1999 Mahatma Gandhi Lecture on Nonviolence,

Centre for Peace Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada


Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
University of Alberta


Presented at McMaster University, Canada, February 1, 2000.

It is an honour to give the Mahatma Gandhi Lecture on Nonviolence.  In my recent book, Bread Not Bombs: A Political Agenda for Social Justice, I cited Gandhi as the greatest figure of the 20th Century.  Time Magazine did not agree with me, selecting Albert Einstein as the "Person of the Century." The Mahatma was a runner‑up.  If the 20th century is to be measured by the global burst in scientific knowledge, then I suppose Einstein is the logical choice.  But we cannot deny that the 20th century was a time of the discovery of the universality of human rights and the role of nonviolence in achieving political gains.  Here Gandhi infused the human spirit with hope.  Einstein made our bodies more comfortable; Gandhi raised up our souls.  The technology inspired by Einstein had both good and bad effects.  The humility lived by Gandhi taught us the qualities of tolerance and pluralism, virtues that will be essential for civilization to survive the 21st century.  Robert Payne, in his great biography of Gandhi said: "He had a mind of great originality and daring, and perhaps never before on so proud a scale has any man succeeded in shaping the course of history while using only the weapons of peace."


A.  The Culture of War

To speak of a culture of peace, it is necessary first to recall the culture of war, which blighted the 20th century.

The 20th century was the bloodiest century in the history of humanity, with more than 110 million people killed in wars, three times as many people than all the war deaths in all the previous centuries from, the first century A.D. 

The killing record was maintained throughout the 1990s, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Haiti, The Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka.  These are just some of the countries from virtually all the regions of the world whose hopes for growth and prosperity were stifled by chronic conflicts. 

The Gulf War in 1991 claimed more than 100,000 lives, cost $60 billion, and caused immense human suffering.  More than 800,000 people were slaughtered in internecine warfare in Rwanda.  NATO's bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, in response to atrocities and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbs, left a trail of destruction that will disrupt life into the next generation.  While wars are being fought, consuming vast amounts of resources, the world’s poorest people are falling farther behind.  During the past decade, inequalities have worsened throughout Asia, and poverty has skyrocketed in a crumbling Russia.  Africa is in constant crisis.  Housing, health, and education services are desperately needed throughout the developing countries.  Yet the 20 percent of the world's people who live in the high‑income countries account for 86 percent of the total private consumption expenditures.  In latter years, the gap between the rich and poor has widened enormously. 

Gross disparities and misplaced priorities at home and abroad are staring us in the face.  Social justice in a world of plenty seems father off than ever.  The double standards of politics reveal an intellectual corruption aided and abetted by a corporate ‑ controlled media.  There is an anger inside me as I see what is and what ought to be. 

We fight wars that should not be fought.  We maintain nuclear weapons that constantly endanger humanity.  We spend money on excessive militarism at the expense of the poor.  The way in which the public is manipulated into believing that militarism buys peace is the greatest intellectual insult of all. 


B.  The Culture of Peace

There ‑ I have gotten the bad news out of the way, and it is still early in the lecture.  There is much more to be said about the insidiousness of the war culture.  But I think that those who attend a lecture in Gandhi's name already know these blights on the human condition and want to raise their sights. 

My own hope that we can get beyond the culture of war lies in the blossoming of intelligence about ourselves as a human community in a world that is inter‑connected in every sphere of activity.  Despite the news of wars, hunger, homelessness and disease affecting millions, the world is in fact moving toward a new, more participatory, people‑centred way of conducting international affairs.  The potential power of this movement can create the conditions for a culture of peace.

It is often said that war is inevitable, it is part of our human nature, and people have been fighting throughout history.  This is a superficial analysis.  Human beings are not genetically programmed for war.  There is no inherent biological component of our nature that produces violence.  UNESCO points out that war begins in our minds; so too must) the new ideas begin in our minds: that peace is absolutely necessary in a technological age of mass destruction.

