Jimmy Carter Reflects on Working Toward Peace
the Cold War, many expected an era of unprecedented peace
and prosperity. For most Americans, this prediction has
come true. Although our military has not been idle, since
1991 our country has been largely untouched by the ravages
of war. And most of us-although not all-have a roof over
our heads, access to jobs, and the opportunity to live healthy,
But when we talk about prosperity, we are excluding more
than 1.3 billion people in developing nations who live on
less than one dollar per day. And let's consider just the
most fundamental tenet of peace-the absence of war. At the
nonprofit Carter Center, which my wife, Rosalynn, and I
founded after leaving the White House, we monitor all serious
conflicts in the world, and the sad reality is that the
number of armed conflicts within countries increased dramatically.
According to one estimate, more than 150,000 people-the
majority of them civilians-lost their lives in 1997 alone.
But these numbers don't begin to tell the whole story. That
same year, some 20 million people were forced from their
homes. And untold numbers suffered the indirect consequences
of conflict, such as lack of health care and education,
and emotional trauma-conditions that create an environment
of fear and instability.
Although this has been the most violent century known
to humankind, the world community pays little attention
to many of the most destructive clashes. The United States
and other industrialized nations focus mostly on those conflicts
that directly affect them, such as those in Iraq, Bosnia,
and Serbia. For example, while the war in Kosovo waged on
and dominated the world's headlines, even more destructive
conflicts in developing nations were systematically ignored
by the United States and other powerful nations.
One can traverse Africa, from the Red Sea in the northeast
to the southwestern Atlantic coast, and never set foot on
peaceful territory. Fifty thousand people have recently
perished in the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and almost
two million have died during the seventeen-year conflict
in neighboring Sudan. That war has spilled over into northern
Uganda, whose troops have joined those from Rwanda to fight
in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The
other Congo (Brazzaville) is also ravaged by a civil war,
and all attempts to bring peace to Angola have failed. Although
formidable commitments were made in the Balkans, where white
Europeans were involved, no such concerted efforts are being
made by leaders outside of Africa to resolve these and other
As long as these trends continue, there can be no peace
and prosperity for a large percentage of the world's people.
And while it is relatively easy to see and understand the
direct impact of war on a people and a nation, it is more
difficult to measure other factors that make for a peaceful
and productive quality of life. At the Carter Center, we
maintain that peace also includes the ability to feed one's
family, the right to be free from preventable disease, the
right to live without the fear of human rights abuses, and
the right to determine one's own future. These are the seeds
All of these things require resources. In our travels,
Rosalynn and I have witnessed the most appalling poverty
and the results of religious, ethnic, and political persecution.
These experiences have convinced me that the greatest challenge
we face as a global community is how to reduce the growing
disparity between rich and poor people.
Who are the rich? Rich people feel relatively safe in
their own neighborhood, have adequate food and shelter,
some education, and some expectation of gainful employment.
They believe that there is an equal system of justice and
think they can make decisions that will have a positive
impact on their lives.
It is sobering that, even in the richest nation on earth,
many do not enjoy these fruits of peace. This is even more
evident in the developing world. At the beginning of this
century, the ratio between per capita income between the
richest and poorest nations was nine to one. By 1960, it
had increased to thirty to one, and today it is more than
sixty to one. Although capitalism and democracy are the
best ways to promote these values, these systems are far
from perfect. They can promote survival of the fittest-with
serious consequences to the poor-if there is little social
conscience or inadequate safety nets.
There is little doubt that most people, as individuals
and as a society, want to lead lives that are satisfying,
productive, and healthy. To make this possible, a nation
or society must reach for justice. This includes providing
for the basic human needs of both the rich and the poor.
Until we meet this challenge as a global community, there
can be no true and lasting peace.
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