Dr Carmen Lawrence

clawrence1st March 2003

Share the Spirit of Peace – Peace Summit

I first of all pay tribute to the original owners of this land we stand on here. And to as best I can, address the positive side here today. It is hard not to get pulled into the negative and indeed we do need to see both sides of the story in order to have an aspiration of peace.

I start of, surprisingly perhaps, with a quote from Dwight D Eishenhower, a conservative President, a former military man, indeed someone who engaged the United States and other nations in a war with Korea. He said something, that if he believed it, certainly made a great deal of sense then and still does. In 1953 he said “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in one sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world at arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.”

And I want to talk a little bit about some of those elements today.

I think we need to be aware that too many people in the world today, including in our own country, cannot take for granted the basic necessities of life. People experience poverty not just when they lack food, water & shelter, but when they lack education and the resources to maintain a decent standard of living comensurate with the community around them and the expectations that they now see globally. Because of such poverty, needlessly unable to participate fully in society and exercise control in their lives.

In saying things like that, its immediately obvious why poverty is one of the root causes of violence, depression and many of the world’s ills. And it also suggests immediately some of the remedies. And I guess thats what we are trying to recognise today.

Poverty of this kind is one of the sources of instability in our world. Its both cause and consequence of violence and destruction. For many people much material deprevation is also accompanied by powerlessness, alienation and depression. Feeling that feed the conflict & violence and the self destructive cycle of deprevation is established.

So addressing poverty, in my view, and all that goes with it, powerlessness and alienation, are a very important part of establishing a world thats in peace.

I want to touch just briefly on something which encites less comment but is no less destructive and thats poverty of the spirit – which afflicts a great many Australians and others in the developed world, who are pretty materially comfortable and are able to maintain some degree of control over their own lives. A lot of commentators recently have rightly drawn attention to the fact that we see in Australia a hardening of attitudes towards some minority groups particularly here. And a view that if you have little that is all your own fault. All you have to do is look after number 1. These mantras of self interest and utilitarianism are appearing far to frequently and again the antithesis is to work together co-operatively and to understand that collectively we’ll be better than if we act alone.

We meet at a time when in the west for the first time, many have experienced the reality of terrorism and the insecurity that results from that. And it has to be said that despite the fact that some people seem to have just woken up to it, we do live in a violent world. An for the most part we’re inured to that violence except when it comes home so dramatically. The daily bread of the media and often our entertainment is in deadly destruction. Sometimes state sanctioned, sometimes from terrorist bombs, and often from men assaulting on another and their female partners. In many of these cases we are invited in a sense to distance ourselves from the violence with what I call bloodless language which anaesthetises our empathic response to our fellow human beings.

More often than not, unless such violence occurs on our own soil, be believe and behave as if that violence is no concern of ours. And again that is something we have to change, and embrace our fellow citizens as the song we just listened to reminded us to do.

Indeed escalating violence against civilian populations around the world really only receives cursorary attention from the media. Maybe a little more now than at most times in the past but the many victims around the world do not have our attention. One of the problems we face as a world, and something agin we have to remedy, is what Elie Wiesel called, a Holocaust survivor but some of you may know him as a peace activist as well, the “perils of indifference”. In other words to be indifferent to the suffering of others and according to Wiesel its worse in many ways than to attack them directly because it allows us to stand by and see their needs as less than ours.

He says, passionately, “to be indifferent to… suffering is what makes the human being inhuman, conversely to identify with suffering is what makes the human being human”. Indifference, he says is always the friend of those who foster violence. I think its interesting to look at our response, for example, to September 11 and the Bali Bombings, whichm rightfully made us mourn, outraged us and made us think carefully about the human beings whose lives were lost, their families and the grief they suffered. But by contrast we spent little time or attention looking at those who died in Afghanistan – whose number is actually greater than those who died on September 11.

Why such indifference in that case? One suggestion, and its partly from my psychological training, is what’s called the narcissism of minor differences.We can be seduced into believing that we have no obligation to people who do not share our culture and locations, our values and so on. Differences between us that are really very small, minor differences, can be magnified so that they are regarded as outsiders. And thats exactly whats happened with the treatment of the boat people in this country. Its in this context that I want to make a few broad and bold statements about my beliefs on war and peace.

Firstly that deadly conflict is not inevitable. It may seem strange to say that but I believe its important to repeat. It doesn’t emerge inextorably from human interaction. We’re not condemned by our natures to settle disputes with violence. We can be peaceful.

Secondly, the means to prevent deadly conflict is increasingly urgent, especially given the spread or more and more lethal weapons.

Thirdly, its not that we don’t understand the roots of deadly conflict, but that we don’t act to preserve the peace. And such actions should be based on the concept of prevention, confronting the inequalities and intolerances I mentioned which build conflict. And the manufacture of weapons which enable deadly conflict, they must be a very important part of the peace movement, to eliminate those deadly weapons. And finally the culture of conflict and violence can be modified by education and example. In our own society just as our political culture by some perceptions, is essentially competitive and combative rather than co-operative. Thats the example that we give every day to the citizens of this nation. It can and should be changed.

