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Public Opinion and the Movement for Peace 

Ali Aksad


The present situation of the world vis-a-vis the issue of peace seems to me to be one of great danger. The climate of the world is wholly hostile. A grave danger, particularly nuclear, even though considerably lessened in an improved international political atmosphere, still faces us all. A destabilized world is now at the mercy of many regimes with access to the most destructive weapons, chemical, biological and nuclear. The culture of peace is systematically being undermined by greed, selfish consumerism, terrorism, and the dehumanization of society. Thus war has become one of the common features of human activities worldwide. Alongside, the very serious problems of poverty, inequality, deprivation and unemployment, the rise of extremism, racism, religious communalism and fundamentalism, the violation of human rights and the threat of ecological disaster are besetting mankind’s aspirations for peace. Efforts for disarmament, development and genuine security are faced with an escalated arms race, new projects of militarization, a growing arms trade and policies of domination and strategic hegemony.

We find a great contrast between the dismal reality of today and mankind’s hopes, built after the defeat of Hitler’s fascism and the end of the Second World War, for building a new world that would have no war, exploitation, national oppression, hunger, hardship, colonialism, racism and communalism. Fifty years later, poverty still stalks our globe despite the huge wealth of small privileged elites. The UN Human Development Report published this year reveals that a mere 358 of the wealthiest people in the world have acquired assets equal to the combined annual income of 230 crore people. With the backdrop of such appalling inequality and injustice, which nullify all sustainable peace, humanity is threatened with an upsurge of violence, extremism, abuse of drugs, cultural degradation and obscurantism.

The arms manufacturers and the weapons trading countries, rightly dubbed the ‘merchants of death’, who have been hit by a fall in demand for their products as a result of the end of the Cold War, are now assiduously seeking markets. Certain optimistic features such as partial arms reduction, easing of East-West tension and conflict resolution can be noticed; but unfortunately they have not been able to overshadow the stark facts of the continued wars in different parts of the world, increasing acts of military intervention, an ever-expanding arms trade, the expanded NATO military bloc and the covert attempts of certain countries to build new strategic alliances in various parts of the world.

Being an important theatre of the military activities of major powers, the Asia-Pacific region today faces complex security problems. Notwithstanding the improvement of East-West relations, the growing preoccupation with economic issues and commercial and financial linkages, the military deployment of the United States — under cover of the US Defence Department’s ‘East Asia strategic initiative’ project (April 1990) for the forward projection of American military power remains intact. The US military presence in the Pacific stretches to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf. This comprises nearly half of the US Navy’s strength, two-thirds of the US Marine Corps and an elaborate network of US military bases and facilities on foreign soil, which are an important element in the militarization of the whole region.

There are also other countries contributing to militarization. SIPRI estimates that arms imports by East Asia rose from $2.6 billion in 1983 to $4.1 billion in 1988. The corresponding figures for the South Asian subcontinent were $2.4 billion and $6.9 billion.

This dangerous spiral of military expense and rampant proliferation of sophisticated military hardware continues unabated, which inevitably heightens regional tensions, unleashes arms races and poses a growing threat to peace. This trend seriously jeopardizes the prospects of security, stability and development in these areas. Also, certain national and international circles, taking advantage of the situation, particularly in South Asia, seek to push the countries of the region into mutual distrust, suspicion and confrontation, fanning fundamentalist and communal violence and cross-border terrorism. All this is being done in covert collusion with the same elements and under the strategic framework that existed during the Cold War, aiming at thwarting people’s aspirations for peace, stability and social progress through cooperation and good-neighbourly relations.

Peace is the first basic need for overcoming the problems facing mankind. An international order that guarantees peaceful coexistence and harmonious relations among nations is therefore to be considered an essential component and initial premise for tackling the problems of poverty, deprivation and underdevelopment which cruelly afflict much of Asia, Africa and Latin America. I prefer to consider the issue of peace in relation to culture in this context. Agreeing with the conference preamble describing the United Nations as the main political forum for world peace, we may here recall few lines from Chapter IX of the Charter: ‘With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote solution of international, economic, social, health and related problems and international cultural and education cooperation.’ The linking of peace with cultural cooperation and development is very clearly emphasized here and Unesco was established on the basis of this principle.

A vital part of the programme of Unesco for this period is that of working towards a culture of peace. This culture inherently contains two main thrusts in its action: development for peace and peace for development, which is to be materialized through international cooperation. A large number of non-governmental organizations, the World Peace Council being among them, encouraged by the programmes of Unesco, joined in fulfilling the noble aim for world peace with justice and the building of a culture of peace. National, regional and international peace organizations and democratic public bodies have taken upon themselves the task of establishing a network of activities, uniting movements and popular efforts for the promotion of a culture of peace in the face of violence and war, cultivating and developing ideas of tolerance, of respect for and solidarity with all fellow beings. Following the Unesco programme, people in different countries, including Bangladesh, took active part in the prevention and solution of conflicts, in campaigns of peace education, mobilization of public opinion and the building of a mass movement promoting peace.

The prevention of war and the resolution of conflicts should be the primary responsibility of the UN and related agencies and organizations. Regrettably, the actual performance of the UN so far has in numerous cases been disappointing. In the recent period, with the UN being in the grasp of one major power, the Charter has been often flouted and UN bodies misused in the narrow interest of that power. Although nations nominally proclaim adherence to the UN Charter and describe peace as a prerequisite for social justice and progress, the precious resources of the world are being constantly wasted on the production of weapons of destruction, to the detriment of economic prosperity, national sovereignty and the growth of creative culture.

Keeping the true role of culture in view, Unesco declared in its constitution, ‘Since war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed’. In its own domain Unesco clearly realized the need for rallying the forces of the human mind to this cause — the cause of a culture of peace and the emancipation of human creativity. The defence of peace that is expected to be constructed in the minds of men through international cooperation and a joint struggle for peace, disarmament, development and social justice, therefore remain its top priority. It is here that various social movements expressing the popular and democratic will of the people and of organizations, for example anti-war organizations, trade unions, professional associations, development agencies and environmental groups have a vital role to play. They can set political agendas, mobilize public opinion and popular energies and create more lasting cross-national and cross-cultural links and an international network for the actors and builders of peace. Such a network, regionally and internationally composed of non-governmental organizations, popular campaigns and movements for a culture of peace and a world without nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, seems likely to be effective, for it would reflect the fears, concerns and aspirations of a large number of people.

To fully understand the problem and to define solutions from a practical point of view, we need to examine and evaluate concrete issues in specific situations and particular geographical areas. Taking into consideration the situation prevailing in South Asia, I may propose an action programme towards the culture of peace as an agenda for action until the year 2000 by way of acting together for peace. This programme presupposes the togetherness and united action of all forces of peace in our region. The agenda for uniting different organizations and movements along with eminent public figures corresponds with the aims and objectives of Unesco. This would address the urgent problems of our subcontinent as well as of the world.


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