The New York Times
May 27, 1999
Have We Forgotten the Path to Peace?
By JIMMY CARTER
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 dramatically.
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 reward -- 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 himself.
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 example -- 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
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.
S o 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
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 parties.
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
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
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 world.
Back to texts' page
Back to index page
This page has been visited times.