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Peace is a Narrow Path

La Civiltà Cattolica - Fri, Aug 12th 2022

reconstruction - Peace is a Narrow Path

The international bodies that should be working to ease tensions and defuse conflicts seem powerless. When they began their task, at the end of the Second World War, Maritain hoped for the formation of “a supra-national community founded not on treaties, based on the authority of States, but on a sort of constitution of the world.” Despite the utopian reach of these intentions and the progress made in the last 70 years, unfortunately the adage that “the spirit lags behind events” still applies. “We are tragically late, as economic, military and identity interests trump  thoughts of peace” (Fabio Mazzocchio, “Il realismo della pace e le sue condizioni”, in

The war in Ukraine, which for years has been fought unobtrusively  – “a low-intensity conflict” experts called it – within the Donbass region, has now exploded in all its violence. After February 24, 2022, an effective communication strategy touched the consciences of Italian, and more widely European public opinion. Democratic governments and international organizations quickly approved the proposal to isolate the aggressor country with an unprecedented embargo (cf. Fernando de la Iglesia Viguiristi, Le conseguenze economiche della guerra di Putin, in Civ. Catt. 2022 II 239-253).

European countries – beginning with those on the border with Ukraine, in particular Poland – have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees, demonstrating a great willingness to respond to the emergency. Furthermore, NATO member nations are committing themselves to supplying the country under attack with the weapons and materiel it needs to defend itself, declaring that they do not want to intervene directly in the conflict, to avoid an escalation of hostilities that would become irreversible. However, the first months of war and the effects of the embargo imposed on Russia are beginning to be felt by everyone: oil, natural gas, wheat (in which the belligerent countries are rich sources of supply), for example, are valuable resources that are subject to vertiginous price rises, which families experience when they pay their gas bills, as well as  developing countries when their supplies of grain begin to run out. So we learn that we are all affected, even if indirectly.

We have come face-to-face with what Pope Francis had described in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti: “Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil. Let us not remain mired in theoretical discussions, but touch the wounded flesh of the victims. Let us look once more at all those civilians whose killing was considered ‘collateral damage.’ Let us ask the victims themselves. Let us think of the refugees and displaced, those who suffered the effects of atomic radiation or chemical attacks, the mothers who lost their children, and the boys and girls maimed or deprived of their childhood. Let us hear the true stories of these victims of violence, look at reality through their eyes, and listen with an open heart to the stories they tell. In this way, we will be able to grasp the abyss of evil at the heart of war. Nor will it worry us to be considered naive for choosing peace” (FT 261).

Prepared for war

Conflicts do not arise by chance. There are various factors that overlap and intertwine, from the economic to the political, from the cultural to the religious (cf. A. Spadaro, Seven Pictures of the Invasion of Ukraine, Civ. Catt. En., June 2022). Political strategies based on the defense of borders, the extension of areas of influence, the definition of neutral zones and “buffer” states fuel and justify investments in the war industry, which knows no crisis in its profitability. The Annual Review 2021, drawn up by SIPRI (The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), lists the top 10 countries that invest in armaments. In the list we find in first place the USA (778 billion dollars), in second place China (252 billion), in third place India, and in fourth place Russia (61.7 billion), followed by the United Kingdom (59.2 billion), Germany (52.8) and France (52.7). These are staggering figures that give an idea of the extent of the economic commitment and suggest a competition among these states! The extent of military expenditure sends signals, and the most powerful countries compete to maintain their positions on the world chessboard. There is a further indication from the report that also shows which are the leading  arms exporters in the world. The top 10 exporting countries between 2016 and 2020 range from the 37 percent market share held by the USA, followed by Russia, France, Germany, China, the UK, Spain, Israel and South Korea to Italy’s 2.2 percent.

The interpretation of these data could at least leave some questions related to the decision taken by the European Union to start common investment on armaments. Will the choice contribute to feeding the perception of being under “siege” as declared by Putin, or will it serve to mitigate his hostile actions?

The economic, political, strategic and cultural interests behind this war cannot be concealed. Ukraine is one of the granaries of the world, a producer of and transit point for many raw materials. Moreover, it is in a strategic position between East and West. It could be a bridge between the two cultures, and instead it seems to be considered the border not to be crossed or the outpost not to be lost by the parties directly and indirectly involved.

Peace: an aspect of our identity

The war in Ukraine forces Italians and Europeans in general to open their eyes to a harsh reality. It asks them to take a narrow path in setting out new political and economic strategies. Europe and Italy are called to question their own identity, which originated after the horrors of war. Precisely for this reason, the choices made at the time of their emergence from war were intended to mark an identity strongly directed toward the safeguarding and promotion of peace.

For Italy, the inclusion of article 11 in the 1948 constitution was a decisive choice. It has conditioned and still conditions the cultural vision of the country: “Italy shall repudiate war as an instrument of aggression against the liberty of other peoples and as a means for settling international disputes; it shall agree, on conditions of equality with other states, to such limitations of sovereignty as may be necessary to allow for a legal system that will ensure peace and justice between nations; it shall promote and encourage international organizations having such ends in view.”

