everything do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A just peace foreign policy understands the importance of truth telling. This is something we all want and something we must give. To tell the truth about America’s acts in the world, both good and bad, is not tantamount to an apology, although apologies are appropriate in many cases and is a peacemaking practice.

Respect for other peoples, nations, international organizations, and the natural world is necessary for the cooperative work that will bring peace. A foreign policy that does not respect the United Nations or that thinks the United States can or ought to dictate to members of NATO or other regional organizations what they are going to do is foolishness. 

Just peace theory also knows that national security is not a function of the size of our military, of the numbers of tanks, ships, or airplanes we have. Security comes when all the peoples of the world enjoy their basic needs, when they have the sustenance and joy in their lives that we want in our own. According to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Gen. George Marshall lasting peace is more spiritual than military. Lasting peace requires “a spiritual regeneration.”


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.

Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com

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