Global Priorities for Peace and Justice

By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Article for the Social Development Review
March 2001, Vol. 5, No. 1

Legislators and policy-makers operate in a sea of legal, political, economic and social concerns calling for increased attention- usually at the expense of one another.

Daily crises preoccupy the political agenda and get immediate attention. But underneath the concerns of the moment there is a continuing human crisis.

The great issues of our time - war, poverty, intolerance, environmental degradation - remain in spite of surging wealth and technological advancement. These issues are all linked, yet they are often treated separately by individuals and groups working on their own either within or without the political system. To effectively engage these issues, there needs to be an infusion of values-based principles into public policy that would establish and reinforce a common ground for all humanity: one that would emphasize the core values of respect for life, freedom, justice and equity.

A great threat to the agenda for peace is the production of weapons of all kinds - from handguns to nuclear. Their costs are reflected in the total influence militarism has in all facets of our life - political, economic, and of course, moral. Our priorities, our physical and intellectual resources, as well as our welfare are all involved. So is the structure of our very society, both domestic and international.

How can the issue of disarmament together with development be conceptualized? How can concerned citizens and non-governmental organizations approach these issues and hold their governments accountable to the majority of public opinion who want meaningful progress toward disarmament and equitable global standards?

To address these paramount issues of our time with these searching questions brings us face to face with the hardest question of all: Does 21st century humanity have the vision, the courage, the strength, the perseverance to use its vast resources to develop a common ground for all humanity rather than building the very instruments that can obliterate humanity itself? To that question we must give a resounding ÒyesÓ.

Nevertheless, hundreds of billions of dollars are continually being spent on arms and militarization when great portions of humanity are economically discriminated against and deprived of their basic human rights and requirements. Yet worthy peace initiatives and programs for human development are starved for lack of funds. These priorities must be challenged.


These facts are not indicative of some tragic twist of fate, but are the result of the choices our governments have made, and the priorities our societies pursue. It is not the resources to invest in human development that are lacking, but the political will.

For example:

What would be the impact of diverting even a fraction of global military expenditures towards uplifting the living conditions of humanity?

The United Nations Development Program estimates that an additional investment of $60 billion Ð the estimated price of the National Missile Defence System the current U.S. Administration seeks to constructÐ over the next decade would be sufficient to provide basic education to the near one billion people who do not have such access. Sixty billion dollars over the next six years could provide water and sanitation to the two billion people who have neither.

Militarism and poverty are not simply the inevitable consequences of greed and aggression, but are symptoms of a world disorder caused by putting the parts before the whole.

Because of massive transformations in technology, communication and transportation, humanity can now see itself, its unity and disunity, as no generation before could do. Humanity must also see not only its coexistence but also its commonality and the need for cooperation with one another.

Beyond all else, one great fact must stand out- the whole of the Earth is greater than the parts. Global security is of a higher order than national security, which today has become security at the expense of others.

The diverse challenges to human security carry a powerful message.

A "global ethic" does not mean a global ideology or a single unified religion, and it certainly does not mean the domination of one religion or ideology at the expense of others. It is, rather, a fundamental consensus on binding values, irrevocable standards, and personal attitudes. This ethic is the expression of a vision of peoples living peacefully together, of peoples sharing responsibility for the care of the planet.

A globalized world of peace and justice can only be achieved by fostering this global ethic. This is an ethic that is not disloyal to community or country, rather, it lifts up the consciousness of one's surroundings to a new recognition, never possible in the pre-technological age of globalization, of the interdependence of nations and systems making up the whole.

Sadly, this common ethic remains elusive in public policy.

Let us remember the contrasts between military expenditure and human development when we think of globalization and building a common ethic for peace and justice. Elimination of the instruments of violence, beating swords into ploughshares, making the transition from a culture of war, maintained and advanced by the huge war machine human industry has built up over many centuries, would be the greatest legacy we could ever leave to future generations. This must be our resolve.

Society accepts the maintenance, indeed the reliance, of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction because we accept violence. These weapons are the reflection of societyÕs willingness to commit violence. It is violence when great sections of humanity are economically discriminated against and even robbed of their right to basic human needs. It is violence when we sell arms to governments to intimidate, if not wage war against, their neighbours and even their own people.

Violence is so endemic in our culture that it has become routine. It is the ultimate violence to threaten to use nuclear weapons against other human beings -- against people we do not even know and to place in jeopardy not only their own survival as a people but the natural structure upon which all civilization rests.

Governments must rid themselves of the idea that peace and security can be bought only with weaponry. We need to foster and promote the transition from a culture of war, violence, and discrimination to a culture, an ethic, of non-violence, dialogue, and tolerance. It will have to be based on collective efforts from a variety of partners inside and outside of government. It will depend upon the ability to raise people's awareness of the fundamental human security needs and rights affecting the daily lives of millions.

This is the thinking that a Òglobal ethicÓ must represent. The term expresses the holistic nature of the comprehension required to address the worldÕs pressing needs and the multidimensional nature of peace and justice.

This involves much more than the development of a few specialists. There must be millions of contacts, mutual exchanges and understanding between individuals the world over. This would develop an awareness of other peoples and foster a sense of common interests and values.

Changing old attitudes, overtaken by the realities that inequalities in living standards and opportunity have grown "from inequitable to inhuman," is what a global ethic ought to be about. Taking steps to change what can and must be changed is the key to effective social action.

A transformation of human consciousness, as great as the transformative power of globalization itself, must occur.