NCC -- A Vision of Peace in a Time of War:

What If the Church Had a Foreign Policy?

People around the world are very familiar with the stories and legends of the American Wild West. The export of American movies worldwide keeps the image alive as does the growth of American style theme parks internationally-complete with fake Western towns and shoot-em ups staged on a regular schedule.

If this is the image that many people around the world have of the USA, current events in Iraq and other place around the globe have unfortunately done nothing to dispel it. Real life American words and actions have only reinforced the image of the US as the world’s sheriff.

In this scenario, we are facing rogue gunslingers and we must shoot them before they shoot us. We might deputize a shifting coalition of the willing, but ultimately we depend on our military power, which gives us the ability to rain down “shock and awe” on our adversaries.

In this Western film genre, there is also at least one church and there is a preacher. He is wearing a black suit and carrying a well-worn Bible. He and his congregation-singing old time hymns-are a harbinger of more peaceful and civilized times to come. True, he’s got a bit part, but let’s shift the camera angle and view the town from his perspective.

That’s basically what I want to do today. Any metaphor breaks down if you stretch it too far. But by taking the preacher’s part I want to move to a serious consideration of how most church leaders view our role in the world today. If the church had a foreign policy, what would it look like?

Could there be a more important moment to ask that question than now? For the first time in our history, the United States, in clear defiance of the will of the United Nations Security Council, has waged a “preemptive” war against a hypothetical threat from another sovereign country - granted, a ruthless and brutal dictatorship - but a sovereign country nonetheless. And now we are mired in an occupation that has no end in sight and which grows more dangerous and more violent as it drags on.

Those of us who opposed the war from a moral and ethical standpoint also offered many commonsense reasons why going to war was the wrong thing to do. Common sense was in short supply more than a year ago when the Bush Administration plunged us into war, but let’s try for reason one more time. We are in a dangerous hole in Iraq, and the first principle when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. Let’s hand over authority in Iraq to the United Nations immediately … if they will have it.

We simply cannot go it alone any more. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has set a troubling precedent for US unilateralism. In the past century, the United States several times engaged in gunboat diplomacy, intervening in poor, dependent states to open markets or to foment uprisings to bring to power more friendly rulers. But the actions of the Bush Administration in Iraq are of a different order. They are the first manifestation of the Administration’s new National Security Strategy, which gives clear policy focus to the President’s vision of America’s role in the post-9/11 world. This new strategy says that the U.S. will engage in wars of “preemption” to attack our adversaries before they attack us.

We now stand in the shadow of that policy. The concerns we had before the war are now compounded during the occupation.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has been one of the world’s most brutal rulers. We all can be happy that the Iraqi people are free from his despotic rule and that of his two ruthless sons. But scenes of Iraqis rejoicing have quickly been replaced by scenes of Iraqis protesting in the streets against U.S. actions. Masses of Iraqi citizens are angry about the growing toll in civilian lives, the closing of certain Iraqi newspapers and other unpopular measures. Ordinary Iraqis are tired of the violence and outraged that the US cannot keep the peace.

All through the debate over Iraq policy, those opposing war have argued that the war’s aftermath will be the most difficult aspect of this enterprise. Winning the peace - and rebuilding a proud, nationalistic and fractious Arab Muslim state -- is much more difficult than dropping laser-guided bombs on bunkers.

More than a year into a disastrous occupation, we need to look back at what brought us to this point and to look forward to where we go from here. Those of us who believe there are peaceful ways to solve conflicts must provide an alternative vision to the unilateral paradigm thrust upon us by the Bush Administration.

In the President’s stark and fearful view of the world, this war in Iraq - and other preemptive actions - are necessary to protect our nation. He says we must act alone to preserve our way of life. But millions of Americans - as well as countless others around the world -- believe there is another, better way. We believe the United States can exercise global leadership in pursuit of peace, justice, freedom and human dignity for all persons. Today I would like to share with you the principles of a peace-centered foreign policy.

This is an urgent matter. War-minded hawks in the Administration are even now trying to use the impact of the Iraq war to coerce and intimidate Syria, North Korea, Iran, and other states. The Administration’s policy of preemption - formed in the crucible of the September 11 bombings - shapes their agenda, and we need to understand what it prescribes for our dangerous world.


