CNS PHOTO | ART BABYCH
About 100 pro-Ukraine demonstrators protest outside the Russian Embassy in Ottawa last month against what they called the illegal referendum in Crimea, where 95 per cent of voters cast ballots in favour of joining Russia. Douglas Roche Says a peaceful solution in the Ukraine would involve keeping the country neutral and keeping it out of NATO.
Despite the many conflicts disturbing the peace of the world, including the war in Syria and the Russia-Ukraine impasse, retired Canadian senator Douglas Roche maintains the world is moving to a more peaceful state.
That's the premise of his new book Peacemakers: How People around the World are Building a World Free of War.
"I'm not saying that everybody in the world is living in harmony or that violence has ended or that suffering is eliminated. What I am saying is that more people are freed from the physical act of warfare than ever before," Roche said in a recent interview.
"We have not arrived yet at a destination called peace but our destination is picking up speed."
The bottom line of Peacemakers is that the conditions for peace are improving because people are tired of war as a means of resolving conflict.
Roche, the founding editor of the Western Catholic Reporter, has focused on peace and security issues over his 40-year public career as member of Parliament, Canada's Ambassador for Disarmament to the UN, Vatican advisor on global security and senator.
He is the author of 21 books including How We Stopped Loving the Bomb and the Human Right to Peace.
In the course of writing Peacemakers, he conducted 60 interviews with leaders in many fields, including senior UN officials, former prime ministers, Nobel Peace Prize laureates, outstanding women and Church leaders – all of whom recognize the trend toward peace and want to build upon it.
"So for me it was a privilege to be able to do those interviews and to see the common views that such people are holding, namely that the world is being lifted up, despite the ongoing problems," Roche said in the interview.
"It takes a vision to be able to see that. And many people don't have that. I'm trying to help to build that vision."
In Peacemakers, Roche maintains there is a very strong base on which to project a more hopeful future. "A new global civilization is emerging," he says. "The advances in science, medicine, technology, communications and travel have raised standards of living everywhere."
Former MP and Senator Douglas Roche argues that the world is moving clearly, inexorably to a more peaceful state.
Between 1990 and 2010, two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources. Rates of child mortality have fallen in all regions of the world. More women are literate and educated than ever before. A new middle class is rising in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa is shucking off endemic poverty.
"The evidence of the decline of violence is piling up. Across the world, people want peace, not war," Roche says.
"There has never been a more propitious time to move forward in establishing a culture of peace that will lead, in time, to enshrining the right to peace."
People are inundated with ghastly images of brutality brought to them by round-the clock reporting of existing conflicts. But it is the scale of the reporting that has intensified, not the total number of acts of violence, maintains Roche.
He says 100 million people were killed in the wars of the 20th century.
"Today, there are virtually no wars between states," he writes, noting that in the first decade of this century, 131 warlords, dictators and the like, who had caused mass carnage were convicted of crimes against humanity in tribunals that never existed before.
He said the list of war-torn places that have given way to peace and reconciliation is long – all thanks in part to new mechanisms to improve peacekeeping, peace-building and international justice – many of them UN-sponsored mechanisms.
We are preoccupied with zones of conflict "but we must not lose sight that the world as a whole is entering the most hopeful state of peace in human history."
"There is a whole program of activities, many of which are sponsored by the United Nations or its agencies, that are literally lifting up the world and we should have a better understanding of this and not be so affected by the violence that we see on the television," Roche said in the interview.
"That's not the world. The greatest part of the world is moving in an upward direction."
Although the geo-political crisis caused by Russia's annexation of Crimea occurred after Roche's book was released, it doesn't change Roche's optimistic view of the world.
"In the Russia-Ukraine-Crimea situation, if that had happened 50 years ago, we would have already been at war over it," he says. "You know, the First World War started by the assassination of a duke. What I'm saying is that there are mechanisms now being built in that are leading the world away from war as a means of resolving conflict."
Asked for his take on the current tension between the West and Russia over Ukraine, Roche went back to the end of the Cold War.
"The West lost a great opportunity that was presented at the end of the Cold War by not coming in behind the people of Russia," he lamented.
"It was the people of Russia that defeated the Soviet Union, for heaven's sake. They needed support but the hardliners in the West, the military industrial complex, still wanted to treat Russia as an enemy and they began the expansion of NATO and that was not only an insult to Russia but it was a provocation to them."
By maintaining nuclear weapons on the soil of five European countries – Belgium, Italy, Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands as well as the United Kingdom itself and France – the West further provoked Russia as it did by trying to build a missile-defence system in Europe, which was definitely aimed at Russia.
"So in the course of my book I went to Russia. I talked to the Russian authorities and I know how they feel and they feel slighted and I agree with their feelings that the West, trying to maintain its superiority and its dominance over Russia, is not helpful to building the conditions for peace."
Roche now says the only workable solution in the Ukraine-Russia conflict is to "make Ukraine neutral and keep NATO out of Ukraine."