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Finding the Next Frontier of Peace

In the cold war's aftermath, the task is how to manage more-complex kinds of conflicts

HAS the peace movement outlived its usefulness? For peace activists Elise and Kenneth Boulding, the question - put to them during a two-hour interview earlier this month in their book-stacked apartment near the University of Colorado campus where they both maintain offices - seems deeply relevant but slightly silly.

It is relevant because, as the cold war winds down, the once-mighty peace movement has lost its most potent motivator: the fear of an East-West nuclear conflict. Since the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Washington in 1987, American peace organizations have seen a steady drop in public support (see box below).

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But it is silly because, in the eyes of these two doyens of the international peace movement, the need for peace has never been greater.

``Everybody was mesmerized by this East-West thing,'' says Norwegian-born Elise Boulding, a sociologist and author who is secretary-general of the International Peace Research Association and a recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee. ``We didn't really understand that the basic problem is what I call the 10,000 societies living inside 168 nation states.''

By focusing on a ``simplistic, bipolar view of the international system,'' she explains, the world's peace organizations ``have not solved any of the problems of how different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups live together within states, let alone between states.'' Case in point: the ``terribly complex'' issues behind the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. She sees that situation as an example of ``something that has been going on beneath the surface for many decades that we just haven't paid attention to.''

``The critical thing,'' says her husband, Kenneth, the English-born economist whose more than 30 books have made him one of the most respected commentators on contemporary ideas, ``is how you turn enemies into opponents.'' A coiner of the term ``conflict resolution'' in the 1950s, he now prefers ``conflict management.''

``One definition of peace is `well-managed conflict,''' he explains. ``War is a very poor form of conflict management.'' The peace movement today, he says, is at last ``broadening its interests very substantially'' and paying more attention to the kinds of internal conflicts exemplified by Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Liberia.

The United Nations, he says, has been somewhat helpful in moderating internal conflicts in Cyprus and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But such efforts are ``rather crude,'' he adds, noting that ``we haven't really developed very much in the way of organized, professional skills'' for dealing with such problems.

What is more, Mrs. Boulding says, these internal problems have sometimes been exacerbated, rather than lessened, by changes in superpower relations. The dissatisfactions of minorities within East bloc nations, in particular, were kept under control by the severe repressions of the Communist governments.

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``But there is no country in the world that does not have minorities that are unhappy, dissatisfied, economically disadvantaged,'' she adds. ``So all this about problems being solved and peace breaking out - it just made me want to cry, because it was so obvious to me that all these problems that were unsolved would now rise to the surface.''

Although the need for peace has not lessened, changes in the superpower relations suggest that methods of warfare may be changing - and that nuclear weapons, in particular, may be less relevant in a world of internal rebellions, border conflicts, low-intensity warfare, and terrorism. And that, Mr. Boulding says, means that the military must adjust.

``How do you move the ethos of the military in a more creative direction?'' he asks. ``The bright people in the military recognize the jig's up - that the long-range missile and the nuclear weapon have destroyed the traditional military ethic of [personal] courage and combat.''

The need, he says, is to adjust the meaning of national security to reflect a new situation.

WHERE does that leave the peace movement? It needs to ``settle down to some local homework,'' Mrs. Boulding says, ``and begin to go through a study and rethinking period.'' At present, she explains, ``we don't have the information to be effective. There isn't a new agenda ready.''

Needed, she explains, are ways to convert from a military to a nonmilitary economy. ``What I would like to see ideally is a whole rethinking of the economy and what kind of jobs, what kind of production, what kind of economic activity [is desirable].''

Is it possible that, in the 21st century, the world will outgrow war between nations?

``Well, I think it's very conceivable,'' Mr. Boulding says. ``The area of stable peace will expand. Since the Second World War, we've had a great triangle of stable peace in Australia, Japan, and across North America to Finland - 18 countries that have no plans whatever to go to war with each other. It's just on the edge of expanding into the whole temperate zone.''

The younger nations of the tropics, however, lack the political experience and are facing grueling poverty and a severe population explosion. ``The next 50 years could be very difficult indeed,'' he says.

But he remains an optimist. ``Peace is something you have to learn - it's part of the human learning process. And how we encourage this human learning process is one of the great problems of the peace movement.''

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