It has been well documented that there are those in the Bush Administration whose desire to “finish the job” of the First Gulf War has dominated their thinking since then. But there was no consensus for such action before September 11. Within two weeks of that fateful day, the President has said, he became convinced that the United States needed to take action to disarm Saddam Hussein’s regime. Never mind that Iraq did not have any connection to the al Qaeda attacks. It is in fact quite disturbing that the President and his highly ideological team played fast and loose with intelligence reports, alleging connections between Iraq and al Qaeda that were disingenuous at best and exaggerating the reports of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The President was right, of course, that September 11 revealed the potential marriage of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction as the paramount threat to peace in our time. But the sad truth is that this war in Iraq-and the loss of life and injuries it has caused-need not have happened. Iraq was in a decrepit state and greatly restricted in its ability to expand its weapons programs.

But the war was more than useless and destructive. It actually created new terrorist threats and acted as an effective recruitment tools al Qaeda. A year ago Egyptian President Mubarak feared the war would create “a hundred new bin Ladens.” Today it is estimated that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been mobilized to resist the US occupation, the Internet carries scenes of young men in the Middle East signing up for militias to go fight the US in Iraq. Terrorist bombers have found new targets in Madrid and elsewhere. It seems that by going to war with Iraq the only thing that we have actually pre-empted is our own ability to fight terrorism.


In contrast to the preemption doctrine, we need another vision -- a practical and positive foreign policy of peacemaking. In the post-9/11 world, we recognize more than ever before that we live in a globally interdependent world. Yes, we have tasted some of the benefits of global integration, but since 9/11 America also has realized in a profoundly tragic way that our security is intimately linked to events, conditions and grievances of persons around the world.

In such a world, we need to work with others to reach solutions to the challenges we face. Terrorism, arms proliferation, the narcotics trade, displaced persons and refugees, contagious diseases such as last year’s outbreak of SARS, and scarcity of vital resources are a few of the transnational challenges that cannot be solved without international cooperation. We need to mobilize on behalf of conflict transformation, rather than conflict reaction. We must adopt a foreign policy based on civil and faith-based respect for multilateral institutions, human rights, and a fair and sustainable global economy.

I believe that, for people of faith, such a policy should come naturally-and often does. It is congruent with deeply held beliefs about God’s will for us and all creation. We find ample common ground for peacemaking even though we come from different faith traditions. The members of the National Council of Churches have articulated their faith foundation for involvement in seeking “a world bound together in intentional community, dedicated to the well-being of all people and all creation.” The phrase comes from our 1999 policy statement “Pillars of Peace for the 21st Century.” Referring to our “theological understanding that is global in nature,” the statement points to the transcending sovereignty and love of God for all creation,” the “dignity and worth of each person as a child of God, and other biblical beliefs that call us to work for peace and justice for all the world’s people.

We can take a direct and firm step from that statement of belief to a foreign policy of peacemaking. Five simple but fundamental principles, proposed here, can give substance to such a policy. . A peace-centered foreign policy must be:

Internationally engaged;

Rooted in multilateral cooperation;

Committed to collective security through arms control, deterrence, disarmament and international cooperation;

Dedicated to our best principles;

And, perhaps most importantly, proactive not reactive.


First of all, a foreign policy of peace must engage with the rest of the world. We cannot afford to retreat into isolation. But we need to have a different model of engagement than we have seen in recent years. We cannot intervene briefly and then forget about a “trouble spot” after it has been “liberated.” The U.S. has shown a tragic tendency to do this in Afghanistan, and we risk losing the peace after winning the war to oust the Taliban leadership and break up the al Qaeda training camps. In the rush to war with Iraq, the President virtually ignored budget requests to meet the immense reconstruction needs for President Karzai’s fledging government.

We must show ourselves willing to do the long-term work of developing fragile economic, political and social institutions; and patiently improving human rights. This requires persistent engagement over years, in some cases generations. Think for a moment of your own community and neighborhood, and the tremendous investment of time, sweat and resources needed to build up your local schools, houses of worship, and other institutions. We need to be engaged with a long-term helping hand to those who seek a better, freer life.

