Peace in Perspective

Chapter Three

Indirect Violence and Beyond

Even as attempts were being made to identify, explain and discover solutions to the problems of war and defence, less obvious, indirect forms of violence began to berecognised and highlighted. These need to be addressed satisfactorily if meaningful peace is to be realised. Such violence exists where human organisations and institutions, however unintentionally, discriminate unfairly against some members of society. It is silent oppression, inflicted by the privileged and the powerful upon the underprivileged and the weak, through seemingly respectable social, legal, economic and political systems. Such systems define society, give it its form, suggest its values, direct its behaviour and determine the value attached to goods and services exchanged. Indirect violence marginalises, disempowers and induces a sense of apathy and hopelessness among those it afflicts. It may even kill slowly, from a distance, through denying people access to the basic requirements of life.

Peace through challenging and changing the system

Indirect violence aroused especial interest and concern when the predicament of many newly independent nations of the third world became clear to people of conscience. These countries discovered to their dismay that the economic development they so desperately sought was continually frustrated, on account of the influence that the wealthy nations, multinational corporations and leading financial institutions had upon the world’s economic system. For them peace and security seemed to require making the world’s socioeconomic order more just and equitable. This meant that the problems of the weak and the marginalised, the oppressed and the exploited had to be identified and treated. On their part, the wealthy and the powerful preferred either to ignore such matters, disclaiming responsibility for them, and/or to plead inability to deal with them, excepting in a palliative way, shrugging them off as “C’est la vie !”

The quest for peace of this kind challenged the state and those who controlled the systems of production and distribution. However, because of the importance to the state and its citizens of the provision of goods and services, the state found it expedient to uphold the interests of those who produced or delivered them. A close alliance developed between the state and big business, between Prince and Merchant, the one supporting the other.

Questions of Justice

You have turned justice into poison

And right into wrong.

You have oppressed the poor…

You hate anyone who challenges injustice

And speaks the whole truth.

(Amos 6: 12, 5: 11, 10)

When I give food to the poor,

They call me a saint.

When I ask why the poor have no food,

They call me a communist.

(Dom Helder Camara)

The civil power must not be subservient

To the advantage of any one individual,

Or of some persons,

Inasmuch as it was established

For the common good of all.

(Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, 1885)

Explaining Inequity

The world is characterised by marked inequity. Inequality springs from natural diversity and variation or accident of geography. Inequity is more than this. It is inequality exacerbated by human endeavour and design: through social, political and economicorganisation; through processes of domination and control by some groups over others; through the abuse of power; in relationships that are taken for granted by the prevailing culture.

: Political imperialism

Of the processes responsible for inequity, imperialism in its many forms has probably been the most potent. Imperialism, as commonly understood, involves the subjugation and domination of peoples and nations primarily for the benefit of those who control them. Historically, the process commenced when some nations gained control of territories that did not belong to them. This was political imperialism. Although there were many periods when empires flourished in some part of the world or the other, the ‘voyages of discovery’ ushered in an age of conquest, when the maritime nations of Europe reached out to the rest of the world in the name of commerce, the cross, or in order to ‘civilise the natives.’ Whatever toe-hold they initially gained overseas, the acquisition of territory invariably followed, and then, the flow of wealth back to the imperial powers from their possessions. (See figure)

These flows were mainly one-way in the early days of empire. After the industrial revolution in Europe, flows became two-way: as primary products from colony to the imperial ‘centre’ or the ‘mother country’, and as manufactured goods from ‘mother country’ to colony. Each centre obtained more from its colonies than it gave or ‘bestowed’ upon them. This was largely on account of unequal exchange, whose terms were set by the imperial power and at prices that were more advantageous to the imperial power than to the colonies.

Although threat and direct violence were at times employed to enforce the will of the imperial nation upon the colony, such methods not only caused friction between the parties concerned, but also were not the most productive over the long term. Perfect imperialism worked smoothest and most efficiently, where persuasion and mutual self-interest oiled its mechanisms, instead of intimidation and coercion.