The present pessimism must be lifted by the recognition that war is not inevitable.  Violence on the scale of what we have seen in Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and elsewhere does not emerge inexorably from human interaction.  Because the hatred and incitement to violence fostered by social and economic inequality, combine with the readily available supply of deadly weapons, are so evident, it is' essential and urgent to find ways to prevent disputes from turning massively violent.  The real problem here is not that we do not know about incipient and large‑scale violence, it is that we often do not know how to act.  Either we ignore mass killings if the area concerned is not central to our interests, or, as in the case of Kosovo, we unleash a rain of destruction in the name of saving humanity.

Examples from "hot spots" around the world illustrate that the potential for violence can be diffused through the early, skillful, and integrated application of political, diplomatic, economic, and military measures.  Though terrible suffering occurred, it is a fact that warring parties have put down their arms in El Salvador, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Guatemala, and the Philippines.  The peace accords in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, though precarious, illustrate peace can overcome histories of conflict.  Sine 1945, the U.N.  has negotiated 172 peaceful settlements that ha have ended regional conflicts, including an end to the Iran‑Iraq war and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

These lessons have taught us that violence and war are not inevitable.  An unavoidable clash of civilizations is not our fate.  War and mass violence usually result from deliberate political decisions s.  Rather than intervening in violent conflicts after they have erupted and t en engaging in post‑conflict peace‑building, it is more humane and more efficient to prevent such violence in the first place by addressing its roots.  This is the essence of a that the human desire for 1945, the U.N.  has actually culture of peace approach.

The continuing work of UNESCO, in pro promoting knowledge of a culture of peace, is inspiring.  Responding to a request by the U.N.  General Assembly to develop the concept of a culture of peace as an integral approach to preventing violence and armed inflicts, UNESCO succeeding in defining norms, values and aims of peace.  A culture of peace is the set of values, attitudes, traditions, modes of behaviour, and ways of life that reflect and inspire respect for life and for all human rights.  It involves the rejection of violence in all its forms, and commitment to the prevention of violent conflicts by tackling their root causes through dialogue and negotiation. 

A peace consciousness does not appear overnight.  It is evident that constructing a culture of peace requires comprehensive, educational, social and civic action.  It addresses people of all ages.  An open‑minded, global strategy is required to make a culture of peace take root in people's hearts and minds.

The U.N.  General Assembly has helped to faster this ethical transformation by proclaiming the year 2000 a the International Year for the Culture of Peace, to be followed by the International Decade (2001‑2010) for "a Culture of Peace and Non-violence e for the Children of the World." Mobilizing public opinion and developing new education programs at all levels are essential to promote humanity's rejection of war.  Instead of planning to fight war, nations should put their full strength behind the efforts of U.N.  Secretary General Kofi Annan, who recently stressed the need for a culture of peace in these words:

"It may seem sometimes as if a culture of e ace does not stand a chance against the culture of war, the culture of violence and the cultures of impunity and intolerance.  Peace may indeed be a complex challenge, dependent on action in many fields and even a bit of luck from time to time.  It may be a painfully slow process, and fragile and imperfect when it is achieved But peace is in our hands.  We can do it.


C.  The Hague Appeal for Peace

The "can‑do‑it" attitude was powerfully shown at the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace where 7,000 people of 100 nationalities gathered for a four‑day "jamboree" of seminars, exhibits, concerts and a general outpouring of human yearning for peace.

The new Hague Appeal challenges the assumption of today's skeptics who have given up on the essential U.N.  idea that succeeding generations can be saved from the scourge of war.  The Hague Appeal launched a citizens' "Agenda for Peace and Justice in the 21st Century," in which citizen advocates, progressive governments, and official agencies work together for common goals.

To build a culture of peace, the Hague Appeal has highlighted these themes:

* Traditional Failure: Move beyond the traditional approaches to preventing war, which have failed disastrously.  Big‑power bullying tactics are not diplomacy.  Sanctions that starve the poor are not solidarity.  Fire‑brigade peacekeeping efforts are no substitute for early warning systems.

* Human Security: Security must be redefined in terms of human and ecological needs instead of national sovereign y and national borders.  This requires new priorities for sustainable development instead of armaments. 

* All Human Rights for All Peace: The violation of human rights is one of the root causes of war.  These violations include the denial of economic, social and cultural rights as well as political and civil rights.  The artificial distinction between these two sets of rights can no longer be tolerated. 

