A Civilizational Approach


(Special Reference to the UNO and Regional Organisations in Peace-making, Peace-building and Peace-keeping)


E. P. Menon


Conflict is part of nature, part of life. Everything has two sides - the positive and the negative, plus and minus. In many ways one influences the other. Rather, without recognition of the negative, value of the positive cannot be adequately measured. Often pain follows pleasure and tears follow laughter. Because we are aware of the darkness, the meaning and joy of brightness is immense. This is the basic law of life.

Therefore, conflict need not be always considered as a negative or dreadful entity. In dialectical relationship, conflict of ideas, conflict of interests and conflict of objectives will produce results in such a way that they may not be and need not be fully satisfactory to all contending parties. Depending on the nature of interest, solution to the problem is bound to assume certain specific characteristics relevant to a given context.

Considering all these factors, it can be summarised that the most important part of the 'conflict-resolution' process is the sincere attempt to get a clear understanding of the causes for the conflict from both sides. In the expediency of the situation or due to the commitment to a pre-determined destination, quite often the contending parties tend to ignore the small issues on the periphery, though they are closely related to the core of contention. In such situation it is extremely difficult to reach a proper understanding and positive solution.

Clash of interest is the root cause of all conflicts and wars in human society. Most dominant of all conflicting interests among human beings are the material ones and the emotional ones. "Life sustains on life", said the ancient sages from their own intense experiences and closest observations of the games of nature. For a piece of food, for a piece of land on which shelter had to be constructed, there have been fights. For the sake of possessing or protecting the female partner in sex, the male members used to fight each other. Slowly, when group and community consciousness developed and small societies formed, the struggle and fight began to assume larger dimensions. Consequently, loss and suffering for individual members as well as groups and clans also assumed larger proportions.

At the same time, it can be assumed, good sense, parallel sense of justice and fair-play also developed among the individuals as well as the conflicting groups. Mutual effort in understanding the causes played a constructive role, while earnest desire to avoid tensions played a civilizational role in the scheme of things as humanity evolved from the earliest "might is right" stage to the most modern knowledge-centered global collective-survival stage. At all the various steps in the process, positive and negative values and aspirations did make their share of contribution to the larger objective of conflict-resolution.

However, the kind of structural re-organisation of life-sustaining properties which should have taken place simultaneously, did not take place due to the greedy and acquisitive nature of humans. Therefore, local conflicts, regional conflicts, national conflicts and international conflicts occurred frequently, changing the course of history, geographical boundaries and cultural dimensions. Thus, by the time humanity bade farewell to the twentieth century, it had experienced two terrible global wars in which most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction were also brought to play resulting unparalleled pain and destruction. Describing the twentieth century predicament a famous Indian scientist, C.V. Raman, had lamented: "Take the pages of European history, every page is soaked and coloured by human blood."

Against the above background, now the sincere urge for finding out peaceful settlement of problems has become a universal reality. Otherwise, history has taught us that violence has become so violent that it destroys its own purpose. In other words, sincere search for peaceful and constructive resolution of conflicts has become an inevitable necessity for humankind, thanks to the experiences of the last century. To achieve the desired result two essential pre-requisites must be given top priority in and by all societies across the world. They are : (1) Conscious, deliberate efforts at all levels to create social equality among all sections of people; (2) Creation of alternate economic philosophy and structure which would ensure full and equitable material justice to all the six-and-odd billions of inhabitants on earth. Undoubtedly, this is the most Herculean task confronting the world today.

It is in this context that one should study and understand the greatest contributions made by Karl Marx and M. K. Gandhi. Instantly I am aware of the fact that there can be many eye-brows raising in astonishment: "How dare you put these two in the same basket?" Yes, they are two sides of the same coin. They were totally committed to one single ultimate core objective: Welfare and Happiness of All Humans on Earth.

Both of them sought to analyze the causes for conflicts and then find ways and means to handle them in order to reach an amicable settlement. However, due to historical factors, cultural influences and personal predicaments, their studies, approaches and conclusions took different dimensions. Marx, like a true and dedicated scientist, considered the whole of humanity as his laboratory and thoroughly studied all the complexities of relationships, ideas and philosophies that influenced human lives and the forces that operated and determined human behaviours and actions, ever since civilizations took shape. When he found that material factors and interests were the primary determinants of all human actions and relationships, realistically he could draw certain conclusions about the enormous amount of violence that had been used by certain sections of people over the vast majority of humans. Thus developed two distinct classes - the "exploiters" and the "exploited". In order to justify their socio-economic philosophies and actions, the exploiting class had conveniently 'invented' and systematically 'sustained' several rules and regulations, instruments and structures, which would always work against the interest of the majority and which would manufacture such concepts and ideas in order to stifle the conscience of millions down the ages. Result was concepts like 'god', 'fate', 'salvation', 'sin', 'sanctity' etc. which played havoc in all normal and natural relationships of human beings. At all stages of the so-called 'civilizational advance' humans are supposed to have reached by now, the role, character and structure of violence have only increased. In other words, power of the latent violence, the inherent violence, is so subtle that it has become part and parcel of all human relations and activities.