In order to achieve greater harmony in the relationship, with attendant fruitfulness, the governing elites of the mother country (A in the figure) would establish a bridgehead in the colony, through allying with the elites of the latter (a). They would obtain their compliance and endorsement of imperial policies by building a community of interest between them, by backing them with their authority and strength,favouring them with promises and opportunities for acquiring wealth, guaranteeing their privileges, and assuring them of security and dominance over their own (b). They would give them access to education in the language of mother country, and induct them into its culture and its mores.

The colonial elites were usually dazzled and enticed to greater fidelity through being allowed to see, taste and imbibe other things the imperial nation had to offer, such as its science, technology, industry and its military capability. The elites of the colony duly came to believe that the values and practices of those at the apex of empire were worthy of emulation. In return, they served as liaison between the two countries, ensuring that those beneath them at home (b) provided labour that was cheap, docile and efficient, and that the flow of products required by the mother country took place smoothly and that it was consistent with its demands and expectations.

Because the imperial nation usually possessed several colonies, the flow of wealth to it was substantial; soon, great enough to provide more jobs, infrastructures and services which benefited members of its own middle and working classes (B). Once these tasted the fruits of empire, however knowing or unknowing they may have been of its invidious processes, they grew accustomed to these blessings and more supportive of the imperial rhetoric and practice. On the other hand, the underclassesof the colonies, unaware of the workings of imperialism, continued as before, providing underpaid labour and fatalistically acquiescent of the neglect and privations that they suffered from. (See figure)

Although some imperial powers were less oppressive than others, little changed in the overall relationship between governing and governed. However, once empires were dismantled and one-time minions were granted or seized political independence from their former masters, change was inevitable.

: Neo-colonialism

Political empires duly broke down and new entities emerged, usually in the wake of war. This was especially the case in the decades after World War II. However, political independence for former colonies was not accompanied by economic independence. They were locked into the global capitalist system in positions of inferiority and weakness, from which they could not readily extricate themselves. Political imperialism may have ended, but another imperialism replaced it, as the newly independent nations continued to turn to the industrialised, wealthy and powerful nations for technological, organisational, educational and military know-how, and for many goods and services as well as economic aid. Despite resurgent national pride, they continued to look to the ‘developed’ nations for values and direction, even in the very art of controlling and manipulating their own and of those within their power.

Initially, those who took over the reins of government of former colonies adopted the methods and acquired the tastes and values of the ‘white sahibs’ they replaced. The ‘brown sahibs’ continued to use the same institutions as their predecessors. They also sought the advice and expertise of the former ‘mother country’, or a substitute one, on how to ‘develop’. Their rhetoric was patriotic and nationalistic, but theirunderclasses continued to remain where they had been, with limited access to the fruits of independence.

In democracies, attempts were made to woo publics with opportunities for self-betterment. Even where systems were autocratic, it was considered beneficial to have a better-trained and educated and politically supportive populace. Empty promises and propaganda alone could not secure this. Improved communications and opportunities that favoured greater productivity, trade, education, health and welfare began to be provided, raising the living standards and expectations of the underprivileged.

In the meanwhile, higher levels of prosperity in the ‘developed’ nations brought travel abroad within the reach of unprecedented numbers of their citizens, while the electronic mass communications media helped create greater awareness of the wider world among those who did not have opportunities to see for themselves. People became aware of how people of the third world lived, while the latter, in turn, asked why socioeconomic differences between the rich and poor had to exist. Some even hoped for a reduction in the prevailing inequity.

At the global level, the gap between wealthy and impoverished continued to widen. The more perceptive recognised that the prosperity of the few seemed to hinge upon the exploitation and deprivation of the many. This troubled and challenged those who considered themselves to be just and honourable: whether or not to heed, whether or not to distract or anaesthetise consciences that niggled.

The common educated response was to point a finger at capitalist system, the establishment, the multinational companies, the large financial institutions and the military-industrial complex; to call for their remodelling and reorientation, or for their rejection. Among the poor of the third world, it was asked whose interests their own leadership pursued, and where these were seen to be selfish, what could be done to ensure that the needs of the people would be looked after. The process goes on.