Whilst it may suit us to pretend otherwise, there’s little mystery where the world’s deadly conflicts occur and the extent of damage they inflict. We actually do know about it when we turn our minds to it. The conflict and consequences are known and perhaps more improtantly, probably we can anticipate the ones for tomorrow and next week and next month.

I guess the question you are all here to answer, and we are all struggling with is what can we do to prevent them and to promote peace. At the risk of over-simplifying, we obviously need to ask three questions before we can get to solutions. Where is it happening, how is it happening and why is it happening?

I just want to briefly make the point that one of the features of the late 20th century is that wars within states vastly outnumber those between them. We are about to confront a war between states but for the most part, violence has been within states in the form of civil war. Attacks on citizens by other citizens. And as the Cold War retreated, we thought we might have seen the end of th emajor conflicts between states. And one of the great tragedies of the threat of attacking Iraq is that we’re not about to reap that peace dividend that was at least promised by leaders in the United States.

How are these wars being fought? I just want to spend a brief moment on this question. They are being fought mainly with conventional weapons but we should be seriously concerned about the potential use of nuclear weapons and so called weapons of mass destruction. Soldiers kill more civilians than other soldiers, probably by a ratio of 9:1, using strategies that deliberately target women, children & the elderly. Modern conventional weapons including small arms are enormously destructive and can be bought in many places as easily as food and an AK47 costs between $40 and $200. And ammunition is plentiful & cheap. Deployed landmines alone are thought to number 100 million worlwide. Again these are the crises we confront.

Just last week an article in the British Medical Journal argued that health problems in poor countries in Asia & Africa particularly, are exasserbated by arms sales. And although there are a number of factors at work, there’s no doubt that exporting arms, particularly small arms, into these poor countries has fueled the conflicts and that these countries have massive health problems.

The editorial of the BMJ asks why developed countries don’t curb this arms trafficking that would make a major contribution to world peace. However, it would appear to be in their interest to prevent these conflicts to stop them from getting out of hand. The editorial concludes that its the nature of developed countries at the moment, that they place their short term (chiefly commercial interests) ahead of the long term interests of the international community. We have to convince them to do otherwise. Because exporting arms to the globe is big business, with the value to the United States alone (which exports more military hardware than the rest of the world combined) reaching $20 billion a year.

I spoke a little bit about why this conflicts occur. We know where they occur, and basically they break out because broadly speaking we still think locally. With huge cases of poverty, social inequality and in some cases economic decline, large numbers of young, unemployed males, and polarised combative politics all contribute. And these obviously can be fueled by despots and leaders who are prepared to exploit them, criminal elements, self-agrandising leaders – such conditions are ripe for violence. We can add to that list now, the ambitions and insecurity of the world’s super-power, the United States. It would have us believe it is threatened in some way by Iraq – a state whose military might is easily held in check and could be obliterated by the massive fire power of the United States.

Now, what can be done – and I may not have left myself enough time for this. One of the critical things we have to do is look to those root causes, that poverty, that insecurity which can trigger conflict. And to eliminate, as I said, those weapons that are available so readily. This requires relevant action, it requires international co-operation and I want to underline there, it requires the United Nations. Its all we’ve got. Its the best we’ve got. We can do better and thats vital.

We need to co-operate as peoples and as governments to deal with those structural changes that are required to deliver peace. To control, reduce and eventually eliminate weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical & biological. To control trade of so called conventional weapons, which are probably more dangerous to more people. To promote the establishment of stable, democratic regimes. Note I say promote there – not enforce or inflict. Champion the rule of law as the basis for regulating social interaction. Thats one of the reasons, by the way, why I resent the Prime Ministers observations about giving comfort to Saddam Hussein so unreasonable. Its like saying that protesting about a potential war and therefore giving comfort to Saddam Hussein is like someone insisting on a rule of law in our normal justice system giving comfort to murderers. Its a bizarre idea.

Championing the rule of law in all environments in which we exist. Promoting accountable governments including effective and judicious policing, independant juciary and so on. Promoting the creation and maintenance of robust civil socieites. We need that in our community as well. This ** leaders is something we should actually abandon. We need to promote economic development in ways that can be indigenously absorbed and sustained. Again, not as a colonial impulse but to work with those communities who are poor or impoverished. To provide insitutions and processes for non-violent dispute resolution and to promote conflict resolution strategies, based on mutual understanding and accomodation. To work to improve health standards and practises. To eliminate illiteracy, particularly amongst women & girls. And manage technologies and resources to derive the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people, including in particular, husbanding our water resources.

Those, I guess are the tasks ahead of us. They certainly don’t sound easy. We cannot do them alone, we need that cooperation, we need international institutions, which are respected and not undermined by governments as is currently the case. The current government would have us say that we can use the United Nations when it suits us and not when it doesn’t. The United Nations need to comment to on our treatment of indigenous people and asylum seekers if this is to be an effective organisation. We have to embrace them.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today