Promises of Peace on Earth

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Each year, this effort to rate peace on earth in the past year gets harder. You could say that since the collapse of communism seven years ago, the fear of nuclear armaggedon has dwindled.

But then there is Ruth Leger Sivard, who keeps score on global wars. She says there were a record number (29) of smaller wars in 1996, from Chechnya to Peru. And since the end of World War II, more than 23 million people have been killed in 149 internal and across-border conflicts.

Funny about the mention of Chechnya and Peru. I mean "funny curious," not "funny ha ha." For even in the week before Christmas, we saw in the killing of six Red Cross workers in Chechnya and a hostage episode in Peru evidence of how fragile peace can be.

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And if peace is to be defined as the absence of a big war or the threat thereof, well, that too is a relative thing. There's no early prospect of an engagement between Russia and the United States, and our missiles are supposedly no longer targeted on each other.

But it would take about two minutes to retarget them. The START II arms reduction treaty languishes in the Russian parliament, and few take seriously the call of American and foreign generals to start winding down our nuclear arsenals with the ultimate aim of eliminating them. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser, laughs at the idea. He tells me that there is no un-inventing the nuclear bomb. The safest and cheapest thing is just to leave the arsenals where they are.

You look back over the year - in Bosnia there is no war but no peace either. And the end of 1996 in Belgrade feels like Prague, Berlin, and Bucharest in 1989. The streets alive with protests against a ruthless dictator.

In Israel and the West Bank, peace is a sometime thing. Interrupted by suicide bombings and by hardening positions between right wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the frustrated Palestinians waiting for the promises of the Oslo agreement to be made good.

SOME of the other promises of peace have not been realized. The civil war is on again in Afghanistan. The militantly Islamic Taliban is trying to impose its theocratic rule.

Haiti, with American troops gone, seems constantly on the verge of another assassination. The economic noose around Cuba has been tightened, but Fidel Castro hangs on. And Northern Ireland, where a cease-fire collapsed in an orgy of bombings, represented a melancholy setback for peace.

It wasn't war, but not peace either, when hundreds of thousands of Rwandans trekked back and forth to Zaire and Tanzania.

Well, that is how it's been this past year. Count your blessings. You're alive to read this, and I'm alive to write it.

But I don't think it adds up to what the Prince of Peace had in mind.

Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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