The debt and development problem

Compounding the problems of nations is their indebtedness to international financial institutions as well as to rich nations. Once they became politically independent, countries of the third world sought economic development. Considerable improvements in levels of material prosperity were achieved by some, such as Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia through industrialisation, efficientorganisation, education and hard work. In these, a considerable flow-through of the material benefits of development to significant portions of their populations took place. In many other countries however, development was patchy and/or mediocre. Here, the benefits of ‘development’ accrued predominantly to those at the top.

Advice on Development

People are not merely instruments of the economy…

Human beings are at the centre of development…

We should avoid building economic systems

On the creation of false needs

Or on the petty exploitation

Of the frailty of the weak.

(Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, Vatican City, at the World Summit for Social Development, Munich, 11-12th March, 1995)

Indebtedness exacerbated

In the early 1970s, the major oil-exporters of the third world united to form OPEC, and commanded much higher prices for their petroleum products than before. Other third world countries felt the impact of these price-rises acutely, because in order to drive their economies they had increased their use of petroleum products, to satisfy the growing energy requirements of industry, transport and the green revolution. For this they had to borrow money, or more money than before, just as they did for a host of other social, economic, political and ‘security’ reasons.

The petroleum-rich nations, especially those of the Middle East, soon acquired more money than they could or would readily use on domestic developmental projects. They banked their surpluses in the rich, industrial countries, where they accumulated interest. Soon there was a glut of petrodollars in those banks. The imperative of the banks was to lend this money out. Competition between banks to find borrowers grew. Many solicited custom among the dictators and military juntas of the third world, often providing funds for projects that were inadequately screened for their economic and social worthiness and viability. Loans were given for prestige projects, for arms purchases and other dubious ventures. Money was lent also for genuine urban, rural and industrial development projects. Repayments had to be made not in national currencies but in hard foreign currencies which continually appreciated in value against the local, exacerbating the problem of debt-servicing.

A second factor was related to the intensification of the Cold War in the 1970s and early 1980s. Its major instigators sought funds for the development and acquisition of weapons. In the west, governments competed with the private sector for finance, driving up interest rates. Under the Reagan Administration, the USA strove fiercely not only to carry the nuclear arms race and nuclear deterrence to new heights, but also by this very action to compel the Soviet Union to spend more than it could afford to on its own counter measures. Thereby, the USA hoped both to strengthen its deterrent capability and to drive its chief adversary to bankruptcy, simultaneously frustrating its attempts to provide its people with the consumer goods and services that would give the communist system greater social appeal. The USA succeeded in doing all these, but paid the price in rises in interest rates. Those rises attracted flows of available capital to the USA and away from other countries, excepting where the latter were able to match those rates.

While this sent shock waves through the developed world, its impact on the debt-ridden countries was far worse. In order to borrow money for their development projects, they had to pay unaffordable rates of interest, which magnified the task ofdebt-servicing. In many instances, countries such as India, had to devote their energies and resources to the production of exports which appealed to tastes overseas rather than to trying to satisfy the basic needs of their own people. To become more competitive, debtor nations were often obliged to devalue their currencies and reduce social expenditure. In consequence, attempts at development were often skewed, catering more to those who were less in need or already rich, than to those who had little or nothing.

Some of the high debt burdens of countries of the third world are attributable also to arms imports which were debt-financed. In 1989, the President of the World Bank estimated that a third of the debt of some major third world countries was due to arms imports. The profligacy of military governments, which was the rule rather than the exception during the 1970s, had come to haunt the democratic rulers of the 1980s, as we read about in the Stockholm International Peace Research Yearbook of 1990.

‘Donors’ tended to use ‘aid’ to further their own economic, political and geopolitical interests. International financial institutions, which had once lent money at low rates of interest to countries of the third world, began to lay down the terms under which further aid could be obtained. Because the control of these financial institutions was and is in the hands of the wealthy industrial nations, it was these who influenced decisions as to who should be aided and what price the recipients of aid should pay for the privilege. Not surprisingly, conditions of lending tended to safeguard or promote the operations of big business and the economic interests of the principal national controllers. Borrowers found themselves having to adopt policies of financial restraint and stringency, with the national debt burden itself falling most heavily on the poorer sectors of society, through the effects of currency devaluations, inflation, the rising costs of goods and services, and government cut-backs in social and welfare-related expenditure and general belt-tightening.

