For those concerned about the issues of peace and our prospects for survival, Douglas Roche provides a very compelling case for re-considering conventional wisdom and the prevailing security system. At the outset, Senator Roche writes that, “the world faces no greater challenge today than the challenge to end its relentless march to war”. (p.11) He argues that a combination of innovative thinking, educational work and action will be needed to help humanity replace the current culture of war with a culture of peace. Peace, he asserts, is a commonly shared ‘sacred right’, albeit one that ‘we the peoples’ have yet to secure and one that will require the ongoing, concerted efforts of civil society.

This book is a very powerful challenge to the proponents of militarism, nuclear weapons and the notion that violence is an inevitable way of life. He elaborates upon the ‘culture of war’, supported by the ascendance of a powerful military-industrial-scientific complex, with enormous wealth and privilege accorded to a small minority who exploit fundamentalist, simplistic yearnings for quick, violent responses. He notes that the purported ‘clash of civilizations’ is better explained as a ‘clash of extremists’, waged primarily between those who now prompt fears of an enemy to sustain their control. His case, buttressed by an overview of the attendant risks, will be difficult for critics to dispute. Once again, we are on a very dangerous trajectory; one that jeopardizes our fragile planet; undermines the prospects of those who struggle to meet their basic needs; and, one that no country can afford to sustain.

Yet, rather than another message of despair, this author provides hope for wider human security and moving on to a ‘culture of peace’ with a promising sequence of alternatives. Through creative, patient efforts, there is the prospect of empowering the United Nations to effectively maintain peace and security. By recognizing the commonality of all religions, particularly the universally-shared principle that ‘we should do unto others as we would wish them to do to us’, we could reverse the recent propaganda driving ‘fear of others’ and begin to overcome an increasingly divided, heavily-armed world. With a serious commitment to peace education, directed at all levels, we could begin to appreciate the importance of conflict resolution, reconciliation, critical reflection, disarmament, non-violent options and our increasing interdependence.

Some may question whether this will diminish the credence of those media and ‘defence’-funded academics who have produced a catalogue of articles and ‘reports’, ‘crying wolf’ for more war-fighting systems and less, if any, arms control or UN peacekeeping. However, in one of the final sections of the book, Roche points to civil society as not only increasingly active, but also as an increasingly powerful entity, demanding a more humane, peaceful world. Diverse non-governmental organizations are mobilizing to influence the global agenda. Already, some have had a profound influence over the Treaty to Ban Anti-personnel Landmines and the new International Criminal Court. Of course, many governments will still attempt to oppose, discredit and co-opt their demands, but they will be increasingly difficult to ignore.

Roche correctly concedes that, “we have not yet reached sufficient maturity of civilization to enforce the right to peace.” (p. 230) A few may contend that it is simply a ‘wish dressed up as a fact’ when he claims that, “this situation will not prevail forever”. History can be used to bolster the case for continuity, with war and the latest weaponry as the recurring, if not preferred approach for advancing national objectives. Alternatively, the unprecedented pace of change, accompanied by the rise of a transnational civil society suggests it would be premature to dismiss the new circumstances underlying the author’s point. In his words, the strength of opposing governments,“… will give way to those who demand the right to peace, just as the forces of slavery, colonialism and apartheid gave way when the opposition became strong enough. That is why developing the elements of a culture of peace…is so important. A culture of peace will not only make the world a more humane place, it will lead inexorably to the acquisition of the human right to peace.” (p.230)

The Human Right to Peace is a very timely and relevant book that addresses many critical global issues – issues that will determine our future and those of succeeding generations.
Aside from the 1997 Carnegie Commission Report on the Prevention of Deadly Conflict and numerous, occasionally tedious, UN documents, there has been insufficient attention in any systematic study on the steps necessary to develop a ‘culture of peace’. In this respect, Roche has filled an enormous void in the available literature. This book was not written solely for a select, expert audience. It stands out for being a clear, concise, and easy read. It should be required reading for students, teachers, parents, activists, officials and, hopefully, politicians.

*The Human Right to Peace, by Douglas Roche. Ottawa: Novalis, 2003. 261 pp, $24.95 paper (ISBN 2-89507-409-7) .

*H. Peter Langille, PhD, is Senior Research Associate & Human Security Fellow, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria.