World Peace through the Town Hall
Why the state cannot create a culture of peace A Strategy for the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?


Traditionally, it has been thought that world peace could be achieved through the states and their organization on a global basis through the United Nations, or, earlier, the League of Nations. And in fact, that was my assumption in 1992 when going to work at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

However, as mentioned in the beginning of this book, I have come to a different conclusion on the basis of my experience in the United Nations system, as well as my studies of the history of the culture of war as detailed in Adams (2008).

The problem of the state is of central importance for all who are working for world peace. Most peace initiatives are directed at changing the policies of the states and the United Nations in the belief that this is the "fulcrum" or "lever" where it will be possible to make the historical transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace. However, if the state, by its very nature, cannot make peace, then there needs to be a radical change in the strategy and tactics of all who are working for peace. Because the question is so important, we need to take the time here to explore it in some detail.

The entire cultural evolution and history of the culture of war since the invention of the state, as described in Adams (2008), can be summarized as the state's progressive monopolization and refinement of the culture of war. The popular film genre, the American Western movie, can be seen as an allegory of the state's monopolization of killing. In a typical movie, there is killing or threats of killing in the beginning of the film by outlaws, American Indians, or so-called citizen posses that take the law into their own hands. Then the sheriff arrives from the East, representing the state, and he takes command of the situation by imposing "the law," which means that he, and only he, in the name of the state, can decide who can administer "justice," i.e. who has the right to kill or threaten to kill.

In recent history, the state has succeeded to such an extent in its monopolization of killing and violence that we take it for granted. The very definition of the state for sociologists like Max Weber is based on warfare and the monopoly of force. His definition of the state is the organization that has a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" (Weber 1921). The definition of the "failed state" similarly depends on the monopoly of force, in this case, a failed state is one that has lost the monopoly of force.

At the United Nations in 1999, there was a remarkable moment when the draft culture of peace resolution that we had prepared at UNESCO was considered during informal sessions. The original draft had mentioned a "human right to peace" (Roche 2003). According to the notes taken by the UNESCO observer (See Adams 2003), "the U.S. delegate said that peace should not be elevated to the category of human right, otherwise it will be very difficult to start a war." The observer was so astonished that she asked the U.S. delegate to repeat his remark. "Yes," he said, "peace should not be elevated to the category of human right, otherwise it will be very difficult to start a war."

The countries of the European Union were similarly opposed to the human right to peace, although not as bluntly clearly stated as by the Americans, in the debate on this matter in the Fifth Commission of the UNESCO General Conference.. No official notes were taken at that Commission, but I took notes personally for the Director-General which may be found on my Internet website (see UNESCO 1999).

The human right to peace would deny the fundamental right of the state which has always been and continues to be the right to make war. This includes the right of the state to make war internally as well as externally. The message of the Europeans and Americans at the UN in 1999 was that the state is not going to give up this "right".

In fact, there has been no decrease in the state's preparations for war, both external war and internal war, in recent history. Most states, and their citizenry, speak constantly of their "enemies". The remarks by the recent U.S. President George W. Bush about its enemies constituting an "axis of evil" are no exception. The buildup of armaments and armies, which many thought would decrease after the end of the Cold War, have returned to the highest levels in history. Nuclear arms and their continued proliferation have added an especially dangerous dimension with the potential to destroy all life on the planet.

The priority devoted by the state to the military can be measured to some extent by its military spending. Here is a summary of national military expenditures in 1999 as published by the U.S. Department of State (2001). This is the most recent data I can find that shows military spending as a percentage of central government expenditures. These figures range from 4.2 to 22.4 percent, and they are probably underestimates. For example, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, in 2007 the U.S. government devoted 29% of its budget to current military spending and another 14% to debt payment for past military spending, a total of 43%, much greater than the 15.7% admitted in the official government figures. Much of the difference comes from U.S. government insistence on including social security entitlements as part of central government expenditures, even though it is simply reimbursing the investments that have been made by the citizen payments.

All states: 10.1%

Selected states
Russia 22.4%
China 22.2%
United States: 15.7%
United Kingdom 6.9%
France 5.9% (estimated)

Middle East 21.4%
South Asia 16.1%
North America 14.6%
Africa 14.0%
East Asia 12.7%
Central Asia and Caucasus 9.2%
South America 7.6%
Oceania 7.0%
Europe 6.3%
Central America 4.2%

It is not just war, but more generally the culture of war that has become the monopoly of the state. Going down the eight characteristics one by one, we see that each has become more and more under the control of the state.

Perhaps the most remarkable is the control of information. As discussed in Adams (2008), the state has increased its domain of secrecy and its manipulation of the media. Also, as discussed earlier, the gains in democratic participation have been to a great extent offset by this increase in secrecy and propaganda.

The key to the culture of war is the labeling of an enemy. It was a remarkable moment when Mikhail Gorbachev, Premier of the Soviet Union, met President Ronald Reagan of the United States. In the words of his chief advisor, "I am going to deprive you of your enemy." And indeed, the CIA had to get busy quickly to identify a new enemy for the American state. This was effectively accomplished by Professor Samuel Huntington and his thinktank at Harvard, who identified the new enemy as Islam in the celebrated essay on "Clash of Civilizations." Later, in 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center played into the hands of this new enemy image.

One might hope that adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would reduce war and the culture of war, but unfortunately, we see that countries of the North increasingly claim that their military interventions in the South are carried out in order to "defend human rights" in those countries.

There does seem to be a certain reduction in the male supremacy at the level of some states, but the reduction remains small in comparison to the continuing male dominance in the culture of war.

As for the nature of economic development, it remains firmly in control of the culture of war. One figure is clear from the annual United Nations Human Development Reports, the rich and powerful are getting richer and the poor and powerless are getting poorer, both within and between countries. There is increasing attention, now reaching to the level of the state, to the need for sustainable development, expressed in terms of concern about global warming, but the problem of increasing inequality of wealth and power, which is no less dangerous for the future of humanity, gets no effective attention from the state. A few states devote a substantial sum to development aid projects, but the effectiveness of this aid is swamped by the profit-oriented practices of global business as well as corruption in the countries where the aid is received.

As for armaments, it is a case of the foxes guarding the chickens. The five permanent members of the Security Council, responsible for disarmament at the United Nations, are the five great nuclear powers, and they show no signs of giving this up. If anything, they are tending to promote nuclear arms among their allies, for example, the United States in the case of India.

Educational systems are more and more controlled by the state, which gives the state more power to ensure that the curricula continue to teach that history is essentially the history of military victories and that power comes ultimately from force. On the brighter side, Spain has recently adopted a national law to promote the teaching of the culture of peace in schools and hopefully this will provide a precedent to other states.

Continued on next page

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The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-arms trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war