This is not to say that all problems can be solved by development or aid - they can’t - but we have increasingly in recent years moved toward being “one dimensional” in our foreign policy toolbox. Today we have far and away the strongest military, and we are quantum leaps ahead in our military technology, but the rest of our foreign policy tools have been allowed to rust: we have not funded development assistance, technical training, and democracy and capacity building sufficiently to meet the growing challenges we face. Thus, we find ourselves in a situation where the main levers of influence we have are military. That dangerously lowers the bar for deploying the military to solve a problem.

Being fully engaged internationally in a foreign policy of peacemaking means to focus more attention on preventing conflicts rather than seeking to intervene or react to crises. Nations such as Switzerland, Sweden and Canada have done important work in exploring how conflicts can be prevented and mediated, and we should look to integrate their insights into our foreign policy approach. We need to make the investments that are so critical to preventing problems in the future.


In order to be most effectively engaged internationally, we simply cannot go it alone. Even though the United States is the most powerful nation in the history of the world, the challenges we face are simply too big for our nation - or any nation now or in the future - to handle solo. Most Americans in their daily lives never see the extent of what we are up against. A third of the world - more than two billion people - live in extreme poverty, surviving on a scant fraction of what even the working poor earn in the United States, a mere couple dollars or less a day to support a family.

Grinding poverty, lack of educational opportunity, diseases that strike like plagues of biblical proportions … these combine to make fertile ground for despots and radical revolutionaries - both religious and secular. In such hostile environments, fanatics espouse violence to advance their causes. We who live under the rule of law can scarcely imagine what it is like to live in a society that lacks the foundations of law. But this is the reality for masses of the world’s citizens.

To address these threats, we need a strong United Nations and the active engagement of our democratic allies around the world. Ironically, at a time when the Bush Administration has either side-stepped the UN or tried to manipulate it, the United Nations has more clout and functions better than at any time in its history. Under the able leadership of Kofi Annan, the UN and its subsidiary bodies are playing positive roles around the globe.

The UN demonstrated its responsiveness and accountability following the September 11 attacks. Immediately afterwards, the Security Council joined us in pressuring the Taliban, and then passed resolutions to authorize international action against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The international community was mobilized to increase cooperation in fighting terrorism. In particular, the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee has been an important global “bully pulpit” to encourage all nations to crack down on terrorist financing, organizing and movement.

This has led to some dramatic breakthroughs in our global “war on terrorism,” including some high-level al Qaeda arrests and crackdowns on al Qaeda operatives in Spain, Germany, Britain, Singapore and many other nations. Even countries that traditionally have been at arm’s length from us- such as Libya - have cooperated in the campaign against al Qaeda, which we need to remember is the major threat our nation faces today.

UN agencies and other international bodies also perform a wide range of important work to feed the world’s children, assist refugees, advocate for safer labor standards, promote global biodiversity, and expand educational and cultural exchanges. Clearly, cooperation multilaterally is the most effective way to achieve results against terrorism or other international threats to peace and security. What is lacking is our willingness to fully engage and work with the UN and to work within the Security Council to seek the changes we desire.


Churches have a long history of activism on disarmament and arms control, even when the Cold War held the world in its tightest grip. In the 1950s mainline and Orthodox churches in the U.S. and the Soviet Union built relationships with each other that led them to increasingly bolder joint stances on the arms race. Today the world has changed greatly but is no less dangerous. It is time to commit ourselves anew to cooperation in disarmament and arms control.

Rather than disparaging international efforts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. should more vigorously engage with international agencies that seek to prevent the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the missiles that can transport them. But we can hardly put the genie back in the bottle. At least two dozen nations in the world today possess chemical or biological weapons, perhaps even forty nations. The United States has played a leading role in the proliferation of arms development to scores of countries. We must shift our export policies away from sowing instability in future trouble spots and instead work to curb the spread of arms.

