Have We Forgotten the Path to Peace?
By JIMMY CARTER (May 27, 1999)
After the cold war, many expected that the world would enter an era of
unprecedented peace and prosperity. Those who live in developed nations
might think this is the case today, with the possible exception of the war
in Kosovo. But at the Carter Center we monitor all serious conflicts in the
world, and the reality is that the number of such wars has increased
One reason is that the United Nations was designed to deal with
international conflicts, and almost all the current ones are civil wars in
developing countries. This creates a peacemaking vacuum that is most often
filled by powerful nations that concentrate their attention on conflicts
that affect them, like those in Iraq, Bosnia and Serbia. While the war in
Kosovo rages and dominates the world's headlines, even more destructive
conflicts in developing nations are systematically ignored by the United
States and other powerful nations.
One can traverse Africa, from the Red Sea in the northeast to the
southwestern Atlantic coast, and never step on peaceful territory. Fifty
thousand people have recently perished in the war between Eritrea and
Ethiopia, and almost two million have died during the 16-year conflict in
neighboring Sudan. That war has now spilled into northern Uganda, whose
troops have joined those from Rwanda to fight in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (formerly Zaire). The other Congo (Brazzaville) is also ravaged by
civil war, and all attempts to bring peace to Angola have failed. Although
formidable commitments are being made in the Balkans, where white Europeans
are involved, no such concerted efforts are being made by leaders outside of
Africa to resolve the disputes. This gives the strong impression of racism.
Because of its dominant role in the United Nations Security Council and
NATO, the United States tends to orchestrate global peacemaking.
Unfortunately, many of these efforts are seriously flawed. We have become
increasingly inclined to sidestep the time-tested premises of negotiation,
which in most cases prevent deterioration of a bad situation and at least
offer the prospect of a bloodless solution. Abusive leaders can best be
induced by the simultaneous threat of consequences and the promise of
eward -- at least legitimacy within the international community.
The approach the United States has taken recently has been to devise a
solution that best suits its own purposes, recruit at least tacit support in
whichever forum it can best influence, provide the dominant military force,
present an ultimatum to recalcitrant parties and then take punitive action
against the entire nation to force compliance.
The often tragic result of this final decision is that already oppressed
citizens suffer, while the oppressor may feel free of further consequences
if he perpetrates even worse crimes. Through control of the news media, he
is often made to seem heroic by defending his homeland against foreign
aggression and shifting blame for economic or political woes away from
Our general purposes are admirable: to enhance peace, freedom, democracy,
human rights and economic progress. But this flawed approach is now causing
unwarranted suffering and strengthening unsavory regimes in several
countries, including Sudan, Cuba, Iraq and -- the most troubling
xample -- Serbia.
There, the international community has admirable goals of protecting the
rights of Kosovars and ending the brutal policies of Slobodan Milosevic. But
the decision to attack the entire nation has been counterproductive, and our
destruction of civilian life has now become senseless and excessively
brutal. There is little indication of success after more than 25,000 sorties
and 14,000 missiles and bombs, 4,000 of which were not precision guided.
The expected few days of aerial attacks have now lengthened into months,
while more than a million Kosovars have been forced from their homes, many
never to return even under the best of circumstances. As the American-led
force has expanded targets to inhabited areas and resorted to the use of
anti-personnel cluster bombs, the result has been damage to hospitals,
offices and residences of a half-dozen ambassadors, and the killing of
hundreds of innocent civilians and an untold number of conscripted troops.
Instead of focusing on Serbian military forces, missiles and bombs are now
concentrating on the destruction of bridges, railways, roads, electric
power, and fuel and fresh water supplies. Serbian citizens report that they
are living like cavemen, and their torment increases daily. Realizing that
we must save face but cannot change what has already been done, NATO leaders
now have three basic choices: to continue bombing ever more targets until
Yugoslavia (including Kosovo and Montenegro) is almost totally destroyed, to
rely on Russia to resolve our dilemma through indirect diplomacy, or to
accept American casualties by sending military forces into Kosovo.
So far, we are following the first, and worst, option -- and seem to be
moving toward including the third. Despite earlier denials by American and
other leaders, the recent decision to deploy a military force of 50,000
troops on the Kosovo border confirms that the use of ground troops will be
necessary to assure the return of expelled Albanians to their homes.
How did we end up in this quagmire? We have ignored some basic principles
that should be applied to the prevention or resolution of all conflicts:
Short-circuiting the long-established principles of patient negotiation
leads to war, not peace.
Bypassing the Security Council weakens the United Nations and often
alienates permanent members who may be helpful in influencing warring
The exclusion of nongovernmental organizations from peacemaking precludes
vital "second track" opportunities for resolving disputes.
Ignoring serious conflicts in Africa and other underdeveloped regions
deprives these people of justice and equal rights.
Even the most severe military or economic punishment of oppressed citizens
is unlikely to force their oppressors to yield to American demands.
The United States' insistence on the use of cluster bombs, designed to kill
or maim humans, is condemned almost universally and brings discredit on our
nation (as does our refusal to support a ban on land mines).
Even for the world's only superpower, the ends don't always justify the
Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, is chairman of the
nonprofit Carter Center, which seeks to advance peace and health around the
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
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