* Soft Power: Civil society and progressive governments are choosing "soft power" paths, utilizing negotiation, coalition building and new diplomacy methods of settling disputes, while rejecting the "hard power" dictates of major powers, including militaries and economic conglomerates. 

* Rule of Law: Universal adherence to international law must be developed.  Current instruments, such as the Imitational Court of Justice and the new International Criminal Court, must be invigorated. 

* Initiatives in Peace‑Making: Too often, peace initiatives are proposed only as a last resort and negotiations restricted to disputants.  Civil society should also convene peace initiatives before a crisis gets out of control and lives are lost.

* Democratic Decision‑Making: In recent years, the U.N.  system, created to be a universal force for peace, has been treated with cynicism, politicized and under-funded.  The international system must be revived, democratized and provided with resources if it is to realize its potential in peace‑building.  The U.N.  Security Council must serve human security rather than Great Power interests.

* Humanitarian Intervention: Speedy and effective intervention of military forces, mandated by the Security Council, are required where civilians are threatened by genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and extreme national disasters.  A standing U.N.  intervention force must be established. 

* Money for Peace: Billions are spent on arms and militarization, while worthwhile peace initiatives and programs for human security are starved from lack of funds.  These priorities must be reversed.  Strengthened by these powerful themes, the Hague Appeal for Peace launched specific campaigns to reduce the trade in small arms, obtain universal ratification of the Landmines Treaty, boost the International Criminal Court, seek an unequivocal commitment from the Nuclear Weapons States to begin comprehensive negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons, start a phased campaign to reduce military establishments over a period of years, promote a worldwide coalition of peace forces for humanitarian intervention, stop the recruitment and use of children under 18 in hostilities, and campaign to make universal 1 peace education compulsory in primary and secondary schools and in teacher education. 


D.  UNESCO's Intellectual Resources

In this academic setting, we should note the resources that UNESCO has provided to deepen our understanding of the ways to develop a Culture of Peace.

* UNESCO's International Commission on Education for the Twenty‑First Century recommended an agenda for renewal of education systems.  It identified "four pillars of education."

‑ Learning to know: that is, developing the critical faculties and learning skills required to continue learnmg throughout one's life.  ‑ Learning to do: acquiring productive skills, especially those needed to earn a living.

‑ Learning to live together: developing civic values and the capacity for understanding, teamwork, and respect I for others.  ‑ Learning to be: the overall development of the human person, both mind and body, intelligence, sensitivity, aesthetic sense, personal responsibility, and spiritual values. 

* The World Commission on Culture and Development, chaired by former U.N.  Secretary‑General Javier Perez de Cuellar called for the recognition of a common set of shared principles that would allow cultural diversity to flourish.  A system of global ethics, it said in its report, Our Creative Diversity, must rest on certain pillars:

 ‑ Human rights and responsibilities.

‑ The protection of minorities.

‑ Intergenerational equity, that is, ensuring that future generations are not disadvantaged by our present actions.

‑ A commitment to conflict resolution by non‑military means. 

‑ Democracy and civil society.

* In 1997, UNESCO created the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST).  The creation of this new commission reflects the increasing importance of ethical reflection in the light of the cultural and social effects of the rapid development of scientific knowledge and technology.  Its mandate is:

‑ To serve as an intellectual forum for the exchange of ideas and experience. 

‑ To detect, on that basis, the early signs of risk situations. 

‑ To fulfill an advisory role for decision‑makers in this respect. 

‑ To promote dialogue between scientific communities, decision‑makers and the public at large.

As with other commissions, the main working method of the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology is to hold hearings in all regions of the world and to invite presentations from a broad range of organizations and individuals.  The first session, held in Oslo, Norway in 1999, gave a flavour of the work it will undertake over the months to come.  Three round table discussions; open to the public, began the dialogue on ethics and energy, ethics and freshwater resources, and protection of the rights and freedoms of scientists.  There was also an exchange of views on ethics and the information society.  The Oslo session was a prelude to UNESCO's World Conference on Science, which focuses on ethical issues in the relationship between science and society. 


