The Catholic Peacebuilding Network was created to pursue our call to build peace. On April 7 at The Catholic University of America and Georgetown University, and later from April 13 to 15 at the University of Notre Dame, scholars and practitioners will consider “The Future of Catholic Peacebuilding” on this anniversary of The Challenge of Peace (see http://cpn.nd.edu).
“Peace must become a verb,” notes David O’Brien, of the College of the Holy Cross. Reports from Catholic peacebuilders around the world tell stories of how peace is becoming a verb in Burundi, Colombia, the Philippines, places where the body of Christ is both suffering and working toward healing and reconciliation. Academics explore the intersections between these experiences and the church’s theology and Catholic social teaching. These papers will be chapters in a forthcoming book on the ethics and theology of Catholic peacebuilding, but the stories they draw from are still being written in the experiences of the church around the world.
It is an important time for these conversations. The good news is that peacebuilding is a growth industry. The world is witnessing an explosion in new peacebuilding institutions, because of the failures of governments and international institutions to sustain peace. For the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, the failures of post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan led to the creation of new units responsible for reconstruction and stabilization operations. Dozens of other countries and international organizations, like the United Nations, have determined they need to create new and more robust institutional capacities to build peace, and have created similar new units. Just as Catholic teaching on the just war became institutionalized around the world, from the Geneva Conventions to the U.S. military code, Catholic teachings on just peace may also be able to influence these emerging institutions.
The bad news is that so far all of these institutions have severe capacity gaps. None of them have adequate personnel or resources to pursue effectively their missions and mandates. Additionally, there are huge normative gaps. The institutions vary widely in the kinds of peace they seek. U.S. government efforts focus on short-term material repair projects (roads, bridges, oil infrastructure) that may advance U.S. national interests and the reputation of the national government and security forces. But these efforts often undermine rather than advance peace, stability and reconstruction. In attempting to complete projects quickly during a commander’s short time in an area, the trust and input of the local populations are not sought. Projects benefit corrupt individuals or warring groups (Iraq is now rated the second most corrupt country in the world), escalating conflict rather than quieting it. Profits from post-conflict reconstruction do not go to the people in country, but to U.S. private companies. Employees of private contractors in Iraq outnumber the 160,000 U.S. troops currently serving there.
Building effective civilian institutions is key to peacebuilding and human development. But the institutions being developed with funding from the Department of Defense for war on terrorism are military, not civilian institutions. Military spending in unstable countries without effective other government institutions exacerbates the conflict trap. Where civilian authority and human rights protections are weak, stronger security institutions may not serve the common good, but may abuse human rights and worsen conflict.
The U.S. military trains the military of Chad, for example, the world’s fifth-poorest and fifth-most corrupt country. Specifically, the United States trains the battalion of Chad’s military that protects the increasingly unpopular president and a government that commits serious human rights abuses in its efforts to stay in power. The Catholic Church and the people of Chad suffer from short-sighted and clumsy U.S. security efforts. These efforts are being touted as “successes” to be replicated elsewhere. The president’s 2009 budget requests more military monies for such efforts, with less oversight, transparency and attention to human rights. This is not the kind of peace we seek. Greater attention to peacebuilding is welcome. The military can play a positive role, as it did after the 2004 tsunami. But as the bishops said 25 years ago, “Reason and experience tell us that a continuing upward spiral, even in conventional arms, coupled with an unbridled increase in armed forces, instead of securing true peace will almost certainly be provocative of war.”