Thursday, March 5, 2015

Peace and Security: When Will the World Know Both?

Kelly Litt currently serves with the Dominican Leadership Conference at the United Nations in New York City. She sits on five NGO committees including the Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security.

The United Nations Headquarters in New York City

In the world today, upheaval and turmoil challenge countries. Violence, bloodshed, and tears fill the daily headlines. Citizens flee their home countries because of conflict, others mourn the loss of loved ones who became victims of “collateral damage” in the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, and still others in the U.S. struggle as tensions rise while race and cultural differences seem to divide Americans. In such a world, security is needed more than ever before. However, security is often hard to define and even harder to achieve when different ideologies and policies approach the issue. The Hawks and the Doves have different views of what will make for peace. This divide is even apparent at the United Nations.

On the grounds of the United Nations Headquarters is a sculpture titled “Good Defeats Evil.” This sculpture was presented to the UN by the Soviet Union in 1990, and it depicts St. George slaying a dragon that is composed of U.S. and USSR missile fragments that were destroyed under a treaty in 1987. This sculpture is a sign and symbol of the dangers of weapons and of the UN’s commitment to disarmament.

"Good Defeats Evil" Sculpture on the United Nations Headquarters' Grounds

Yet there is not much sign of disarmament in a world that is continually plagued with news and images of conflict and violence. Around the world in places such as Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya there are seemingly endless accounts of war and tragedy. However, violence is not just something that we read about in the papers occurring across oceans; violence occurs on a daily basis here in the United States. Disagreements and arguments escalate and often turn into violent confrontations. Shootings of unarmed young black males and religious minorities have occurred in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Cleveland, Ohio; Ferguson, Missouri and Brooklyn, New York. In such a world, peace is needed, peace is essential.

These violent events are multifaceted and stem from numerous factors such as fear, racial tensions, prejudice, poverty, lack of educational and professional opportunities, and a justice system that works for some but not for all. Yet perhaps another factor that contributes to this unending cycle of violence is that countries and governments are not practicing what they preach. Violence at home is condemned, but wars wage on, often considered “necessary evils.” We march against police brutality, but don’t recognize that our government tortures prisoners of war in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Tragic events and shootings at home gain widespread media attention and inspire social media storms; yet drone strikes in places such as Yemen and Pakistan are not given much thought, even though they disproportionately kill civilians, including women and children.

Can we have peace at home while developed countries such as the United States are committing these atrocities abroad? Can we expect our lives here in the United States to be peaceful and inclusive while our brothers and sisters around the world are being denied their rights, treated unjustly, and even slaughtered? Can we expect cultural inclusion and respect within states when our government treats migrants and immigrants as second class citizens, often separating mothers from their children and holding them in detention centers as if they were criminals? Our world has become desensitized to war and killing, and our society has become highly militarized. It is a sad rarity that diplomatic or nonviolent mechanisms are used before force in response to conflict.

One of the oldest goals of the United Nations is disarmament, yet countries seem to be hoarding weapons rather than disarming. In 2013 countries around the world contributed to a global military spending of $1.739 trillion USD. Jeopardizing global security is the idea that “might makes right” and safety is found through armaments. Beyond the threat to security, weapons are harming and hindering development, gender equality, and sustainability. For peace to prevail, we must work toward inclusive and just people-centered societies.

Display at the United Nations: Quote from Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon 
and a daily worldwide military expenditure tracker

Rather than spending trillions of dollars on weapons, perpetuating this society of violence and conflict, money could be invested in education, healthcare, clean water, or sustainable agriculture.
The World Bank forecasted in 2002 that an annual investment of just $40–60 billion USD, roughly half the amount currently spent on nuclear weapons, would have been enough to meet the internationally agreed upon Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation by the target date of 2015. Unfortunately, the world has fallen short of meeting these goals and is turning now to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.  

There are approximately 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty today, 70% of whom are women. Despite these staggering numbers, governments continue to spend exorbitant amounts on military expenditures. According to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), “excessive global military spending feeds into a vicious cycle of societal instability, creating an unsuitable environment to pursue gender equality… an overtly strong military presence creates insecurity. Thus demilitarization and disarmament are essential components for achieving gender equality.” It is difficult for women to achieve equality and become empowered stakeholders when there is constant violence and an overt military presence.

Dominican Sisters and Dominican Volunteers at the Climate March 
in New York City in September 2014. (Left to Right: Sr. Pat Daly, Sr. Anne Marie Bucher, 
Kelly Litt, Jimmy Hannigan, Sr. Pat Jelly, Sr. Mary Headley, Rebecca Morgenstern)

As citizens, it is important to keep abreast of current events happening around the country. It is also imperative to not only read the newspapers and understand what is going on, but to stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters in other parts of the country who are struggling, being targeted, or facing discrimination. We must take action and be a voice for the voiceless. However, it is just as important to understand that in addition to being an American citizen (or an Italian citizen, or a Nigerian citizen, or a Pakistani citizen), we are also global citizens.

The world today is more connected than any other time in history. Information is easily relayed through the internet and other forms of fast-acting technology. We must strive to understand the interconnectedness of the world and of issues such as poverty, human trafficking, migration, climate change, and war and conflict. We cannot remain in the silos of our individual countries, but must work together on a global front to both understand the struggles of our brothers and sisters and to likewise raise awareness and take action on their behalf. Just because violence is occurring 8,000 miles away does not mean we should turn a blind eye. Just as Americans rose up against police brutality in the wake of the tragedies in Ferguson, so too should we stand up against the violence of ISIS or against the war crimes and kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram.

Living in a global community is not solely about individualism and personal conversion. Rather it is about working toward the conversion of oppressive structures in all societies throughout the globe. Citizens must take responsibility for the policies of their governments to ensure they follow international laws and treaties. Policies must align both domestically and internationally for peace to prevail. We as global citizens must urge our governmental representatives to act with integrity and respect regarding both domestic and international issues. Shifting funds from national security and weapons to human security can lead to a sustainable future. The use of weapons should no longer be the currency of foreign policy around the globe. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (2:4). We must all work to beat any swords in our lives into plowshares and to work for change and peace in our world.

Morality and ethics in foreign policy, international relations, and even domestic rule is hard to define, but it can begin in a place where our countries and governments lead by example. We must recognize the value and dignity of every human life, both inside our country’s borders and across the globe.

For more information regarding military expenditures, peace, and security check out these links:

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