by Robert Parkins, Vanguard Magazine, January-February, 2008
When the prime minister seeks advice on military intervention or diplomatic initiatives, the experts of two departments are at his disposal. But when he wants an advocate for peace, where in government does he turn?
“At the macro level, when the prime minister needs advice when making policy or program choices around peace, there is a big vacuum,” Bill Bhaneja laments. “There is no strategic focus for peace in government.”
Bhaneja, a former senior policy advisor for science and technology with Foreign Affairs and International Trade, is part of a small group of former politicians, public servants and academics who believe an institutional element is missing within government and are calling for a Department of Peace to stand equal with National Defence and Foreign Affairs on matters of international intervention.
This might sound like the marching call for activist organizations.But such grassroots collections, though vocal in their rhetoric, each tout their own “little piece of peace, but not a coordinated strategy focused on peace in government,” Bhaneja says.
Though the group has its origins in the arms control movement, the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative (CDPI) is non-partisan. If the late 1960s and early 70s were a period of growth for internal policy guidance — the introduction of economic and science councils, new ministries — today that philosophy has given way to policy advice by think tank and other external advisors. “What we are saying is that, in the 21st century,we need capacity within the machinery of government to ensure new ideas get through,” says Bhaneja, a University of Ottawa Senior Fellow (2003-2007) who began his public service career in 1976.
Among the Society’s supporters are Senator Douglas Roche, former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, Dr. Gerald Caplan, a leading authority on genocide prevention, and Murray Thomson, co-founder of Project Ploughshares. CDPI, which has eight chapters across the country, has also drawn endorsement from some 20 national organizations, including the Canadian Pugwash Group, Council for Canadians, Physicians for Global Survival, United Church of Canada and the World Federalist Movement.
And they are not alone. Over the past four years, an international alliance has been gathering steam. To date, 24 countries including Australia, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US have sprouted organizations calling for the creation of departments or ministries of peace.
How would such a department work? The CDPI campaign lays out 10 objectives that could comprise its mandate based on the guiding principles that it would work towards building a culture of peace and developing a capacity for resolution of conflict through non-violent means.
To meet those objectives and build Canada’s reputation as a genuine peace builder, the department would require five key components, what Bhaneja calls five pillars for a sustainable peace: an office of peace education; an office of human rights; an office of nuclear disarmament; an office of civilian peace service to provide funding and training for developing Canadian expertise in mediation, resolution and reconciliation in conflict areas; and an office for conflict resolution in Canada for family or community violence — an acknowledgement to practice at home what you preach abroad.”You need the same kind of broad expertise to resolve all of those things,” he said.
The department, he adds, would also be a prime destination for graduates of academia’s many conflict resolution programs and an obvious way for the government to attract young, activist talent.
Building such a bureaucracy requires building a constituency.Over the past three years CDPI has presented the concept to the public and politicians of all stripes. The idea has been endorsed by the Green Party and accepted in principle by the caucus of the NDP. Conservative MPs have been reticent but the 22 Liberals who have heard the pitch have “responded pretty well,”says Bhaneja, who holds a PhD in public policy from the University of Manchester. “They soon realize we’re not talking about meditation and yoga — this is a serious policy for conflict resolution. We’re trying to make them comfortable with idea,but then it is up to them. This is a long term issue.”
Though the concept has not registered any strident opposition,some have questioned the name — Bhaneja admits he’d readily accept Department of Peace Building and Human Security or Peace Building and Disarmament — and the need for a full department when perhaps a secretary of state within Foreign Affairs or the Privy Council might suffice. Most have revised their opinion once the initiative is explained, he said. “It’s the absence of that core concept that is causing the problem. If you water down the profile in government, then people forget the issue.”
One might expect opposition from the military but Bhaneja notes that some of the strongest proponents of prevention of killing are military. Senator Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who lead the United Nations mission in Rwanda, has not endorsed the initiative but has become one of the best known advocates on prevention of genocide and nuclear disarmament. And British general Rupert Smith, former supreme allied commander of NATO, has made the case that industrialized warfare no longer exists, that conflicts are now timeless and fought among the people.
“Smith writes that the western forces have not won any war since the Second World War unless one considers Grenada and Falklands as wars. Since 1946, he argues, every time Western nations have become involved in a foreign war, they have, instead of a swift, decisive victory, got bogged down spending decades struggling to bring the conflict to an end. This was the case in the Balkans, the Congo, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and, of course Vietnam. There are still American troops in Korea, almost 60 years after the US first became involved. So the profound question arises, why do military advisers continue with this cover up, encouraging their political masters to seek military solutions to global conflicts without explicitly making clear the enormity of the costs involved,” Bhaneja asked. “In Afghanistan, Gen. Hillier has said it will take us more than 10 years [to rebuild].”
One of the 10 objectives for the proposed department’s mandate would be providing training for military and civilian government personnel to administer post conflict demobilization and reconstruction in war torn societies. The objective is in line with an argument by Thomas Barnett, a strategic planner and military advisor, and author of The Pentagon’s New Map, to create an American department of global security. He also calls fora division of the US military into a smaller, lethal force capable of waging war and larger, more complex force capable of building peace. “We need a military that will wage peace just as effectively as it now wages war,” he writes.
Rather than following the military into failed states, Bhaneja believes a Peace Department’s primary mission would be to ward off conflict before it begins. “We are advocating that, just as we have a cadre of foreign service officers, a cadre of development officers and military personnel, we should have a 1000-1500 person cadre of ‘conflict resolvers’ who will work on prevention in Canada and as part of a multilateral UN rapid emergency force.
“We were very pleased to see Foreign Affairs introduce the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, and one hopes that will expand. But it shows there is a need. Something is missing in government.”
If the concept seems a challenge for nations born of military conflict, Bhaneja has a counterpoint: “In Nonkilling Global Political Science, author Glenn Paige gives statistical evidence that only 2% of human population has ever killed anyone. And those 2% often have mental health problems. But for 2%, we have built this massive structure based on fear. It’s a perceived threat from within our culture. That is why it’s so important to have a focal point within government on how to develop a culture of peace.When people ask how much a department of peace would cost, we say, just 2% of the security or military envelope. And that’s about $400 million. It can be done; it’s just a question of political will.”