It was precisely for the above reason that Marx predicted the "inevitability of violence" in the process of social action and transformation that would eventually lead to the realisation of a "classless and just society". This conclusion of Marx has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by several people in several ways, based on their own inner light, sincerity of purpose, subjective observations and external experiences.

On the other hand, Gandhi does not believe in the "inevitability of violence" in the process of social transformation. His total rejection of violence as an 'instrument for change' and his full commitment to the process of non-violence emerge from a purely personal desire, motivated by his 'call of conscience', conditioned by the highest level of humanitarian understanding combined with his unflinching faith in the concept of a 'supreme power'. Gandhi insists that through direct dialogue, based on emotional commitment to 'that which is good in the opponent too', and with the application of the theory of 'non-violent non-cooperation', if necessary, the desired personal and social objective can be achieved. This is a participatory civilizational approach.

Now the future of humanity calls for a commitment to the confluence of these two approaches, which should be made free from various prejudices and pre-conditioned notions. Then resolution of conflicts would assume more positive and qualitative characteristics. Reason and emotion would thus play a more co-operative role pushing humans further up on the ladder of civilization. However, there are some practical pre-requisites without which the efforts can not bear fruit. They should be looked into from a purely materialistic and humanistic angle.

To begin with, four simple questions should be asked and impartial answers sought. Who owns this earth? Who controls this earth? Who decides about this earth? And who enjoys this earth? One of the latest UN calculations has concluded that the top 20% of humans in this world have 82.7% of the total wealth of the world at their disposal, while the bottom 20% of humans have only 1.7% of the world's wealth at their command. The remaining 60% of people at the middle level enjoy 15.6%. As long as this economic equation is deliberately maintained in this world, can we ever expect any 'peaceful solution' to most of the problems confronting humanity? The answer is a simple no. It is in this context that we should study the role of UNO and explore the possibility of building and sustaining a peaceful world.

The bitter experiences and enormous losses suffered by nations in the First World War gave birth to a collective global entity called League of Nations, in order to prevent such future conflicts as well as to create and maintain better relationships among nations. But it collapsed soon because of the uncompromising positions adopted by conflicting parties and lack of organisational strength which could intervene effectively and impartially. Two decades later when the world experienced the second world war, it was impossible for any nation or thinking person to remain indifferent to the compelling need of a thorough mechanism which should be able to prevent future wars, create conditions to reduce conflicts and play the role of peace-keeper as well. The consequent product is the UNO.

During the last 56 years of its existence the UN has played significant roles at various levels and regions. More than the political wings of the UN, its social, cultural and educational wings have done tremendous work and produced results. However, as long as intense nationalism and uncompromising allegiance to national sovereignty still play dominant role in international relations, the UN will not be effective enough in its peace-keeping obligations. Also in the absence of any sort of 'UN Peace Army' which could effectively intervene between two fighting parties to create peace and maintain it, nations will use their own arbitrary 'rights' and 'claims' to wage war. The 1991 Iraq-Kuwait war and US-Iraq war are concrete examples. As violent conflicts are going to be on the increase in the 21st century, especially since the 'N-club' is alarmingly expanding its membership, the UN Charter will need amendment to give itself more power of intervention.

Regional non-military alliances and organisations like the NAM, OAU, ASEAN, SAARC, and EU are extremely important and useful in the emerging global scenario for peace-building and peace-keeping. These organisations are already playing several positive and constructive roles in economic, social, cultural, educational, and diplomatic relations, thus automatically reducing the burden on UN in the long run. More such regional groupings could be created with specific agenda and objective in the common interest of the constituent nations. This process will help to reduce the terrible social and economic injustices on the people of developing countries.

Only such concrete co-operative developmental efforts and comprehensive planning for building from below can take the world forward to better peaceful atmosphere. Simultaneously, causes for conflicts will be reduced, methods for resolutions will improve in quality. This means clearer understanding of issues and greater participation of people in a non-violent and democratic manner. Recognition, respect, reciprocity and dialogue become the key words to the entire exercise and desired result.