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Last Updated: 05/28/2013The end of war and the promise of peacebuilding
Bob Baskin, president of the peace alliance, comments on Obama's recent speech calling for an end to the US' current state of "perpetual war" against terrorism in favour of limited and specific military campaigns. Baskin welcomes the change in tone from the US administration, and argues that it should go further by stregthening institutional mechanisms for peacebuilding within the US and addressing the root causes of terrorism through positive engagement in the international community.
Dear Peace and Conflict Monitor,
Late last week, in a speech at the National Defense University here in Washington DC, the President called for the United States to end its current state of perpetual war and refocus its national security priorities. We here at The Peace Alliance could not agree more.
President Obama stated that with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ending, we are now at a crossroads, and that it is time for the United States to ask ourselves tough questions. While much of the President’s focus in that statement was on military and intelligence priorities, The Peace Alliance would go further. We believe that the United States needs to shift our priorities and resources into proactive peacebuilding, and we believe that is best accomplished through implementation of far more significant peacebuilding measures, like the establishment of a Cabinet level United States Department of Peacebuilding, greater funding for U.S. Institute of Peace, State Department operations and USAID, among others. We also want the existing agencies to sharpen their focus to core peacebuilding objectives.
In a little over a decade, war has cost us over a trillion dollars, nearly 7,000 American lives lost, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani lives lost, and countless thousands more lives, Iraqi, Afghani, and American, forever altered from physical and emotional wounds. The costs are just too high; we cannot afford to repeat these same follies in the future. President Obama asks us to consider how we will confront threats in the future, but this is the wrong question. Instead we must ask how we can prevent these threats in the future. To do that, we must anticipate future problems and address these concerns before those situations turn violent. A US Department of Peacebuilding and other robust measures would allow us to address the root causes of terrorism, and instead of building hatred and mistrust, often through military efforts, we can build goodwill, stronger communities, stronger societies, and, springing from those, stronger democracies.
The costs, both morally and financially, are far too great for us to continue on our current course. We need to seek new solutions to the national security paradigm, and while discussions about how and when we use military and intelligence resources are useful and important, we believe that the United States faces much more fundamental questions. We must ask ourselves how we want to engage with the rest of the world. Do we want to engage in a positive way, building stronger, more prosperous, more peaceful, freer societies, or do we wish to choose a course of reckless and reactive destruction?
With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today’s threats, and how we should confront them.
So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.
Success on these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures – even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.
Bob Baskin is President of the Peace Alliance.