Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), recently made a closing address to a Toronto conference that makes a good follow up to yesterday's post about the peace movement's need to project how we think the world should work. The full text of Evans remarks is here and very much worth reading in full.
So what is ICG and who is Evans? A look at ICG's board list reveals a "who's who" of retired politicians and functionaries who are no longer in office and perhaps have the distance to try to clean up some of the messes they became familiar with while actively in government -- think the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joschka Fischer, Christopher Patten, and Ernesto Zedillo. Gareth Evans fits the profile; he was a Labor Party Foreign Minister of Australia from 1988-96. Men and English speakers predominate, but not to the complete exclusion of other voices. The organization describes itself as "is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, with 120 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict."
Evans' speech was called "Conflict Prevention: Ten Lessons We Have Learned." It expresses the point of view of someone whose work for peace, however arduous, consists of dealing with the powers that drive the nations, not their peoples. His perspective is not mine. I am uncomfortable with thinking about our world's wars in a "conflict prevention/crisis management" framework. This kind of antiseptic language threatens to erase and overshadow demands for simple justice between people and nations. But peoples that have suffered repeated wars, as did for example Europeans throughout the 20th century, have sometimes concluded that peace may be a greater value than justice when the two collide. So who am I, sitting comfortably in the heart of the empire, to demand that justice come before people's longing for peace?
Evans' blunt assessments of the world of the rulers who he attempts to influence are bracing. Would that we had politicians so able to speak truthes.
Evans points to ten lessons. I'll quote parts of his speech below. (I'm Americanizing the spelling and adding a bit of punctuation to make this read more smoothly.)
There's some NGO-touting, funder-pleasing horn tooting in this assertion, but I sure hope Evans is right. Count me skeptical, but willing to suspend disbelief.
Again Evans is a lot more trusting that the war makers have learned some restraint and that they can discern proper occasions for the use of force than I am, but let's hope he knows something we don't. Once he's made his two essentially ICG boilerplate points, he gets more interesting.
I think this is Evans' nod to the justice problem. If some force (even just exhaustion) can get the guns to stop, then societies and peoples have to build some measure of equity and justice into their lives or the guns will probably be taken up again.
This is fascinating. He is pointing out the contemporary privatization of diplomacy. Various think tanks, journalistic entities, non-profit outfits like his, and commercial for-profit consultants like Stratfor are collecting the information that each government used to ferret out for itself. Along with privatization, some democratization is also happening. Even humble bloggers sometimes turn up real information and, thanks to the Internet, often this becomes widely accessible to those willing to look. The U.S. may have huge embassies projecting the empire all over the world, but linguistic incapacity and security threats make them more isolated castles than sources of "intelligence". The U.S. government is both blind and drowning in indigestible information.
That last bit about the "fleet of foot" is something that peace activists could take to heart. Every political organization I've ever been part of has had a hard time adjusting to rapid changes in circumstances. We work so hard at understanding and getting a grip on one set of problems that we become invested in those familiar definitions and solutions and have trouble moving on when change happens. Like armies, we're most comfortable fighting the last war.
Evans wants to make the U.N. work and he knows how: reform the Security Council by doing away with the Great Power vetoes and empowering the Secretary-General. This is bold and probably currently impossible. Would it be a good thing? Certainly it would give the currently disempowered majority in the world more say in the institutions that try to prevent the missiles from flying.
So rich countries mostly have completely useless armies (whose preservation presumably serves domestic political ends). We know that about the United States. I for one didn't know the same lunacy was operative in Europe.
I hope the peace movement can say a whole-hearted "amen" to this.
I wish I heard in Evans, or any political leader, more confidence in the capabilities of aroused people. Oh sure, especially if badly led, populations can be seized with passionate spasms of violent revenge. But actually, given half a chance, people come to their senses pretty quickly. At the present time, the U.S. people are way out in front of their leaders in both political parties; we know Iraq is a losing boondoggle, a colossal waste of U.S. and Iraqi lives. We're waiting, unhappily, for the kind of people Evans addresses to catch up and find the political will to stop this war.
Evans goes on to describe the problem of political will as a contest between idealism (Neo-con fantasies of imposing democracy on the Middle East) and realism. This kind of above the fray analysis is fine for the rulers of world, but the rest of us wish they'd just get around to letting us live. Evans does get off some nice zingers about those he names as "realists" and "idealists."
Finally, Evans last point:
Here, Evans sounds like so many of us in the Boomer age group -- dreams unfulfilled, but hopeful that we've done enough to lay a foundation for those who come after. Was it ever any other way?