Real Peace, Real Security -- A Review

REAL PEACE, REAL SECURITY: The Challenges of Global Citizenship. By Sharon D. Welch. Foreword by William F. Schulz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008. xix +128 pp.

Peace and security – these are two states of being that most human beings desire. Yes, there are those who seem to relish conflict, or who glory in battle and destruction, but most people want to live in peace and security. The question that humans have wrestled with through the centuries concerns the means to this end, and to this point no one has been able to come up with a solution that resolves all conflicts and brings an end to all conflict and war. It has been assumed by many, perhaps a majority of people, that force is necessary if we wish to secure peace and security. A sizable minority, however, would disagree with this assessment. Sharon D. Welch, provost and professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School, is one who affirms nonviolence, but is also willing to hear out all voices. In Real Peace, Real Security, she offers a brief but very helpful book on this subject. In writing this book, Welch wants the reader to move beyond the debates that bedevil both “just war” advocates and pacifists. Rather than arguing whether one or the other is preferable, she seeks to push the discussion toward an end shared by both sides in the debate – peace on earth!

The book deals with such key issues as peacemaking, peace-building, peacekeeping, and creating space for an enduring security for all. She does this by attempting to bring to bear the religious, theological, and ethical traditions that are present in our world that will aid the international community in achieving this desired end. In writing this book, Welch wants to open our eyes to options that lie beyond either embracing the brutalities of war and simply standing by as genocide and crimes against humanity occur. She notes that finding this third way won’t be easy. It will take planning, patience and persistence. To move forward it is important that we understand the differences between “three constructive approaches to peace”: peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peace building. The first involves early intervention, the second bringing hostile parties into agreement, and the third seeks to create long-term structures that can help address the causes of the conflict. Each of these three stages is necessary if we are to move toward creating space for enduring security.

Although Welch is committed to nonviolence, and even pacifism, she is realist enough to understand that there may in fact be times and places where force might be necessary so as to create space for peacemaking and peace building to occur. The vision that Welch has for these forces is one that is more police action than soldiering. As we’ve seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, invasion and occupation don’t work very well. As for nonviolent direct action, which is espoused by many as an alternative to coercive force, the author reminds us that while it can be very effective there are dangers that are intrinsic to it. First, Welch notes that can with overuse become “rote and ineffective.” This is especially true of mass marches, which might rally folks committed to the cause, but do little to communicate with opponents. Second, one must understand that direct action, even if nonviolent, “is a form of coercion that cannot build peace alone.” In fact, it often escalates the conflict and can disrupt communities. Therefore, this kind of action must be followed by reconciliation and restoration (pp. 10-11). To find an effective way of achieving peace and security, requires strategies that emerge from what the author calls “aesthetic pragmatism.”

The body of this book is composed of four chapters, one each on the above mentioned peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace-building, and enduring security. She begins with peacekeeping, a concept that we often connect with the blue helmets of United Nations forces. She defines peacekeeping as “the use of multilateral armed forces to prevent large-scale war and to stop genocide and crimes against humanity” (p. 16).

In the course of this first chapter Welch introduces the reader to the organizations and people involved in this effort, including the UN peacekeeping forces. The UN has been working on this since its founding in 1945, and its work has evolved. It has been recognized that the success of this effort requires that the military component be integrated with others – political, humanitarian, and dealing with human rights. In addition to exploring this evolution, Welch turns to ways in which the international community can respond to genocide and crimes against humanity. She notes that as of yet the UN has not been able to create the structures or the forces that can be used to prevent or stop criminal acts such as those happening in Darfur. One of the concerns she raises with regard to peacekeeping efforts is that there is a lack of consistency. To give an example, she points out the differences in response toward situations in Africa as opposed to Europe. There is also the problem of conflicting interests by the major powers. In exploring these questions she raises the issues of international consensus and the role of the just war tradition. Ultimately, she concludes that while force may in the end be necessary to prevent or stop a catastrophic event, it is in itself not sufficient. She writes:
The value of peacekeeping is not in resolving conflict, but in providing the space in which enduring security and sustainable peace may be created through the long-term nonviolent work of obtaining comprehensive political assent and participation (p. 40).

If peacekeeping is often a necessary first step, it must lead to peacemaking and then peace-building if an enduring security is to be achieved.

Peacemaking is the subject of the second chapter. This involves two different tracks of diplomacy. The first track is one that seeks to develop comprehensive peace accords. This often comes to pass only after the parties have reached a stalemate, where both sides realize that resolution is nowhere in sight, or when sufficient pressure is placed on the parties from both inside and outside the conflict that the parties realize it is in their best interest to negotiate. Once this happens, then reconstruction can begin. If track one diplomacy focuses on the political leaders, track two seeks to bring the citizenry into the picture. It is the process of gaining popular support for negotiated accords. If peacekeeping is designed to provide space so that political assent and participation can be achieved, peacemaking is designed to “create the space in which participatory peace may be forged.” This happens, as the parties involved address “legitimate expectations for fundamental social and economic change” (p. 51).

Peacemaking is designed to create the space for peace-building to take place. This involves three components – “waging conflict nonviolently, building capacity to meet basic needs, and transforming relationships” (p. 54). In working to build peace, it needs to be remembered that the goal is not to remove conflict, but to change the way it is dealt with. This is the key to security – until the relationships between the parties to the conflict are changed, the potential for renewed conflict is ever-present. Lasting justice requires “restitution, reconciliation, and reintegration,” and the key to this is the practice of “restorative justice.”

Peace keeping, peace making, and peace building form three essential parts of the movement toward “enduring security.” Achievement of this security, will not come by way of unilateral military dominance and American exceptionalism, which is the neo-conservative view that fueled the “Bush Doctrine.” President Obama has at points tried to move away from this “doctrine,” but it is deeply entrenched in the American psyche and thus difficult to move off of. Instead of unilateralism, Welch pushes us to consider those voices that call for multilateral action. It is a doctrine rooted in soft power and recognizes the limits of violence to accomplish this goal. As we look toward this hoped for security, it’s important to know that religion can be both a source of violence and a counter to violence. Some religions, such as Buddhism, with its focus on enlightenment can end up with quietism, while Christianity, with its more activist faith can end up with crusades. The key is not falling into either of these traps. And while crusades would more likely fall into the realm of neo-conservative activism, Welch warns Progressives and leftists that they can easily fall into self-righteousness.

In Real Peace, Real Security offers a sober and practical vision for achieving true security. Such security will come, not at the point of the sword, nor will it come from marches or rallies. It will come as we take the difficult steps toward keeping, making, and building peace. It comes when we recognize our own limits and fragility, that on both sides of the debate on the use of force there can be unintended consequences. It will require honesty and hope, along with what Welch calls “aesthetic pragmatism.” We must begin the move toward true peace, but recognizing that we must deal with the world as it is. This is a book deeply rooted in a commitment to nonviolence, but it is also deeply rooted in a pragmatic sense of what can be done and what must be done. As one who struggles with this issue, and has been unable to move toward pacifism, this book offers a helpful middle way, that in the end might lead to security without violence.


Rev. Cornwall:

Many thanks for your extensive and appreciative review of "Real Peace, Real Security" by Sharon Welch, provost of Meadville Lombard Theological School.

We appreciate your interest and thoughtfulness.

Douglass Davidoff
Consultant for External Communications
Meadville Lombard Office of Development and Alumni/ae Relations

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