Given the tragic history of Okinawa, when the eight wise men of the world meet there it would be particularly appropriate if they turned their minds, in this International Year of the Culture of Peace, to the subject of ridding the world of war and genocide.

Confronted with a world that cannot be changed, reasonable people adapt and accommodate. But the turning points of history and progress in human civilization have come from those who set out to change the world. This is a story about a group of unreasonable people who met recently to set up the steering committee of a group called GlobalAction to Prevent War: An International Coalition to Stop Armed Conflict and Genocide.

War is as pervasive as the wish for peace is universal. Some of the most charismatic and influential personalities in history — Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi — have preached the renunciation of force and the need to eliminate it from human relationships.

The causes of war are many and complex. Our call to end it is single-minded and simple.

Cynics insist that war is an inherent part of human society. To end war would be to end history. Maybe. But crime and poverty, too, have always been part of human history. Any political leader who admitted to giving up on the fight to end crime or poverty would quickly be returned to private life by voters. Paradoxically, in the case of war, those who seek to abolish it are the ones who are considered soft in the head.

The 20th century illustrates the paradox only too well. On the one hand, we placed increasing normative, legislative and operational fetters on the right of countries to go to war. For example, on Aug. 27, 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed in Paris outlawing war. This was preceded by the League of Nations and followed by the United Nations.

Yet the 20th century turned out to be the most murderous in human history, with over 250 wars, including two world wars and the Cold War,and with more dead than in all previous wars of the past 2,000 years.

This deadly situation must not continue into the new century. We already have the resources and the knowledge to cut the level of armed violence drastically and make war increasingly rare. What has been missing is a program for the worldwide, systematic and continuing application of these resources and this knowledge.

GlobalAction offers such a program and is building a worldwide coalition of interested individuals, civil organizations and governments to carry it out.

For internal conflicts, we propose a broad array of conflict-prevention measures to be applied by the U.N., regional security organizations and international courts.

For conflicts between neighboring countries, GlobalAction proposes force reductions, defensively oriented changes in force structure and a set of confidence-building measures and constraints on force activities tailored to each situation.

Major powers could cooperate in preventing smaller wars among others and undertake step-by-step cuts in their own conventional and nuclear forces.

GlobalAction’s conflict-prevention and conventional-disarmament measures will promote nuclear disarmament. Countries like China, Russia and India are unlikely to relinquish nuclear weapons if the main effect of doing so is to reinforce the already large conventional superiority of the United States. Nuclear cuts will in turn facilitate conflict prevention and conventional disarmament. Other governments are not likely to slash their conventional armed forces unless convinced that nuclear weapons are on the one-way road to extinction.

GlobalAction’s deliberate focus is on violent armed conflict. The world also faces fundamental crises of poverty, environmental degradation and human-rights violations. All these challenges must be met before human security and a just peace can be achieved. To meet these challenges, many efforts must be pursued; no single campaign can deal with all of them. But efforts to address these global problems can and should complement and support one another. Progress toward the abolition of war will make it possible to focus remaining energy and efforts on resolving the fundamental structural problems. The costs of war for human development are truly horrific.

The analogy we like is with domestic violence. Faced with incidents of violence within the family, the first and most urgent order of business is to stop the violence. Only then can we look at probable causes and possible solutions, including, if necessary, separation and divorce.

GlobalAction’s program is as comprehensive and coherent as we can make it now. But it is an evolving work in progress, incorporating many suggestions from participants; readers’ ideas are very welcome at www.globalactionpw.org . Though its component measures are practical and effective, the goal of GlobalAction is ambitious and cannot be achieved quickly. But sustained, coordinated efforts can turn killing fields into playing fields and rice fields.

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