As 1994 Draws to a Close, a Look Back at Peace on Earth

While there was some good news, too much war, violence prevailed

First, the relatively good news, which I fear will be a lot shorter than the bad news. Hopeful indications a year ago that three of the world's most enduring conflicts - South Africa, the Middle East, and North Ireland - might be nearing resolution have been generally sustained.

In South Africa, a multiracial society is taking shape under Nelson Mandela. In Northern Ireland, guns and bombs have fallen silent in a truce that shows promise of developing into a peace negotiation. In the Middle East, the Rabin-Arafat handshake has been followed by a gradual transfer of authority in Gaza and Jericho and preparations for West Bank elections. This has been accompanied by violence from extremists on both sides. But in the face of terrorism, the peace process has displayed amazing hardiness. A Jordan-Israel peace treaty has been added to the roster. Peace between Israel and Syria - the capstone - is not yet.

To the good news we should add conflicts resolved or averted: the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to head a democratic government in Haiti and an agreement with North Korea which, if it holds, may spare the world of having to face an outlaw nuclear power that could arm outlaws such as Iran and Libya.

The rest of this report is dismal. Ruth Leger Sivard, busy with other projects, has not updated her unique survey of global conflict this year. Last year, she recorded 29 conventional wars in progress around the world. But a new survey of Global Trends by American scholar Paul Kennedy and German scholar Ingomar Haucher records the number of wars steadily increasing, with fewer ending than starting.

In Rwanda alone, a half-million Tutsis and Hutus have been slaughtered, and probably another half-million have died of starvation and disease. Civil war and chaos have taken their toll in Somalia, the Sudan, and Angola.

In Bosnia, where former President Jimmy Carter has tried to work the magic he used in North Korea and Haiti, it is too early to speak of peace. In '94, the three-year death toll stood at 200,000. Russia found itself embroiled in hostilities with insurgents in lands on and even within its borders.

But peace on earth is not just absence of armed conflict. A notable lack of goodwill toward men generated other forms of mass suffering. Around the world, some 20 million people have been driven from their homelands - a refugee problem that rivals the dislocation caused by World War II. Add those displaced in their own countries and it is closer to 50 million.

There were uncounted acts of brutality. Laconically, Global Trends sums it up: ``Torture and maltreatment are part of war. They cannot be quantified and are rarely a part of public discussion.''

As a large part of the world seemed to sink into barbarism, much of the civilized world shrank back. From Somalia to Bosnia, international peacekeeping found itself unable to cope.

In 1994, America remained at peace in the sense of having no external enemy. But, alas, in a country ridden with violence, fear of violence, anger against those considered intruders, and doubts about its leaders, it is a stretch to talk of peace. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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