At this moment it also would be wise to recall that our security over the past half century has been bolstered greatly by the intersecting web of alliances that grew out of World War II. NATO and other transatlantic security mechanisms have served us very well - and have taken on new importance in the past decade in response to security challenges in the Balkans. Important progress has been made since the end of the Cold War in building confidence and establishing ongoing dialogue and exchanges with our former adversary Russia - still a dangerous state with thousands of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. And yet this Administration, in its rush to overthrow Saddam Hussein on its own timetable, has trampled on these important achievements to “go it alone” with ever-shifting “coalitions of the willing.” This is rash and extremely shortsighted. One of our priorities now must be to repair the extensive damage done to our political, economic and security-related linkages with European allies and dialogue partners.

Similarly, we need to take steps to lessen the chance for conflict with other potential adversaries. The Bush Administration has little thought about the implications of its “preemption” doctrine for relations with China, and its possible incursions against Taiwan; or the dangerous armed face-off in south Asia between India and Pakistan.

And there are further positive steps we can take to increase collective security. Rather than subcontracting out our engagement in peacekeeping and civilian policing in conflict areas around the world, the U.S. should step up and develop capacity to help play a positive role in civilian policing. Seeing security in a broader context, we could follow the example of the Swiss and others and deploy “civilian peace-builders” to help create the conditions for sustainable peace and security. We should consciously seek to deploy the full range of American peacemakers as our real “first strike” policy.

Coupled with strengthening of our alliances abroad and a new activism in support of peacemaking, we need full funding for the legitimate self-defense needs of homeland security -- to make our transportation and power networks, our industries, and ports better protected from possible terrorist attacks. It is a misallocation of resources to underfund the steps we can take at home to make our nation more secure from terrorism.


Today a dangerous undercurrent of distrust, fear-and even, in some quarters, hatred-erodes our standing in world opinion. I believe that is because, in the last few years, as a nation, our walk does not match our talk.

We continue to speak of our principles and founding vision - equality under the law of all persons to the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as they choose for themselves. When we remain true to that vision, we are respected. But many post 9/11 actions that our government has taken betray that vision.

Threats to civil liberties in the name of security have multiplied in the past few years. One of the most egregious examples is the situation at Guantanamo Bay naval base where the US government is holding hundreds of prisoners who have not been charged with crimes and who have been denied access to US courts. Recently I stood in front of the steps of the Supreme Court with members of their families and with many religious leaders to demand due process for the prisoners. Neither I nor the National Council of Churches or the other leaders made any claims about the guilt or innocence of the prisoners. Rather we spoke out because the principle of due process is also being held prisoner on Guantanamo. We are determined to protect that fundamental right. We challenge the strange assertion that the US government can avoid judicial review while holding people outside our nation’s sovereign territory. The attempt to create a land beyond the law where people are without rights is troubling in the extreme. We may have a no-fly zone over Washington, but we should not have a no-legal zone anywhere. Let us hold our government to the principles of the US Constitution and to the provisions of international law.

US actions on Guantanamo, in Iraq and elsewhere have eroded the good will of many toward our nation. After 9/11, the United States enjoyed an extraordinary outpouring of sympathy and good will. In Paris and Berlin, Cairo and Amman, Santiago and Nairobi, Seoul and Tokyo, there was widespread solidarity and support for Americans in the wake of the horrific al Qaeda attacks on our shores. And that was not idle sentiment. Scores of nations took tangible steps in the global fight against terrorism, actions that were channeled and harnessed - to the Bush Administration’s credit - in a multilateral campaign to bring to justice the leaders of al Qaeda and their Taliban patrons.

But in the past few years, that goodwill and tangible cooperation has been squandered. And it is because we have strayed from our principles and the lessons we so easily could have and should have drawn from the aftermath of 9/11.

We need to reenergize and refocus our foreign policy in order to campaign for the values that make civilized life possible and sustainable. Our foreign policy should be dedicated to promoting peaceful relations among states, justice, human rights, international law, and the ideals of equality, fairness, and equal opportunity for all.

In order to live up to these ideals we must reverse the harm done to international agreements. This Administration has shown disdain for the system of international law-thus undermining the enormous benefits that stem from international standards to promote efficient and reliable commerce, protect human rights, and provide mechanisms to arbitrate and prevent conflict between adversaries. We need to redouble our commitment to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other seminal human rights covenants. We should take renewed action to help protect victims of torture and violence, to defend the voiceless and powerless, and to ensure broad and genuine enforcement of major human rights protocols.

