Some thoughts on peace contests and the real world

This newspaper doesn't run lotto games. We're not into jackpots. We've never even considered the kind of circulation-building games of chance that are trendy nowadays. But we have, occasionally, asked readers to grab pens and typewriters and write us their ideas on assorted subjects.

Sometimes the exercise was serious (your thoughts on how to improve auto safety, for instance). Sometimes it was person-to-person practical (your favorite vacation haunts or recipes). Sometimes you got to vote subjective preferences (your ranking of America's and the world's most livable cities).

This season - till the end of the year - the Monitor is inviting readers to write their ideas for achieving peace (and preserving it). Many of you have already put your thoughts on paper and sent in effective entries. If you haven't started, there's still plenty of time. The very simple rules are described in an ad titled ''PEACE 2010'' on the next page.

If you've ever muttered to yourself, ''Why can't world leaders do a better job of it''; if you've ever joined peace protestors, or shaken your head at them; if you've mulled over an idea designed to change grass-roots thinking around the world, it's time to put your thoughts to the test. If you've thought about curbing terrorism or the spread of nuclear weapons, about improving food distribution or world trade, about revitalizing the UN and making better use of the World Court, or about the ethical and spiritual qualities that separate a leader interested in improving civilization from a demagogue grabbing personal power, please put those thoughts in order - and on paper.

Whatever route you see the world taking toward peace in the next quarter-century, see if you can write about it in a clear, persuasive way. We want to publish, and give wide circulation to, the winners.

This columnist is not going to be one of the final judges for the competition. For that we turn to the expertise of a former secretary-general of the United Nations, a former NATO theater commander, a former member of the White House National Security Council who dealt with war and peace issues, and the head of a leading European institute of international studies.

As a non-judge, perhaps I can suggest one approach to the subject without appearing either to coach contestants or to anticipate what the judges will choose.

Any of you having difficulty deciding where to start might try this stimulus:

Imagine you've been assigned as adviser to a world statesman. Then watch or read the news. Think through what plans you could put forward to deal effectively with the problems you have just heard described. Do you see a better system for heading off labor-management strife? For coping with guerrilla wars? For dealing with the arms race and its costs? For coping with refugees, drought, a one-crop economy, bigotry, trade warfare?

Try to think your way through to a cohesive strategy. Face the practical questions: How would you fund your plan? Would you use existing institutions, or are new ones needed? What about political opposition? How permanent is the solution? How do you persuade other leaders, other nations to agree?

Those are practical questions any decisionmaker must deal with. After that, you - and we - face one overriding question: Isn't it naive, even presumptuous, for amateurs to try to fix up the world?

We wrestled soberly with this criticism. After all, soliciting reader essays about realistic peace plans isn't quite like asking for reader ideas on making safer cars or tastier cakes.

In the end we felt a strong duty to proceed. The chief reasons are closely related:

(1) Active citizens - whether so-called average, or professionals involved in peace planning - can stimulate their leaders to be more bold in finding peaceful solutions to disputes.

(2) When leaders do take such bold steps, they need realistic backing from informed citizens if their plans are to succeed.

The use of the word ''realistic'' in the previous sentence is important. There is an old axiom that applies to peacemaking of all kinds. It reads: Be open-minded about possibilities, tough-minded about evidence. Doves are good about the former, sometimes vague about the latter. Hawks often err in the opposite direction.

One final question arises: Is this a good time for peace ventures? Quite a bit of evidence says that it is. President Reagan is already starting to do what influential aides like James Baker and friends like Sen. Paul Laxalt said Reagan would in a second term: seek ways to negotiate with Moscow and roll back the arms race. The leaders of the Politburo are tentatively responding. A peace bargaining process has started in El Salvador. The long-expected talks about an Israeli pullout from Southern Lebanon have begun. There are increasing signs that the Iran-Iraq war is stalemated.

The spectacular success story of the Asian Five - Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore - is reaching into poorer areas of the world and selling the benefits of a free economy. China is responding to these genuine leaps forward in its neighborhood with greater economic freedom. The example of China, Hungary , and even Bulgaria is affecting the more vigorous economic thinkers, the so-called Siberian-school economists, in the Soviet Union. Cold war is receding from parts of Africa. World action on drought, famine, and refugees is becoming speedier.

Many perils still face these moves in the direction of a more expansive, freer world - one that is both more competitive and more cooperative.

Superstition of the Khomeini and Armageddon ilk, trade barriers, ideological and religious bigotry, unjustified fear of resource shortages - all threaten progress. We tend to create peacemaking institutions - the UN, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Court, and the International Monetary Fund - and then let them erode when we tire of them, instead of continually seeking to improve them.

Unresolved wars (from Ulster to Afghanistan, Namibia to Cambodia) and terrorism still threaten innocent civilians. The rise in world arms costs eats into capital for constructive ventures.

But the net result is an unusually fertile time for peaceful solutions. Both the positive and negative tides listed above show the need for new thinking. Let us have yours.

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