The Need for a New Peace and Solidarity Vision

Peace activists have influenced the debates about foreign policies of states for centuries. Despite the fact that World War 1 which led to 20 million deaths was not averted, peace activists opposed to that war such as Jane Addams and Eugene V. Debs became models for peace advocacy for the remainder of the twentieth century.

After the next World War which added another forty million deaths to the century’s devastation, peace activists restrained the worst features of state violence and educated younger generations about war, colonialism, imperialism, and the links between the drive for oil and violence. Peace activists formed organizations such as The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, The War Resisters League, The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and Peace Action. Massive mobilizations and civil disobedience in opposition to the Vietnam War, the United States wars in Central America in the 1980s, and bombings of Serbia in the 1990s characterized protest during the last forty years of the twentieth century. During the early part of the twenty-first century movements sprung up to oppose the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the links between militarism and climate change. In addition, progressive trade unionists, feminists, communities of faith, Communists, Socialists, and some Democratic, Republican and third party activists have opposed war and the preparation for war over the years.

Given the new, more complicated international and domestic environment that has emerged since the last century, it is time to revisit the theory and practice of the peace movement. Effective approaches to peace must be adapted to new circumstances. This Peace Charter proposes three peace principles--peaceful coexistence, economic conversion, and international solidarity--which might serve as a guide to peace movement practice. 

The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence

In 1954, the governments of China and India signed a treaty based on what became known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. At the first meeting in 1955 of what would later become the Non-Aligned Nations, China articulated the Five Principles as a guide to their foreign policy. Although the sixty year old treaty between China and India based on the Five Principles was established in a different time and place, they still can serve as a standard by which the peace movement can evaluate the foreign policies of their country and others as well.

The Five Principles, as first articulated by the treaty signed on April 29, 1954, are:

  1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  2. Mutual non-aggression.
  3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
  4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit.
  5. Peaceful co-existence.

The first principle suggests that a just foreign policy requires that nations respect the territory and sovereignty of each and every country. The history of empires indicates that dominant powers failed to give minimal respect to the institutions, cultures, and economic life of citizens of other countries. The United States has been shaped in its worldview and policies by claims of “exceptionalism,” or its being “the last remaining super power” with particular obligations to oversee the conduct of other countries. Many influential foreign policy elites today still articulate the view that the United States is “the indispensable nation.”  

The second principle makes clear that a just nation does not engage in aggression against others; not in wars, subversion, covert military assaults, or in economic blockades that are designed to disrupt, destroy, and create havoc. To the contrary, the United States since the end of World War II, for example, has engaged in at least 75 military operations that have led to the deaths of at least ten million people and the displacement of millions more. The peace movement should demand that the United States and all the other countries abstain from aggression.

The third principle, paralleling the second, makes it clear that nations cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Interference takes many forms. Some are as suggested above. Others include the use of economic techniques, the internet, penetration and manipulation under the guise of religion, education, and various forms of non-governmental activities in targeted countries.

The fourth principle, assumes a very different lens or vision concerning the relationships between states and people. The old vision, derived from certain Western philosophical traditions, emphasizes the struggle of each against all. The world is a Social Darwinian world, this view suggests, in which only the strongest shall survive. An alternative vision, as suggested by this principle is that mutuality of cooperative relationships can create mutuality of benefits. Experience suggests that cooperation is the essence of human development. And, despite claims to the contrary, the vast majority of human interactions are cooperative, not competitive. Particularly the peace movement must challenge the assumption broadly marketed by militarists that war is perpetual.

Finally, and in conjunction with all of the principles articulated above, the goal of any nation’s foreign policy ought to be peaceful coexistence. To the extent that the United States violates this principle, the peace movement should demand a new agenda.

Economic Conversion

 “From Forrestal’s day to the present, semi-warriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost.

With the advent of the semi-war, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable ‘need to know.’ In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid.” (Andrew Bacevich, reviewing a biography of James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense, in The Nation, April 23, 2007).

Andrew Bacevich reminds us that a permanent war economy has been part of the political and economic landscape of the United States at least since the end of World War II.

The War Resisters League pie chart of total government spending for fiscal year 2015 indicates that 47 percent of all government spending deals with current preparation for war and past wars.

In addition, “war support” contractors, such as KBR, have made billions of dollars in the twenty-first century from military spending. Virtually every big corporation is to some degree on the Department of Defense payroll.

Because of the economic crisis which began in 2007, debate about military spending increased. In 2010 Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul initiated a study addressing needed cuts. The report prepared for them in 2010, “Debt, Deficits, and Defense,” called for across the board reductions in spending--procurement, research and development, personnel, operations and maintenance, and infrastructure---of $960 billion over the next decade. The report noted that over the last decade 65 percent of federal discretionary spending went to the military.

President Obama in January, 2010, proposed spending cuts of $480 billion over the next decade (reductions in projected increases, not existing funding). He coupled recommendations about future spending with a firm statement that the world must realize that the United States remains committed to maintaining its military superiority.

The President indicated that spending reductions in the future will be tied to greater use of “special operations,” drones, and shifting existent forces from Europe to Asia.

The magnitude of military spending represents what Bacevich referred to as the permanent war economy articulated and defended by the “semi-warriors” dominating U.S. foreign policy in each administration since World War II.

These semi-warriors gained influence after the Truman Administration accepted recommendations in National Security Document Number 68 (1950) that defense spending should always have priority over all other government programs. NSC 5412, approved by President Eisenhower, gave legitimacy to covert operations around the world allowing any president to “plausibly deny” any connections with such operations.

