Peace as a transnational theme.

Author:Iriye, Akira
Position:ROUNDTABLE: REFLECTIONS ON INTERNATIONAL PEACE - Essay
 
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Peace is normally understood as the absence of war among nations. But that definition presupposes the overarching importance of nations as the key units of human association. There are, however, many other non-national entities, such as races, ethnic communities, religions, cultures, and civilizations. These entities, too, engage in conflict from time to time, as exemplified by the interracial violence and religious antagonisms in various parts of the world today and, of course, that which took place in the past. Yet why do we preserve the terms "war" and "peace" only for interstate relations? This is a very limited perspective, inasmuch as wars are a phenomenon whose appearance long preceded the formation of nations in the modern centuries; and besides, a presumed state of peace among countries can conceal serious hostilities between races or religions within and across national boundaries. Nazi Germany was technically at peace with all countries till 1939, and yet violent acts were committed there against groups of people domestically who were not considered racially acceptable. In today's world, there are no large-scale international wars, but domestic tensions and physical assaults occur daily within many countries. Terrorists wage war against states and their citizens alike, but they are not nations. To counter their threat, war preparedness in the traditional sense may be useful, perhaps, but it is much less effective than the coming together of individuals and groups to create a condition of interdependence and mutual trust. World peace must fundamentally be founded on a sense of shared humanity, regardless of which country people happen to live in. To consider war and peace purely in the context of international relations, therefore, is insufficient, even anachronistic. What we need is less an international than a transnational idea of peace.

That was already and clearly understood by those who came together to establish the United Nations in 1945. To be sure, the UN was founded as an international organization dedicated to the prevention of another aggressive war. But its Charter made clear the transnational underpinnings of peace through its emphasis on the principle of human rights as the key to world peace. The idea of human rights is, of course, a transnational one, defining the right of all individuals regardless of nationality to live in dignity and freedom. The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which was established as an indispensable arm of the UN, asserted that peace must be founded on the "hearts and minds" of individuals everywhere. Without such a foundation, no formal agreement among states would succeed in preventing war or establishing peace. It goes without saying that Andrew Carnegie and the organizations he helped establish anticipated this perspective, emphasizing that mutual understanding among peoples was the key to world peace.

Until very recently, historians have focused on the nation-state as the key unit of analysis, whether they were describing domestic developments or international affairs. International history, in particular, has developed as a field of inquiry in which scholars examine interactions among states, focusing on their efforts to fulfill their respective national interests, including by augmenting their relative power positions in the world arena. States might enter into alliances to preserve some sort of balance of power, or they might decide to go to war when such attempts have failed. This is the well-known story of the "rise and fall of the great powers," but it says little about not-so-great powers or about nonstate actors. Geopolitics, the framework in which international relations scholars study "war and peace" issues, is thus of rather limited utility inasmuch as peace tends to be considered a temporary condition between periods of war between nation-states.

It is true that in recent years some historians have rediscovered "internationalism" as an alternative way of thinking about international affairs. These scholars stress that governments often negotiate agreements that are codified as international law in order to define their conduct in peace and in war, and have established international organizations and otherwise strengthened mechanisms for peaceful relations among themselves. These efforts attest to a long history of internationalism, and many observers assume that internationalism and peace are virtually interchangeable. However, to the extent that the adjective "international" presupposes the prior existence of nations, it tends to restrict our discussion of war and peace to interstate and intergovernmental relations. Partly in order to broaden our understanding of war, peace, and related issues, scholars have begun stressing the need to add a transnational dimension to the study of international relations--even to assert that transnational relations presents a more viable conceptual framework to discuss peace than international relations.

Whereas international relations normally consist of interrelationships among states--governments, armed forces, and institutions established by nations-transnational relations focus on transactions among non-national entities (such as races and classes, as well as refugees and stateless persons) and nonstate actors (such as business enterprises, religious institutions, and nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations). Nongovernmental organizations, including the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, the...

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