When America exercises power most responsibly and effectively, we are able to build strong alliances through teamwork and fair play. If we pursue double standards, we undermine our claims to moral and principled leadership.


Perhaps the area where we most need a dramatic change in our foreign policy is to be proactive rather than reactive in our peacemaking. Real resources--and time, energy and commitment are needed to help shape the kind of world we want to see. The United States did this at the end of World War II. We invested in the future by helping transform former enemies into stable and durable democracies.

How can we recapture that spirit today? The Bush Administration has requested and received many BILLIONS of dollars from Congress to pursue its course in Iraq. But we are unable to mobilize even a fraction of that for proactive investments to prevent military conflict in the future. This is incredibly short sighted.

A foreign policy of peacemaking must recognize, and take the case to the American people, that of course we can’t wait until the next terrorist attack or rogue regime threatens us. But that doesn’t mean we resort to bombs. We can help prevent conflicts by working against the root causes of despair - and they are legion. Overall, our nation’s budget priorities are way out of line. At a time of war, the Administration continues to support a fiscally irresponsible policy of tax cuts.

We should establish and invest the BILLIONS needed for a Peace Promotion and War Prevention Fund to engage in proactive peacemaking by addressing the root causes of war and conflict. In our interdependent world, we must match our investment in war fighting and defense spending - which dwarfs that of all other nations - with investments in peace building and conflict prevention. In the spirit of the Marshall Plan, a half century ago, a Peace Promotion and War Prevention Fund could be devoted to improving health conditions and educational opportunity for the world’s poorest citizens. Working through effective NGOs and international organizations, as well as U.S. aid channels, we should target our resources to improving economic opportunity, good governance, and human rights observance. Increased funding of microenterprise lending and other effective anti-poverty programs could assist hard-working individuals who need a helping hand to improve their families’ situation.

Contrary to America’s popular belief, U.S. expenditures for development and institution-building are paltry. On a per capita basis, the U.S. ranks at the bottom of the 21 industrialized (OECD) countries in the share of our resources devoted to development aid for poor countries. We spent many billions of dollars to prosecute a war with Iraq, and yet we devote barely $10 billion annually for all our development assistance - little more than one tenth of one percent of our GNP. We are in a tragic cycle where we intervene to expend tens of billions to fight elective wars but take a pass on the ongoing battles we could fight against injustice, inequality, poverty and despair that fuel armed conflicts.


The principles of a peace-centered foreign policy that I have just outlined can guide us as we consider the future of Iraq. Under the US occupation the risk of civil war is growing and it will intensify as the chaos deepens. The longer the US remains and attempts to impose its will by military force, the greater the danger that the situation will spin completely out of control.

Now is the time to end our reliance on unilateral measures and support a multilateral solution under the leadership of the United Nations. I am among those calling for an emergency international summit to prepare for the transfer of management authority to the UN.

The UN has the experience in nation building and post-conflict transitions to be effectively meet the challenges-and the challenges are enormous. The Iraqi civilian population, heavily dependent before the war on UN-provided assistance through the Oil for Food Program, as problem-plagued as it appears to have been, are highly vulnerable and in need of massive assistance to survive. Half of Iraqis are children under 18 years old, and even before the war, Iraq had one of the world's worst child mortality rates: one in eight children died before age five. In the wake of war, infrastructure and distribution systems have been badly damaged and many necessities of life are still in short supply.

Taking these steps does not, however, mean abandoning American responsibilities. As the occupying power, the United States is bound by international law to guarantee the security and well being of the Iraqi people. The US will remain responsible for helping to finance humanitarian relief and economic reconstruction. These obligations will continue even after the transition process is complete and a full representative elected government is established.

Reconstruction of post-war Iraq will have a lasting impact on U.S.-Arab relations for decades. Already U.S.-Arab relations are poisoned, but if the U.S. continues to be seen as an occupying power in a prominent Muslim country, this will fuel a wave of new acts of terrorism against us.