Subsequently virtually each president proclaimed a doctrine justifying more and more military spending--Eisenhower for the Middle East, Carter for the Persian Gulf, Reagan to rollback “the evil empire,” Clinton for “humanitarian interventions” and Bush for “pre-emptive attacks.”

The Obama administration, through speeches and actions, has constructed what might be called “the Obama Doctrine.”

First, as the last remaining superpower and the beacon of hope for the world, the United States once again reserves the right and responsibility to intervene militarily to enhance human rights anywhere.

Second, U.S. humanitarian military interventions will be carried out from time to time preferably with the support of our friends.

Third, new technologies such as drones will allow these interventions to occur without “boots on the ground.” They will be cheaper in financial and human cost (primarily for American troops).

Finally, assassinations and covert killings have made it clear that the Obama Doctrine overrides recognized judicial proceedings and the sanctity of human life.

Since the establishment of the permanent war economy in the 1940s millions of proclaimed “enemies” have been killed and seriously injured, mostly in the Global South. Permanent physical and psychological damage has been done to U.S soldiers, predominantly poor and minorities as they too are victims of war.

In addition, military spending has distorted national priorities and invested U.S. financial resources in expenditures that do not create as many jobs as investments in construction, education, or healthcare. And the permanent war economy has created a culture that celebrates violence, objectifies killing, dehumanizes enemies, and exalts super-patriotism through television, music, video games, and educational institutions.

These issues need to be more vigorously related to those raised by the grassroots campaigns that have sprung up to defend the rights of workers, women, people of color and those experiencing discrimination for various reasons; to oppose growing income and wealth inequality; and to defend working people’s homes from foreclosures.

In 1967 in reference to the massive U.S. war in Southeast Asia and desperate needs of workers at home, Dr. Martin Luther King described the fundamental connections that peace activists and all progressives must pursue: “I speak of the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

As Michael Eisenscher, National Coordinator, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) articulated in a powerful data-based essay on economic conversion:

We see this as just the beginning of a conversation.  This effort takes the struggle for new priorities to a new level -- to a struggle for a demilitarized economy and foreign policy --a struggle for a new, more just, equitable and democratic economy and society.  In the process, we will help to redefine the meaning of “national security” -- as determined not only by the security of our borders, the size of our military or the power of its arsenal, but also by whether people have real economic and social security--food security, health security, housing security, employment security and security in their old age – and a decent standard of living for all, not just the privileged few. (“Economic Conversion: From Military Addiction to Economic Sustainability: Charting the Course to a New Economy for All”).

International Solidarity

A centerpiece of the peace movement is solidarity. Solidarity refers to giving moral, intellectual, and material support to struggles for peace and justice everywhere. During the Spanish Civil War, American progressives raised money for the defenders of democracy, pressured the Roosevelt administration to give war material to the Loyalists, and even sent men and women to fight on the side of Spanish democracy. During World War II, Americans raised money for and publicly demonstrated support for the Red Army while the Soviet Union confronted 90 percent of the German army. From the 1940s until the end of the Cold War, peace and justice activists mobilized to support the Guatemalan, Cuban, Vietnamese, Salvadoran, South African and Nicaraguan people and to oppose United States policies toward these countries. 

Today, there is a major international campaign to support the Palestinian people. Initiated by many Palestinian groups, a global campaign to support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel have spread all across the globe.  Vibrant BDS campaigns have a visible presence in the United States. Campaigns seek to isolate Israel because of its perpetual violence against Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, expanding land grabs of Palestinian land in violation of international treaties and law, and discrimination against Palestinians who reside in the state of Israel.

In the end, international solidarity is based upon the assumption that violence and war somewhere is inextricably connected to violence and war elsewhere. Particularly peace activists in the United States are animated by the proposition that their own country is connected to regimes that violate human rights and participate in the economic exploitation of subject peoples. Historically peace activists have educated publics about international affairs and have advocated for changes in United States foreign policy. International solidarity advocates for and gives material support to people struggling for peace and justice wherever they are and helps build a consciousness of the unity of people across nations and cultures. As Paul Robeson suggested metaphorically, all cultures have folk music traditions using common chord structures. He was suggesting that commonalities of human experience mirror commonalities of folk traditions. Peace activists believe that the recognition of the commonalities among people can be the basis for the construction of a more peaceful world.


The Peace Charter is designed to revitalize the tradition of peace and solidarity movements of the past coupled with the context of the twenty-first century. The Peace Charter is not motivated by the desire to create a new dogma but to stimulate a conversation about the theory and practice of the peace movement in the years ahead.

The Peace Charter suggests that the peace movement might identify three core guides to action. The first, the five principles of peaceful coexistence, articulates a set of rules that should guide the conduct of nations and peoples as they relate to each other. The second, economic conversion, emphasizes a central issue of peace and justice in world affairs and in the United States as well. Military spending is wasteful, generates more wealth for the few, leads to its perpetuation, and redistributes vital societal resources from most citizens to the military/industrial complex.   The third, international solidarity, underscores the necessity of cross-national work to achieve peace and justice everywhere. The old IWW slogan proclaimed in defense of the working class is also relevant to those who work for peace and justice everywhere: “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”  

This essay includes excerpts from prior essays published in The Rag Blog and the Diary of a Heartland Radical. In addition ideas incorporated in this version were inspired by discussion during a meeting of the Peace and Solidarity Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). The conceptualization of the three peace principles was suggested by Carl Davidson.