From Negative to Positive Peacemaking
Published on Monday, November 3, 2003 by
From Negative to Positive Peacemaking
by Gordon Bennett

Clearly, the military adventurism of George Bush & Co. in both Afghanistan and Iraq proves that our leaders are good at waging war and very poor at waging peace. Put differently, storming into Iraq, trampling the opposition and declaring victory, is very simple compared to the restoration, reconstruction, and redemptive peace-building that must ensue.

On the other hand, peace activists often become trapped in an endless cycle of reaction and response, trying to stop this war, that new missile, this senseless military expenditure. Often we become exhausted, fighting so many battles on so many fronts, that we have little time or energy left to plan or propose long-term peace-building initiatives.

Which brings us to the difference between negative and positive peace. Martin Luther King, Jr., captured it quite succinctly when he said that "true peace is more than the absence of war; it is the presence of justice."

Used here, "negative" is not a pejorative term. By negative peace-making we mean stopping things or preventing bad stuff from going on--weapons, wars, the escalating military budget. It's saying NO in a big bold voice. It's, essential, important work, and I admire everyone who puts his or her life on the line to stop the war machine.

But in the long term, such action doesn't seem to produce a more secure and humane world, any more than Dubya's Asian conquests. You may prevent or end a war (by violent or nonviolent means), but the seeds of the next war remain dormant, awaiting birth. As Ralph Nagler writes in Is There No Other Way? violence and nonviolence may or may not "work" (in the short term), but in the long term, violence never works but nonviolence always works. The latter effect comes largely through what Gandhi called his "Constructive Programme," domestic and social progress which creates positive peace.

Positive peace-building involves helping nations develop more just and democratic systems in which poverty, illiteracy, and other root causes of terrorism and conflict are eliminated and the poorer nations are given a "hand up" the ladders of economic development.

Justice may be the key feature in the new world model of positive peace. A major step would be to provide the Basic Human Needs--adequate food, clothing and shelter-- for everyone on the planet. Beyond that, the enormous disparities in wealth must be reduced and progress made in the areas of health and sanitation, education, employment, and democratization in the Two-Thirds World. Indeed, a recent UN document declares that economic and social development is a basic human right.

The Global Wellness Fund Treaty, which has been endorsed by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Bread for the World, Pax Christi USA, and others, would accelerate progress in positive peace-building. I've been privileged to work with some activists and academics in writing an international treaty (now in its 5th Draft) requiring signatory nations to reduce their military expenditures on a graduated scale over at least five years. The "harvested funds," in the billions, would go into carefully monitored development projects in low-income nations, administered through the UN Development Programme or some other responsible international body. Thus a Global Wellness Fund (taking "wellness" in its broadest sense) would be created, and the massive infusion of new money into global development projects would benefit millions.

For more details, refer to the full text on our web site: We'd like questions or comments. Obviously, the GWF Treaty is not the only possible strategy, but at least it's a very concrete one. There are other promising proposals that would lead us beyond "negative" to "positive" peace-building--for example, those offered by Global Action to Prevent War. In fact, the quantity and quality of progressive peace initiatives is matched only by the Neanderthal thinking and indifference among this world's national leaders, with the prime examples in Washington, who still think that everything can be settled by force of arms.

We're inspired by two notable quotes. Victor Hugo said, "There is no army strong enough to withstand an idea whose time has come." And from Bobby Kennedy, quoting George Bernard Shaw: "Some men see things as they are and ask, Why? I like to dream of things that never were and ask, Why Not?"

Gordon Bennett is co-chair of the Alliance for the Global Wellness Fund Treaty. He is a teacher and long-time peace activist, and was the co-winner in 2001 of the Dahlberg Peace Award, given by the American Baptist Churches, USA.