Debt-servicing has come to account for inordinately large proportions of these countries’ foreign exchange earnings, rendering them more susceptible to manipulation from without and to dissatisfaction within, with concomitant civil unrest and strife. The resultant deterioration in terms of trade has ravaged many of the economically weaker third world countries. With less ‘cake’ to around, it often becomes a case of social justice for favourites, and jobs for the politically preferred: policies and practices that alienate those neglected or discriminated against. More often than not the latter are members of ethnic minorities or from the lower strata of society. Such perceptions among the disadvantaged often culminates in despair, and/or insurrection, secessionist moves and even terrorism and civil war: the very antithesis of development.

The majority of third world countries suffer from problems of internal organisation, among which discrimination, sectarian strife, bureaucratic bungling, corruption, the dragooning and exploitation of the working classes by those in positions of power are noteworthy (the same applies to many materially wealthy countries). However, it is far from the truth to blame the poor for their predicament. They are very largely the victims of the global economic system.


As the second millennium draws to a close, two major developments affecting human affairs need to be acknowledged. One is the effect of the remarkable revolutions in communications, both physical and electronic. People the world over have come into closer and more rapid contact with events abroad and with one another. Ready access to information and to ideas has generated an awareness has been that was not possible before. People see themselves more than ever before as living in a single, fragile and interacting planetary home, as members of an interdependent human family, rich in its diversity but bonded by their common humanity. Some refer to this as globalism.

The other development is invidious. The term widely used for this is globalisation. Many opt to regard it as an economic strategy promoted by big business. In this narrow sense globalisation is a process designed to enable transnational corporations (TNCs) to compete for a planetary market, which economic experts predict will be worth several thousand billion dollars by the beginning of the third millennium. The core of the strategy is to ensure that the TNCs enjoy open, unrestricted access to the world’sresources, markets and to cheap, mobile, docile labour which enjoys no security of tenure or assurance of employment. It is an advanced model of ‘free trade’liberalisation, which allows TNCs to sweep aside smaller actors including local competitors, irrespective of human and environmental costs. Developing countries are to continue to be opened up for exploitation.

Emphasis is on capital inflows, as Foreign Direct Investment, and capital outflows when necessary. The accent is to be increasingly on cultural, recreational, financial and electronic industries, rather than on raw materials, and the possibilities for generating profits for shareholders are considered immeasurable. And if trickle-down benefits accrue to society, so be it.


Positive aspects

* Foreign direct investment (FDI) assists in job creation and improving (family) incomes and has helped to reduce absolute poverty in some countries.

* The expansion of trade and foreign investment foster social mobility and strengthens the middle class.

* New communication and information technologies enable people in distant regions to encounter ideas and have ready access to information. They help to enhance local standards of health and education and to break down barriers between people. They serve to stimulate an awareness of issues, challenges and promises for human betterment.

Negative aspects

* Foreign investment and the unrestrained quest for profit by TNCs are greatly facilitated, often resulting in the plunder of resources regardless of the consequences.

* Regional disparities within countries are magnified, especially between those parts of the country integrated into the global economy and those that are not.

* Many countries are forced to place the interests of foreign investors before those of their own people.

* The removal of national controls over crossborder financial flows and the computer revolution have resulted in short-term capital entering and exiting markets very rapidly. Often this wreaks havoc upon economies which are unable to cope with these processes. Speculation in the currencies of other countries is greatly facilitated, makes of money a commodity not for exchange but for generating profit.

* Indescribable harm is done to millions, as with the 1990s collapse of national economies in east Asia Pacific. Massive unemployment and social and political turmoil tend to follow in the wake of these collapses.

* Through the incessant stimulation of material wants and shallow selfish hedonistic values, consumer culture is exalted and strengthened.

* In the formal education sector, excessive emphasis is laid upon managerial and technical courses. Universities no longer remain centres of autonomous learning, but become polytechnics instead. Mercantile values are given top priority.

* Migrant labour and jobs without tenure lead to family distress and breakdowns.

* Smut in cyberspace exacerbates decadence in human values and behaviour.