The article shows the will of the constituent body to set up a policy of international relations that is not aggressive, but based on cooperation and respect for the different national realities. It is the result of a hard-learned lesson, paid for in blood and defeat in the Second World War. Article 11 marks a turning point, after decades in which imperialist and colonialist ideologies had been cultivated: Italy now undertakes to safeguard peace.

Peace-building is also the generating factor of the European Union, as Robert Schuman emphasized when he made the declaration proposing the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community: “The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims. […] This production will be offered to the world as a whole without distinction or exception, with the aim of contributing to raising living standards and to promoting peaceful achievements” (R. Schuman, Declaration of May 9, 1950, in

Healing the wounds of conflict

Actions taken do not all have the same value: supplying an attacked country with goods or supplying it with weapons, striking at the assets of the elite (the oligarchs) of an aggressor country or organizing an embargo that affects the entire population have different effects and effectiveness. We should ask ourselves which of them leave the door open to dialogue. The criticism made of Pope Francis for the silent presence of the two women, one Ukrainian and one Russian, during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday shows that there is a strong feeling of anger to be mastered if one wants to take the path of peace.

There is no single path out of a conflict. The paths of diplomacy face possible alternatives, none of which should  be excluded a priori. Johan Galtung, founder of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, has developed a model for conflict resolution. The possible solutions move along an axis that goes from the pole constituted by the binomial victory-loss to the pole of dialogue-opening. The solutions that are close to the first pole use the “strategy of struggle,” which is based on the logic of the supremacy of one contender over the other and will result in new violence and continuous misunderstandings. In the middle there is the “strategy of postponement,” which tends to put off the solution of the conflict, but risks leaving the contenders in a state of dissatisfaction that does not defuse anger, maintains unequal conditions and the perception of injustice that has not been resolved,  thus the suspended violence could occasionally re-emerge. Close to the second pole is the “compromise strategy,” which requires negotiation between the parties. This mediation solution can stop the violence as long as neither of the disputants finds the meeting point unsatisfactory. The “strategy of dialogue” characterizes the second pole, which offers the opportunity to completely overcome the conflict. Dialogue takes place in the creative search for new horizons, capable of finding alternative paths, and in the recognition of the other as the bearer of a different point of view worthy of respect, which embraces fundamental needs. According to Galtung, the attempts to overcome conflict should abandon the first pole to undertake the path that he calls “the diagonal of peace,” which starts from the strategy of postponement and arrives at that of dialogue (cf. J. Galtung, Affrontare il conflitto. Transcendere e trasformare, Pisa, University Press, 2014).

The quadrilateral of peace

St John XXIII, in the climate of the Cuban crisis during the Cold War, offered the world Pacem in Terris. In it he proposed four pillars for peace, indicating four priorities for peace-builders. The first is truth (Nos. 49-50), which requires respect for the dignity of every person and the elimination of all racism. Differences, the Good Pope affirmed, should not foster a sense of superiority: “Some nations may have attained to a superior degree of scientific, cultural and economic development. But that does not entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress” (No. 49).

The second is justice, which combines the recognition of rights with the fulfillment of duties. “States have the right to existence, to self-development, and to the means necessary to achieve this. They have the right to play the leading role in the process of their own development, and the right to their good name and due honors. States are likewise in duty bound to safeguard all such rights effectively, and to avoid any action that could violate them” (No. 51). The principle of justice requires that disagreements be dealt with through “mutual understanding.”

Operating solidarity (Nos. 54-63), then, supports the other two principles with cooperation in order to bring about the common good. “Thus, in pursuing their own interests, civil societies, far from causing injury to others, must join plans and forces whenever the efforts of particular States cannot achieve the desired goal. But in doing so great care must be taken. What is beneficial to some States may prove detrimental rather than advantageous to others” (No. 54). In solidarity, according to Saint John XXIII, it would be possible to maintain the balance between population, land and economy;  it would be possible to deal with the phenomenon of refugees; it would be conceivable to take the path of disarmament, involving both the apparatus of war and hearts.

The fourth pillar is freedom (Nos. 64-66), which reminds each political community of its responsibility to leave autonomy to others and to be the first architect of its own growth: “Relations between States must be regulated by the principle of freedom. This means that no country has the right to take any action that would constitute an unjust oppression of other countries, or an unwarranted interference in their affairs. On the contrary, all should help to develop in others an increasing awareness of their duties, an adventurous and enterprising spirit, and the resolution to take the initiative for their own advancement in every field of endeavor” (No. 64).

The solutions to every conflict require a willingness to open up, to choose the path of the “diagonal of peace,” as Galtung calls it. But this is not enough if they remain strategies based on opposition. Only by taking the narrow path, which rests on the four pillars indicated by Saint John XXIII, will we be able to build cultures and policies which work for peace.

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