What could a Department of Peace accomplish that is not currently being addressed by other governmental departments? The proposed Department of Peace would be an entity that would provide a single coherent framework for policy focus for peace. It would bring together three major components of international peace and security: peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building. Difficulty in transparency results from the way "peace and security" is defined in the government and the way in which responsibility for international security is organized. The international peace and security envelope work is divided among several federal departments such as National Defence, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Immigration. In none of these departments is "peace" the top priority. The Department of National Defence identifies its main priority as national security. Foreign Affairs deals with crisis management rather than with long-term peace building. A systemic approach for peace within the government is absent. Five key interrelated offices with a focus on conflict prevention in this new department are envisaged: Peace Education, Human and Economic Rights, Disarmament, Civilian Peace Service, and Domestic Violence. Voters want their tax dollars to be spent on peacebuilding rather than on war and the resultant destruction, including the killing of innocent civilians as necessary collateral damage. A Department of Peace is our alternative to the status quo.
How much would it cost, and where would the money come from? A Department of Peace may not require any "new" money. Many components would simply be a realignment of existing services under the new department. The federal government annually spends over $17 billion on its "international security" envelope. This amount will soon be over $20 billion. This is a considerable amount of taxpayers' contribution for which there is little transparency or public debate. Approximately 4% of this would be enough to establish and staff a Department of Peace. As its effectiveness is ascertained and developed the defence budget would be significantly reduced.
Canada is a relatively small, peaceful nation and is not a major player internationally. Wouldn't this just be a waste of our resources? Actually Canada is well respected and can have an influence on the international stage. Not being one of the biggest players and having a history of taking the lead internationally on peace initiatives is to our advantage. The peacekeeping program of the UN, which didn't exist before Lester B. Pearson proposed it, and the initiative to ban land mines, which Lloyd Axworthy played a very big role in developing, are two such initiatives. In conflict areas there is often an expressed desire for Canada to become involved and show leadership.
Aren't the militarily strong states just going to do what they want to anyway? International efforts to support just resolution of conflicts often have good results. An example is the end of apartheid in South Africa. International sanctions and boycotts, initiated through the Commonwealth with Canada playing a lead role, greatly contributed to creating the economic and social pressure needed to non-violently pressure South Africa into changing its system.
Why would a nation in conflict want to hear what we have to say or listen to our advice? Very often it's not advice that is needed but rather presence in support of human rights. International peace teams such as Peace Brigades International and Nonviolent Peace Force are non-partisan regarding the outcome of a conflict. But by their presence they make it safer for civil society organizations in the conflict zone to create movement towards a peaceful outcome. When it is safe to do so, local civil society organizations can take the lead in finding a solution to conflict.
The rich run the world and have no higher authority than profits and power. How can we change that? This is a major problem. However, the rich are a minority. The majority of ordinary citizens have to realize that we do have power, especially when we are organized. We can expect our governments to take a leadership role in developing societies that are the way we want them to be, both here in Canada and internationally. "The future belongs to the organized" so we must continue to get our message out and develop our support base. Note: It is impressive to see the front line peace-building work done by grassroots organizations in many countries afflicted with terrible conflict. These are very often class-based and resource-based conflict. They do not have the option of giving up. To see how committed, creative, and willing to take risks these people are should inspire us to do likewise.
There will always be people who want to kill and destroy for no seemingly logical reason. What do you do with them? In seeking to combat the terrorism of our modern world, new thinking is required. There is a tremendous difference between military aggression and multilateral peace operations to protect civilian populations. Our presumption should always be against the use of force and in favour of settling differences without violence. Unfortunately, reality dictates that some uses of force may be necessary at times to assure justice and prevent the greater violence that often results when aggression is unrestrained. However, a limited and focused use of force, administered within the rule of law, is very different from aggressive and often indiscriminate warfare. The former, similar to police power, is subject to legal and moral constraints and is ethically superior to war. This is where we should be heading and what we should be developing. There are a number of factors that hold the war system in place: the way our economy is run, the way we resolve (or not) our conflicts, the way we teach our kids to expect the world to be. Having a peaceful future requires an active effort undertaking of all the steps to build peace that we can think of. We are going to have to be willing to pay for that with at least a fraction of what we seem willing to pay for war. However, it will reap major benefits. Notice how there is always more money for war but never enough money for things people need, like housing, education, health care, and aid to countries that need to rebuild their societies. Graeme MacQueen of McMaster Peace Studies Centre recalls that their organization sought funding to work in Afghanistan through the 1990s, when the Russians had retreated and the people needed and wanted help from the West to rebuild. He was told then that "Afghanistan is not a priority for Canada." Why not? And why did it become a priority a decade later? Potentially we could have been more effective, while investing a smaller amount, if we'd focused on building a civil society in the 1990s.
Who is going to listen to us? Our Members of Parliament are elected by the people. Political parties often take their lead from the public. Just look at what has happened with the issue of climate change. People see it as an issue, have said so, and now politicians are falling all over themselves to look like they know what to do. It will be the same thing with peacebuilding if people give a clear message that this is what we want.
Can you institutionalize a social conscience? We can build the structures to respond to our expressed values. Take health care and public education, for example. We are providing public services and not accepting the argument of some people that it can't be done. In all faiths we find a common thread of living peacefully and justly with all peoples. Between them, these communities represent the values of the vast majority of our citizens. We should "institutionalize" these ideals, principles, and standards which are foundational to our civilization.
Isn't this just another left wing idea to be ignored by the right? Peace goes beyond left and right. It is an issue of the future of our children and children around the world. The options are to live in armed fortresses protected by mighty armies, or to work for peace and justice for all. Many studies have shown that peace and justice for all is much less expensive and much more effective than the mighty armies method.