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J. Terasawa: How Can We Address the Root Causes of Conflict?

Paper presented at Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace Assembly 2003, “Global Governance at a Turning Point: Innovative Approaches to Peace in a Changing World," Asan, Korea, July 10-14, 2003.

Humanity is facing an uncertain direction. There are only two futures in front of us: we can all perish together or we can find a way for ourselves and our planet to survive by living together peacefully. At this point in history, we can see many crises around the globe. The biggest threat is the threat of violence and war. Since the end of Cold War, we have witnessed the spread of deadly violence and conflict in many parts of the world.

Until today we have not been able to find a way out of the vicious cycle of escalating violence. There is also a tendency today, even after the end of the Cold War, to think that the way to achieve peace is through military strength and military means alone. State actors have not yet been able to create an alternative way of resolving conflict by going to the root of conflict.

How can we address the root causes of conflict? Many conflicts have spiritual, cultural, even religious roots. But state actors who are involved in the conflict, and also international organizations such as the United Nations, maintain that the way to halt conflict is through military operations. Because of that belief, rich states that enjoy the wealth of the planet through their advanced economies and technology keep fueling their military strength in an effort to find some security, to find some way of stamping out any elements of violence.

Military expenditures globally are skyrocketing, and the United States’ military expenditure alone is equal to the total military expenditures of the entire rest of the world. Western nations, rich nations, have less than 15 percent of the world’s population, but they spend more than 80 percent of all money spent for military purposes. They build fortifications supported by military strength against the majority of the population of the world.

This unbalance of military strength and economic strength is really the root of how the rich countries start feeling threatened and insecure. More and more this tendency is growing. More and more, they want to spend money for their own security against the rest of the world, fearing that it poses a threat to them. They are addicted to military security. The more we spend money, they say, the more we develop high technology for military machines, the safer you will be.

Religion should work to change this delusion in which the whole international community is now involved. But some people use the name of religion to enflame and escalate the divisions and to spread hatred of one religious group against another. And this is the paramount task of all religious people to refuse to allow these actors to use the name of religion and religious doctrine to fight their wars.

The cause of religion should go beyond the league of states. States today cannot deal with the dimension of human character that brings conflict to the world. Religion alone can sow the seeds of trust, respect, and unity instead of suspicion, doubt, and fear. The fundamental theme of all religious teachings is supremacy and sanctity of life above any other value or institution or state.

Today the state is superseding the supremacy of human life. States can kill people. States can wage war. States can destroy other states. As religions, we should never accept this supremacy of the state. Religion should uphold the principle that all life is sacred, and the principle that all persons have a right to live in peace should be the universal ethic. Religions must join together in order to choose the only possible future for mankind: That we all live together in peace. If we fail, we will perish together.