* Massive human manipulation is exercised from the centres of power

* White-collar crime proliferates

* Disease is globalised

[See also Chandra Muzaffar, 1998.]

The ‘multilateral agreement on investment’

In keeping with globalisation and the free marketing system is the attempt being made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to persuade national governments to enter into a ‘multilateral agreement on investment’ (MAI).

Little known negotiations for MAI were launched in 1995, until in early 1997, a draft document was leaked and publicised on the internet. Its OECD architects expect MAI to create “state of the art” standards for the treatment and protection of foreign investment, and also to put in place a mechanism for the progressive liberalisation of investment by constraining the power of governments to regulate the activities of foreign, and in some cases, domestic investors. Proponents of the treaty claim that it would streamline and stimulate international business and trade.

Under MAI, governments will have to give foreign private corporations equal treatment, including equal funding, which some warn will have to be the same as they give to publicly funded and subsidised bodies such as hospitals, schools, and community organisations. Where public companies are privatised, no preferential treatment may be given to local investors. Countries which become party to the agreement could expect big business to invest in them, and to enjoy the attendant ‘blessings’ this would bring: benefit from the jobs they create, the new technologies they introduce, and the many other spin-offs that would result from their activities. Thus MAI would be a vehicle for a better deal for all. Those who do not participate in MAI would risk being ‘left out in the cold’.

Others are afraid that MAI will be no more than a sophisticated rendition of the song of the 1960s and ’70s, “Aid with Strings”, and that with it, workers’ rights and conditions, the rights of the indigenous population and citizens, the wider economy, and environmental integrity would suffer. National sovereignty and democracy would be seriously compromised, because if governments make laws which are perceived to interfere with the operation of multilateral organisations, even though such laws may reflect the wishes and needs of the electorate, or are passed in order to serve the public interest, the legislation concerned could be examined by a tribunal and if these breach the MAI, governments could be sued for damages. Furthermore, existing laws which are in conflict with MAI will have to be gradually phased out. Nor would governments be able to enact and enforce new laws to protect culture, environment,indigenous and economic rights. MAI will be binding for twenty years, and so a change of government will be unable to salvage the situation. Opposition to the MAI by some OECD countries, such as France, forced delays in the signing of the agreement.

Dysfunction in the world system

Today, capitalistic enterprise flourishes, reaching even into the heart of its opponents of previous decades. The rhetoric is the creation of wealth through production and trade, wealth which in due course will trickle down to the poor. In practice, this rarely happens or else the process is so slow that the ranks of the poor and the abandoned swell. Multi-national enterprises spread their activities into many lands, gaining more and more power in the process and becoming increasingly influential and independent of the control of the state. They may create jobs within the host nations, but extract more than they give. When new regions offer them richer promise, they have little compunction in deserting the country they operated in until then. Their concern for the preservation of the environment is not impressive either.

The vagaries of world prices of commodities, and speculation in floating currencies and the stock market based on the hope of maximising profit, rather than on the actual facts of economic production and the needs and potential of peoples, render precarious the basis of modern economic life. All this has made for economic volatility and uncertainty, and an ethic of the survival of the fittest, governed by competition and the will to succeed at almost any cost. In a shrinking world, vested interests, whose governing motivation is sale and profit, promote an outlook where humane and moral values are regarded as irrelevant or secondary, or are made the handmaidens of market-driven priorities.

Because capitalism is now global and the world economy is more integrated and interdependent, a political or financial hiccough or a disaster in a country highly-placed in the global economic hierarchy, or even a possible change in an aspect of its fiscal policy, could have and often does have world-wide adverse repercussions, with concomitant economic and political fall-out, even among those geographically far-removed from the financial epicentre. In such a world, the opportunities for terrorism and criminal activity have multiplied. The domino effect of the attack on New York and the Pentagon on the 11th of September, 2001, and its aftermath, illustrate the reality of that socio-economic interdependence.

Today, more than ever before, organised crime has come to constitute a significant facet of global reality, the dark counterpart of the state and multinational company, an unscrupulous, elusive shadow system which tries to and often succeeds in infiltrating both, even the very defenders of the law.

