Peace is Not a Last Resort

According to Just War theory, it is war that should be considered only as a “Last Resort.” In practice, however, … Continued

According to Just War theory, it is war that should be considered only as a “Last Resort.” In practice, however, it seems that peace doesn’t get a chance until everything else has failed. And so, even this President, who has his name attached to the rationale for engaging in pre-emptive war, the so-called “Bush Doctrine,” has now, in the last year of his presidency, decided to engage a peace process for the Middle East.

The good news about peacemaking, however, is that first resort or last, there is never a bad time to choose peace over war. Almost 50 nations have been invited to send representatives to a conference this week meeting at Annapolis. While there are many veterans of the protracted struggle for peace in the Middle East who are skeptical that the long-sought peace in that region can be achieved in what remains of this president’s term, and they are probably right, that does not mean this effort is in vain.

There is another theory, called Just Peace, developed by 23 Christian scholars and peace activists who worked together for over a decade. Just Peace has ten “practice norms” that, when consistently and appropriately applied, can lead to the just and equitable resolution of conflict. This list, with commentary, can be found in the volume “JustPeacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War,” edited by Glen Stassen. As one of the architects and authors of the ten Just Peace strategies, I would like to share a few suggestions out of the ten Just Peace practice norms for the President and his team as they engage this peace process.

The large number of countries represented at the meeting is a genuine strength. Peace and security in the Middle East will not come about solely through the efforts of Israel and the Palestinians. Arab support is essential as is that of the European states and Russia. Just Peace requires consistent effort to Work with emerging cooperative forces. The U.N. Secretary General is attending and Just Peace requires that we Strengthen the United Nations, instead of undermining it.

Unfortunately, President Bush announced his intention to leave immediately after the opening welcome at Annapolis. For this effort to succeed, even modestly, the President must actually demonstrate by his actions that he is personally committed to be in the work for the duration. Similarly, Middle East arms deals or a “declaration of principles” that seems to require an “enduring” U.S. presence in Iraq go the other way. The President needs to cancel all arms sales to countries in this region as part of the practice to reduce the weapons trade and signal a willingness to get out of Iraq as the peace process takes hold as a way to reduce threat.

Finally, there is a modest sign that the most powerful of Just Peace practices was engaged today: Take independent initiatives. At the formal opening of the peace conference, the parties announced that negotiations would start Dec. 12. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took the opportunity rarely available to parties in conflict in this region to speak directly to others, especially to Arab officials in the hall. These included the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal, and Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad. He referred to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as “my friend” and said Israelis understand the humiliations that have been inflicted on Palestinians.

“We are not indifferent to the suffering,” he said. “The time has come. We want peace…We are prepared to make a painful compromise.”

That’s just five of the practices of Just Peace. Imagine what would happen if these leaders chose to use all ten.

On Faith panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • rec

    The unfortunate problem is not that Bush leff Annapolis after his opening talk. The unfortunate fact is that he waited until the last year of his presidency to make a serious effort to obtain peace in the Middle East. A time when his standing and credibility is at its lowest. Bush has made it abundantly clear throughout his time in office that he prefers war over negotiation. He views negotiation as a sign of weakness and making war as a sign of strength. It is clear to the world that this last ditch effort by Bush is a halfhearted attempt to try to salvage some positive image to his presidency.

  • Anonymous

    High atop of an office building “The Boss” had a huge office. His office furniture was the best of woods, cherry desk big enough to land a helicopter with a conference table to match that girth. In his absence the temperature of his rooms was maintained at a specific level of caloric content for his comfort alone. On his desk was a live cactus plant sent to him through florist by his wife, a reminder that there is still life in a desert. Clerks noticing his lonliness, reduced the size of his conference table providing more intimacy. They encouraged the staff to attend lunch with him so he did not eat alone. While at these luncheons the diversity of his staff became obvious to him on a personal level. He noticed that certain parties of diversity left the table to pray in secret just prior to eating.One day, while the boss was away, a clerk and office manager entered his office chambers. They checked the temperature of the room, were cognizant that everything was in order while in his absence. The office manager noticed water leaking into the room obviously coming from above this office suite. And so the office manager made a trip towards the roof through passageways used by maintenance servicing the building. The office manager realised that water had started to flood the passage ways of the maintanance facilities. That it became immediately obvious the roof above was flooded and now the water building up flooding maintanance hallways was an immediate threat to the Boss’s headquarters. There was no threat to the Boss himself being that he was absent this day, however his upper level suite of offices were in immediate threat of catastrophic consequence.The Office Manager being schooled in Business Management with superior experience at running the show, was at a loss and was panicked facing disaster. Standing in the water building up in the hallways leading down to the Office Chambers, the Office Manager became frozen. As chance would have it, survellience cameras and sensors designed as security to the Headquarters picked up the situation in real-time. Although precious time was lost, a response plan was implemented based on planning but not on appropriate response to impending disaster.First thing that became apparent to all insurance investigators was that in a climate controlled suite of offices isolated from external enviroments, no one realized just how hard the rains had been falling. Of course the building structure itself, particularly the roof, had not been designed to incorporate such massive runoff. One staffer assigned to Office management was later quoted as saying, “Maybe it was a good thing the Boss was out of town”.

  • victoria

    how can there be any credibilty whatsoever when the democratically elected leader of hamas was not even in attendance? some pundit was reporting white house speculation that laura bush may run for senate after bush leaves- (what an original idea- where’d she get that one?) how about bush/rice in 2008? day late and dollar short, but enough to put something pretty in the pres library for future generations to gobble up

  • G.D. Wolkovic

    Can you give us a few examples of a few wars that this 12-step program has managed to end?

  • BobL-VA

    Dr. Thistlehwaite,While I am normally very impressed by your positions on many issues I must take exception with this article.There are fundamental reasons the State of Israel and the surrounding Muslim countries have been in a constant state of war for 60 years. What you fail to address are these very reasons and what, if anything, can change these reasons to lead to a peaceful co-existance.Until you resolve the differences and hatreds between the Muslims and the Jews peace is only wishful thinking by people who fail to understand this is a religious conflict and not political. There are 400 million angry Muslims who firmly believe the State of Israel was illegitimately formed and amounted to an invasion of their territory. Hence, my question to you. Why should 400 million Arabs want to make peace with 6 million Jews? If I were an Arab I wouldn’t be interested in it. When you can write something that addresses this issue then maybe there will be hope for peace in the middle east.

  • DoTheRightThing

    Unilateral disarmament by the U.S. was lunacy in the time of the Soviet Union, and it is lunacy today with Islamofascism. If the U.S. ceases giving arms to the countries whose regimes are willing to oppose the militant Islamofascists, the only peace that will come to those countries is the peace of death.

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