Sunday, November 11, 2007

Announcing: The Armistice Project -- In the United States, we're celebrating Veterans Day. There are ceremonies on the National Mall, most notably at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Across the country, there are the usual parades, and the television has the usual bevy of films celebrating heroic battles, like "The Longest Day" and "We Were Soldiers." While Americans honor a holiday, American troops are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, facing the twin dangers of IEDs and ambush.

The rest of the world remembers this date in history a little differently. Across Europe, in Australia, in many other countries, today is Armistice Day. Eighty-nine years ago, the great Western powers -- the allied Entente armies of the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, reached agreement to stop fighting with the Central powers, consisting of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires. The agreed cease-fire wasn't immediate - it was scheduled to take place on this day, 89 years ago. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, the slaughter that was once called the Great War came to an end. That is the Armistice which the world remembers this day.

Eleven years from now, we will commemorate the centennial -- the 100th anniversary of that most famous cease-fire. Of course, that Armistice ended a war we now know as the First World War. At the time, the fight was described as "The War to End All Wars." Obviously, that proved to be an overly optimistic prediction, as various conflicts erupted in the late 1930s, and eventually turned into the still greater conflagration of the Second World War. Much effort has been put into avoiding a Third World War, but there have been literally hundreds of other regional conflicts in the years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to that most terrible of wars.

We are still, as the NGO calls it, a World at War. By this group's count, there have been 1883 separate conflicts -- separate either in time, geography, combatants or events, just in the years since WWII ended in 1945.

Currently, according to another NGO, Ploughshares, there are currently 29 ongoing conflicts. That count is likely to hit 30 in the coming weeks, if, as expected, Ethiopia and Eritrea go to war. Even as I write this, armies are massing in that border region.

Concern about the carnage and death toll from mankind's seemingly endless series of armed conflicts is hardly a new phenomenon. As long as there has been recorded history, humans have longed for peace. The Bible speaks of a day when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares." Even governments have tried to end all war. In 1928, many nations signed on to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which called for "the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy."

As discouraging as our history of violence can be, it is important to remember that, except for those 29 conflicts (some of which are in a state of cease-fire, including most obviously, the Israel-Hezbollah war in the Lebanon border region), every war that was ever started eventually ended. From that hopeful realization, comes the dream that a global peace is possible.

Numerous organizations have dedicated themselves to the promotion of peaceful resolution of conflicts. There are so many groups, small and large in number and focus, that it is impossible to compile a comprehensive list. Notable ones include the above-mentioned Ploughshares, the Centre for Conflict Resolution, and The International Institute for Strategic Studies . Leading American groups include The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for Strategic and International Studies , and the U.S. gov't-created United States Institute of Peace.

While the above-mentioned groups represent only a small sample of NGOs focused on conflict resolution and education, any such enumeration must include the largest organization or body contributing to the furtherance and maintenance of a peaceful globe: the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). There are currently 20 peacekeeping operations supported by the DPKO.

The United Nations itself is actually the preeminent organization in this arena -- the promotion of peaceful diplomacy and international relations. The organization was founded in the aftermath of WWII, by the nations of a war-weary world. The very first line in the U.N. Charter declares the nations' determination "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

Of course, the U.N. has had very mixed results in pursuing that end. In Korea and in the first Gulf War, the organization acted to authorize the member states to conduct military operations, in response to significant breaches of the peace. Sometimes, it seems, conflict is unavoidable, or at least, justified. Article I of the U.N. Charter declares the organization's purpose to "maintain international peace and security." It is understood that to achieve "that end" it is necessary "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace."

Any advocate of peace must understand that it the first principle of international law is the right of self-defense. With the advent of U.N., that right has been expanded to include the right of the organization to authorize actions in collective defense -- that is the right of nations to intervene and protect other nations, or even threatened peoples within nations. That latter principle is understood as the right of Humanitarian Intervention. However, these rights stand as exceptions to the overarching principle established with the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, that it is a grave breach of peace and a crime to wage aggressive war.

Peace is, clearly, a complicated business, and has always been achieved on a piecemeal basis. In recent years, the United Nations has been the focus of efforts to go beyond piecemeal conflict resolution. In 1981, the United Nations created a yearly event designated as International Peace Day. The UN's resolution declared
"that the third Tuesday of September, the opening day of the regular session of the General Assembly, shall be officially dedicated and observed as the International Day of Peace and shall be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples." The general concept was "to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as of the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways."

Twenty years after that resolution was first adopted, the UN amended the original resolution, by declaring that the International Day of Peace would always be September 21. The original "Third Tuesday in September" was meant to commemorate the opening of the first UN General Assembly. It was decided to fix a permanent date, rather than continue the third Tuesday tradition. Somewhat ironically, this resolution was adopted less than three weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The 2001 resolution also included an "invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day."

To date, not one nation or combatant militia group has accepted that invitation.

I believe what is lacking in this effort is the symbolism needed to coalesce vague aspirations into a concerted effort to bring about a world-wide cease-fire. I believe that the coming 100th anniversary -- the centennial observation -- of the original WWI Armistice offers the necessary symbolism. I propose an effort to call for a new United Nations' resolution, and a global coalition of committed NGOS and governments, that would call for a universal cessation of hostilities on November 11th, 2018.

It is with that belief that I have begun to organize a new NGO dedicated solely to this effort. I have dubbed the effort "The Armistice Project." Because of admittedly halted efforts, the website, and the project itself, is still very much a work in progress. I am just laying the foundations, but I am using this moment to fully dedicate myself to the realization of the project goals. I ask all those interested in getting involved to contact me. I haven't worked out all the bugs yet. There is a contact link at the project website (the link is above). However, for now, you can also write me at

Why today? It is 11 years until the centennial day. 11 years, until the world observes the 100th anniversary of the the cease-fire that began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Today, I announce an 11 year campaign. The goals are still a bit undefined, We can work for a day-long cessation of hostilities, as the U.N. has tried to do in the past. Or we can use that day as the platform for a greater effort aimed at ending all, or as many of the ongoing conflicts, as possible. The original International Day of Peace resolution called for the U.N's Economic and Social Committee to investigate "the possibility of declaring an International Year of Peace at the first practicable opportunity." The UN's ECOSOC has not followed through on that, and the realization of that directive could also be a goal for the Project. I invite you to look at the materials on the website, Additional materials will be posted in coming days or weeks. I invite you to offer your own ideas, and to get involved.

As a species, we have scuttled the dreams of 1918. It is time to dream once again. We've got eleven years to do something really incredible. Hope you can help.

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