VANCOUVER - Against the backdrop of war and escalating violence in various parts of the world, participants at a five-day peace forum here urged a total ban on biological and nuclear weapons as well as the creation of a ministry that would be exclusively devoted to cultivating peace in all the countries of the world.
Until now, government departments and ministries that oversee peace and security in most countries are more geared toward offensive capacity, said Jeff Keigley, executive director of the World Peace Forum, which organised the Jun. 23-28 meeting in Vancouver, Canada.
"Hence the need to specifically demand for the establishment of such a body -- a department that will truly work for peace," he added.
The United States came in for particular criticism. Professor Hans Blix, who headed the team set up by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000 to investigate allegations of weapons of mass destruction leveled at Iraq's former president Saddam Hussein by the U.S., worries that rather than receding, the arms race is escalating at a frightening rate.
"It is clear the U.S. has no taste for arms control now, and a low opinion of the U.N.," he told IPS. "They don't like international legal commitments and instead practice what they term counter-proliferation... the Pentagon is moving ahead, not always with the support of Congress, towards developing new types of weapons that may be more dangerous than what we have now. That includes weapons in space."
"I was in Moscow a few days ago. The Russians are not talking about arms control. They are talking about rearmament because they are concerned about what the U.S. is doing. And China too," he added.
Blix, who flew in from Stockholm, Sweden, said there must be agreement that disarmament and non-proliferation are best pursued through a cooperative rule-based international order that is applied through effective multilateral institutions with the U.N. Security Council as final authority.
He said that countries of the world must, individually and in cooperation with the U.N., develop effective institutions that have the capability of securing all WMD-related material, and governments must accept the principle that nuclear weapons should be outlawed, as are biological and chemical weapons.
"The U.S. under the present (George W.) Bush administration has thrown out the U.N. charter and invoked a 'right of self defence.' U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says 'We won't wait for the mushroom cloud before taking action.' But to take unilateral action and invade another country is against Article 51 of the U.N. charter," Blix said.
"The U.S. leadership misled itself and the world about Iraq and the presence of WMD in Iraq. I will not say they were culpable. Clearly much of their intelligence was not accurate and we told them that, but they went ahead nevertheless. I would have to conclude that Washington did not exercise the critical thinking, nor did the British exercise the critical thinking that we expect of them. I think there is a shortage of critical thinking among the leadership of the present administration in Washington."
U.S. Congressman Denis Kucinich said that a bill he sponsored in the House of Representatives on the need for a Department of Peace in the United States won the support of 73 lawmakers. He said in an interview that the issue came about as a result of the "dangerous trends observable in the way Bush administration is handling military matters". He insisted that the occupation of Iraq should stop immediately.
Economic and social issues were not left out. Participants from Africa were particularly emphatic in their view that peace begins with the absence of hunger, availability of clean water, decent housing, personal security and provision of healthcare facilities.
Luke Dongala from Cameroun said that an uncertain future and lack of economic opportunities were pushing young people into activities that "endanger peace in all ramifications".
Raphel Krumah from Liberia's Youth Ministry asked the forum to consider two things -- first, that youths pick up the gun because they are unable to go to school or even get enough to eat, and second, that a strong case must be made for any proposed ministry or department of peace to be independent.
"Because experience has shown that anything set up by the government is being funded by the government and is hardly ever able to act independently," he said.
Mike Khaembi, an activist with the Christian Coalition of the Democratic Republic of Congo, agreed. According to him, while many people around the world realise that control of oil supplies is the key issue behind wars in the Middle East, including the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, this situation is even more evident in many ways on the African continent.
He said that his own country faces constant civil war, "as multinational corporations are feeding various factions to fight for the control of the country's resources... and the U.S. government is expanding its military presence throughout Africa."
He added that conflicts in Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria also came about as a result of the presence of multinational corporations eager to exploit the continent's abundant mineral and oil resources.
A veteran human rights activist from the Philippines, Ed Garcia, also argued that campaigns for peace will not be effective unless they are tied to struggles for freedom and social justice, ecological health and prosperous, democratic economies.
"When I was involved in peace efforts in Uganda, I remember a young woman who was opposed to us telling me, 'You can't eat peace'. That is the first lesson that we need to learn: that the quest for peace must be based on human rights and supportive of jobs and justice, food security, health and education, a healthy environment and liberation and liberty."
Participants concluded that a world without war is achievable. Toward that end, the forum called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan; a negotiated settlement in Israel/Palestine within the framework of international law and U.N. resolutions; a commitment to address global warming and sustainable energy policies; implementation of U.N. Resolution 1325 to ensure the full and equal participation of women; and the end of torture and the closure of the U.S.-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
They also called on governments to reduce military spending and invest in human needs;
to constitutionally renounce war (such as Japan's Article 9); to give a stronger role to the U.N. General Assembly and for the U.N. to declare a special session and decade for disarmament; and for all states to negotiate verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament.
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service