Known examples of state socialism, whatever they may be politically termed, inspire little confidence either. Due to economic and other pressures, revisionism sets in. New classes and privileged sectors emerge, and not much social benefit remains on offer, excepting as a pipe-dream for sometime in the future.

Fundamentalist theocracies offer little hope either. While their commitment to economic equity and austerity, as well as to aspects of their religious tenets may be admirable, their belief that the things of God must be defended and advanced through the exercise of power, terror, violence and intolerance is open to questioning and rejection on both theological and humanitarian grounds.

Little surprise then that those who equate peace with equity and justice look at the world of states and the world economic system, and find these wanting. They point to the complicity of the state with big-business in the exploitation and deprivation of the weak and underprivileged. However, the alternatives they come up with are not very convincing either.

To unmask and to discover how to rectify all this is the preoccupation of those seeking peace through confronting and opposing inequity. But peace, in such contexts, is construed mainly in socioeconomic and political terms: the equitable distribution of wealth and fair access to resources, goods and services; the reduction,minimisation and elimination of indirect violence.

Cultural violence

There is even more to indirect violence than what has just been outlined. Cultural values, attitudes and practices are implicated, because violent behaviour stems from the way in which people see one another and the world around them, and at times from the manner in which they interpret their religion. The term cultural violence is used to refer to those attitudes and practices, inherent in many cultures, which contribute to or authorise other forms of violence.

Violence of a cultural order tends to be invisible to those among whom it lodges. Characteristically, it condones, foments, tolerates and even justifies both structural and direct violence, by giving the green light of approval to thought, values,behaviour and institutions, which on ethical grounds, should be given the red. At other times, it renders ambiguous or morally opaque attitudes, practices and relationships that are unacceptable and deserving of censure and rejection. JohanGaltung, who introduced the concept of cultural violence into the academic literature on peace, sees direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence as comprising a violence triangle, the antithesis of peace, where each leads to one or both of the other types of violence.

Summing up

Many researchers are comfortable with the idea that peace is the opposite of violence. Where peace is seen in this way, those who seek peace, challenge and try to change the status quo and the conventional wisdom. This makes the quest seem subversive, which it is. As the Latin roots of the word indicate (sub : from below;vertere : to turn), subversion requires getting down to root causes and using those insights to reorder and transform society.

Today, the material gap between the richer and the poorer nations widens. The same occurs within most countries whether rich or poor. Even within those rich in terms of the Gross National Product per person, an underclass of permanently poor has emerged. The prospects of the poor escaping from their ghettos and landscapes of despair are remote. In their hopelessness many turn to crime or to anti-socialbehaviour as the means for giving vent to their sense of frustration, or for getting rich quick and thereby obtaining passports to freedom and respectability. The majority do not succeed. And, the problem of inequity persists.

The Gap

Are the poorer countries catching up with richer ones?..

Careful empirical work suggests that absolute divergence

In output per person is a dominant feature of the world economic scene…

By one estimate,

The ratio of income per capita in the richest to that in the poorest countries

Has increased from eleven in 1870,

To thirty-eight in 1960, and to fifty-two in 1985.

(World Development Report, 1995, p. 53)

Other peace: positive peace

There is yet another peace, positive peace: something far more than the prevention,minimisation, or avoidance of the undesirable. It is that something which has to replace unpeacefulness. The quest involves looking ahead, realising that the future is not yet written, and is not what trends seem to predict. For the state, positive peace is economic prosperity in a social, political milieu which is conducive of its continued growth. For the student of peace it is the building of a better world. The debate that ensues is over what a better world is and over what would make for one.

Peace with the environment

Amid our ever increasing appreciation of the wonder and the beauty of this earthly home, which is in such glorious contrast to our planetary neighbours, there is growing recognition of the highly interdependent nature of its life-support systems. Accompanying this is a sense of alarm and urgent concern that unless something is done to alter dismissive and selfish attitudes towards the environment, and unless planetary healing commences without any further delay, disaster will invariably result, whether in slow motion or more dramatically, to the detriment of all life on earth. Thisrealisation signifies a gradual conversion from irresponsible to responsible attitudes to life on earth and to peace with the earth itself. But will we act quickly enough or sufficiently to cope with these?