E.  The Role of Canada

In the diplomatic realm, Canada has used its current position as a member of the U.N.  Security Council to advance a "soft‑power" agenda, which lays a political base for a culture of peace.

Canada has promoted a thematic approach to human security on the Security Council and, in particular, initiated a major effort to protect civilians in violent conflict.  Canada has sought operational entry points for advancing the human security agenda in the Council, culminating in taking its turn on the Council's rotating presidency to launch a major human security initiative on how to improve the protection of civilians in violent conflict. 

Highlighting Canada's initiative was a report from the Secretary‑General with far‑reaching recommendations.  These include: strengthening international legal norms and addressing gaps to protect civilians; practical measures to prevent conflict such as preventive peace deployments and a rapid reaction capability; peacekeeping mandates to protect civilians; targeted sanctions which minimize the humanitarian toll.  Canada now chairs a working group on the Council with a mandate to promote these recommendations through expanded Council activity.  9

Canada's time on the Security Council comes at an historic juncture in world affairs.  It is encouraging to see that Canada is working to fashion a Security Council that increasingly focuses on the human dimension of security and alleviate the unprecedented civilian toll of modern conflict.  There has already been some progress in interpreting what constitutes a security threat to international peace and stability, as demonstrated in the inclusion of intra‑state issues.  This change is nothing short of revolutionary and is testament to human progress in justice and obligation toward our common humanity.

The Security Council and the United Nations Charter were designed at a time when wars were primarily fought across borders.  In today's world 90 percent of the wars are inside borders.  They are e a variety of ethnic, cultural and economic conflicts of warlords; militias and governments that repress their own people.  Such events have fundamentally changed the nature of the security problem that we face.  The Security Council, through the changes suggested by Canada, remains the most appropriate way to meet new challenges. 

To build a culture for peace, Canada must develop and extend policies that promote human security, new coalition's and negotiations, the rule of law, initiatives at peacemaking, democratic decision‑making, and humanitarian intervention mandated by the Security Council.  Finally, Canada must work for a reversal of present global global policies in which billions of dollars are spent on arms and militarization while worthwhile development initiatives and programs for peace and human security are starved for lack of funds.


F.  The Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

There is one over‑arching impediment to peace that Canada must now turn its attention to: nuclear weapons.  The maintenance of nuclear weapons into the 21st century is incompatible with a culture of peace.  Nuclear weapons fly in the face of a just world order.  They are representative of an intellectual and diplomatic paralysis.  Nuclear weapons, by holding the world hostage as they do, are the pinnacle of organized violence.  The movement to abolish nuclear weapons is growing.  The 1995 indefinite extension of the NPT is a cornerstone in building a new and long sought‑after architecture for the world.  The process underscored that all 187 NPT signatories have a role to play in making the world free of nuclear weapons.  A new fusion of efforts by like‑minded governments and the advanced wave of civil society can create enormous world pressure that the Nuclear Weapons States will not be able to ignore.  The campaign for abolition cannot, however, operate alone.  It must be part of an organized movement to prevent war and build a culture of peace.  Fortunately, there are many such movements embracing diplomatic and civil society initiatives.  New techniques of early warning of incipient conflict, preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, and peace‑building are available.  Regional organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are in place to strengthen the U.N.  system.  The fullness of this system is providing the basis for an expanding body of international law, which could, in time, support a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting the production and deployment of nuclear weapons.  The system must be nourished so that it matures into a credible and reliable force for peace.

Canada could make a great contribution to the International Year of Peace by working with like‑minded states at the 2000 Review Conference of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty to secure from the Nuclear Weapons States an unequivocal commitment to commence negotiations leading to a program of nuclear disarmament. 

* * * *

As we start the new century, the potential for a culture of peace has never been higher.  Though we are still bogged down in: the remnants of a culture of war, we must summon the strength, the courage, and the endurance to share in the development of God's planet.  The political will of governments and civil society will be the determining factor.  We must seize this moment to push the decision‑makers and social actors everywhere to reorder their priorities, to set an ethical basis for future action, and to empower citizens to speak up and to act.