A delicate balance must be maintained in the “nation building” exercise we have entered. After two generations of Baath Party rule, Iraq has no institutions of democratic civil society, and we need to allow time for the Iraqi people themselves to choose indigenous leaders who can genuinely represent their concerns and interests. Diverse commentators have noted that we cannot rush the process of having Iraq “select” its new leadership, and we should refrain from trying to impose a new government or hurry to organize elections or write a constitution. This needs to be developed by Iraqis over time, rather than having an American-style solution imposed on them.

This makes it all the more critical that the U.S.-led coalition quickly stabilize law and order in Iraq and then promptly turn over political and economic administration of Iraq to an internationally recognized, interim authority led by the United Nations. Similar to the process in Afghanistan, Iraq needs a transitional leadership structure led by the UN to bring together a broad-based interim authority composed of leaders from among Iraqis in country and those who have been in exile. My recommendation is that the United States should turn over the keys to Iraq on June 30th, NOT to an imposed unelected Iraqi government, but to the United Nations. The United Nations should serve as the interim governmental administrator until power can be turned over to an ELECTED Iraqi government perhaps as late as 2005.


In addition to engaging to win the peace in Iraq, where does a policy of peace take us? What are the challenges for those of us espousing peace in the months ahead? I believe there are three particular campaigns we need to wage: 1) We must thoroughly rebut and prevent a recurrence of military action according to the preemptive war doctrine. 2) We need to articulate our vision - and take action - to engage proactively in peacemaking to prevent conflicts like this in the future. 3) We need to mobilize a broad peace coalition, drawing on faith communities and other advocates for peace and justice, to build support for a foreign policy of peace, rather than a foreign policy of military preemption.

First of all, we need to discredit the terribly flawed logic of the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy. Pursuing a policy of preemptive strikes against our adversaries is a path fraught with peril. Already the true believers in the Bush Administration are talking about ways to use the Iraq war to further their campaign to intimidate and coerce others in their growing “axis of evil.” But actions against Syria, Iran or North Korea would be even more unwise than our unilateral war against Iraq, which at least was covered by the fig leaf of twelve years of UN Security Council resolutions.

The collateral damage from such a unilateral campaign of preemption is exceedingly dangerous. India, Pakistan, Russia, China are only a few of the armed and dangerous powers that could use our action as precedent for their own preemptions. We need to discredit this flawed policy, which is without root in American history or values. Force should used in self- defense, not in response to a hypothetical threat.

Secondly, let us take action to make peace a reality in communities around the world - particularly looking for ways to build sustainable roots for peace in conflictive areas. In order to prevent the need for military strikes in future crises, we need to first deploy a wide range of American "peacemakers" in order to strike against poverty, unjust rule, human rights violations and despair.

And lastly, at this time in our history, we need more than ever to look to our faith communities as advocates for peace and justice in our country and in its policies toward the rest of the world. As head of the National Council of Churches, I stand with our 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox member denominations and communions and with many other religious bodies in calling for a new peace-centered foreign policy for our nation.

As a person of faith, I believe we must first of all pray together for an end to the policy of seeking violent solutions to the world’s problems. We must pray for a just and lasting peace in Iraq and throughout the world. Then, empowered by prayer, we need to work for peace in practical ways to make a just and lasting peace a reality. Our system of government is responsive to those who organize and publicly express their views. Those of us who want to make a foreign policy of peace a reality must work to translate our views and hopes into relevant actions.

The National Council of Churches, in cooperation with the U.S. Catholic Conference and major American Jewish and Muslim groups, is organizing to proclaim an ecumenical message of tolerance and hope for a sustainable just peace. Last year at this time, in Chicago, we held a National Interfaith Summit to call for tolerance and principles of a peace-centered foreign policy. Since that time we have worked with others to organize an International Interfaith Summit, planned for October in Istanbul. The summit will provide a sustained forum for expanding interfaith understanding and respect and to prevent current hostilities from further festering into a source of distrust and hatred among people of different faiths.

When the going is hard, we will be strengthened by remembering that ours is a vocational vision that has guided and shaped civilization for millennia. Sometimes in the despair or frustration of the moment it is easy to forget that. But our vision dates from time immemorial and is enshrined in the world’s great faith traditions.

Chiseled into the walls at United Nations headquarters in New York are words taken from the Old Testament prophet Micah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

That is our vision, and we intend to work to make it a reality in our world no matter what the obstacles.