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Vijay Mehta's Peace Beyond Borders Book Review by Ian Hackett

Review by Ian Hackett, World Federalist Party

HOW NOT TO GO TO WAR is not only the title of Vijay Mehta’s latest book, but six words that could summarize his life’s work and that of Uniting for Peace, the organization he chairs. But, unlike Vijay’s previous book, Peace Beyond Borders, in which he looked at the peace potential of international organizations, with the EU as his primary model, in How Not To Go To War, he advocates national institutions, specifically Departments for Peace at governmental level and Peace Centres at community level, as essential to the promotion of peace. The book opens with endorsements from no less than 18 celebrities, politicians and peace activists from around the world, including the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn, who “may well be … appointing a Minister for Peace & Disarmament” if he should become PM following the brexit fiasco, and John McDonnell, who introduced a Ministry of Peace Bill in the UK parliament back in 2003.

Vijay’s introduction to the book divides his argument into the ten parts that become its chapters:

1. The Enemy Within details the hold of militarism and war as job creators and provides a wealth of fascinating statistics, such as the 3.2 million personnel on the US military payroll at a cost of $5.6 trillion since 2001, and a world in which global defence spending is now running at arout $1.5 trillion a year – $1,000 for every family on the planet.

2. Departments for Peace presents the opening argument for one of the book’s 2 key proposals and shows how a fraction of the money currently spent on military pursuits could (a) make fundamental changes to a nation’s global influence and (b) promote a more inclusive and peaceful domestic culture, primarily through education. He illustrates the former with examples including the work of US Peace Corps around the world and the positive role of USIP (United States Institute of Peace) in the post-war reconstruction in the new states of the former Yugoslavia (which made me wonder about its subsequent role in Afghanistan and Iraq). But Vijay’s emphasis in this chapter soon turns to the domestic functions of Departments of Peace in promoting education and diplomacy to combat internal divisions – religious-secular, minorities-police, old-young, rich-poor, right-left, urban-rural, centre-outlier, MNC-NGO – and what he terms “the digital divide” whereby the problems of all of these divisions can now be exacerbated by the ways we use social media, specifically referencing “selective exposure” and “confirmation bias”. Vijay’s Departments of Peace would also be responsible for an arbitration and conciliation service with a wider remit than the UK’s current industrial relations ACAS; would take over responsibility for deradicalization from the Home Office and for overseas broadcasting (e.g. the BBC World Service) from the Foreign Office; and would provide personnel for institutions like UNESCO and for monitoring elections. The chapter also references the 1999 UN Declaration for a Culture of Peace and suggests that Departments of Peace would revive the fading importance of the UN and International Law, and make military organizations like NATO, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation less necessary.

3. Making Peace Pay presents the idea of cooperation between the peace movement and private enterprise – from MNC sponsorship, citing the Gates Foundation and Coca-Cola’s Small World campaigns as examples, to the production of peace-orientated consumer goods from T-shirts to mobile phone apps with a “Unique Selling Point for Peace”. Vijay lists several other examples of “shared ambitions” and suggests that the peace movement could tap “hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of cash assistance … while at the same time breaking down the suspicion and antagonism between the corporate sector and the political Left”.
4. Peace Centres, the second of Vijay’s key institutions, would be another responsibility of his Departments of Peace, and they would be much more than talking shops for peace activists. They would be huge community focal points and safe spaces for a wide range of sports and social activities, accessible to everyone, rich or poor, with a particular emphasis on providing safe spaces for young people and breaking “the connection between organized sport and toxic masculinity”, even to the extent that the centres could complement schools by providing everyone with the opportunities currently available only to private schools and some state schools in the leafy suburbs. Vijay even sees them as replacing all schools for one day a week, allowing the schools to concentrate on their academic purposes for 4 days a week in the knowledge that the centres would be improving their pupils’ social awareness as well as providing sporting and musical opportunities on the other day. Vijay acknowledges that the creation of such centres may be seen as expensive, but argues that they should attract corporate sponsorship and that, compared with the potential savings in expenditure on security, defence and law enforcement that the resulting culture of peace could bring, investment in such Peace Centres would be sound. He also argues that, once established, their use on one day a week to complement education in schools would make them indispensible and thus immune to abolition by any future myopic tax-cutting government.

5. GDP For Peace advocates a shift in spending from defence and fossil fuels to peace projects and renewable energy, but also spends a lot of words on suggesting ways to fiddle the way Gross Domestic Product is calculated to bring it more into line with general domestic well-being – a lost cause in my opinion; these are 2 different things, especially when one thinks of road traffic accidents, divorces and house fires, all of which increase GDP.

6. The Warmongers’ Economy gets the book’s readability back on track by analyzing the obscene inequalities and consequential conflict generated by globalization and providing telling examples from many countries.

7. Bullets That Think is another fascinating chapter, reviewing many of the technological changes we are witnessing and some that we can expect in the near future.

8. A Clock Ticking to World War Three chronicles the decline in the UN’s potency in preventing international conflict with examples from the Balkans to Georgia, Ukraine and the Middle-East, and speculation on possible Korean scenarios.

9. The War on Nature recognizes that the threats arising from carbon dioxide production, climate change and water shortages must be added to those of UN impotence and the unpredictability of the actors in the Korean stand-off when considering the likelihood of a third world war and, while Vijay refers to peace activists as “we” and is critical of “climate activists”, he acknowledges that “peace activism and environmental activism are no longer easily separable”. I would go further and assert that peace, climate and anti-inequality activism can only succeed in avoiding World War Three and ushering in a just and sustainable world order if they are all thoroughly integrated.

10. Making It Happen opens with a question: “What do we want out of life?” and provides some rather uncontroversial answers, but also asserts that we “treasure our own local customs, faiths and rituals [because] it is important to have a sense of home”, but I would counter that the time has come for recognizing that the planet is our home and that “local faiths, customs and rituals” need to be recognized as potentially dangerous divisive forces and treated accordingly. Vijay then moves on to make the point that even the EU (the model in his last book) is succumbing to the defence industry lobby. As far as “making it happen” goes, this is left until the very end when Vijay quotes an American peace activist’s advice to “tell your congressman that you want a Department of Peace”.

The appendices then note that the Solomon Islands, Nepal, Costa Rica, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Italy already have Departments of Peace, and that they have also been proposed by John McDonnell MP in the UK and Congressman Bill Kucinich in the USA.

I’m sure that anyone reading this book will be moved to writing to their MP to demand not only a Department of Peace, but also the community Peace Centres advocated by Vijay, both of which should be seen as essential – but not sufficient – for the achievement of a just and sustainable world peace, which will also need to be underpinned by a big reversal of the drift to ever more obscene global inequalities in wealth, a basic income for all, a quantum leap in the Green agenda, and the emergence of a global world federal government as advocated respectively in Wilkinson & Pickett’s The Spirit Level, Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists, all the Green Party MEPs and others’ Greens for a Better Europe, and my own Spring of Civilization. Any serious peace activist should read all 4 of these books as an essential complement to Vijay’s excellent How Not to Go To War.