Monday, October 3, 2016

Voting against peace

On Sunday voters in Colombia surprisingly rejected a peace agreement that took the parties years to negotiate. The agreement would have ended more than 50 years of a civil war  that has pitted the government against the rebel FARC army. This setback for the cause of peace comes the same week that Israel buried Shimon Peres, one of the country's great peacemakers, the same month when a hard-won ceasefire in Syria seems to have collapsed, the same year that the United Kingdom voted to pull out of the EU treaty that has helped keep the peace in Europe for a generation, and the same year that has seen the growth around the world of nationalist movements, and of fears of trade and foreigners. In the United States, our political system has been disrupted by a campaign based largely on opposition to trade, hostility to outsiders, and distrust of diplomatic solutions to foreign conflict.

What is going on? Are people tired of making the compromises necessary to obtain peace? Is the world suddenly in a more warlike mood? Do people prefer to maintain their principles, their grudges, their hatreds? Or are we simply facing an upsurge in second-guessing the results of negotiated agreements, based on popular distrust of political leaders? Many people who did not participate in the negotiations of the Colombia peace agreement, just like the Iran disarmament agreement, or the TPP for that matter, apparently believe that better deals may be obtained if their side just acts "tougher" at the bargaining table.

In the case of Colombia, it is understandable that a generation that has grown up with violent conflict is reluctant to let go without a more satisfactory settling of scores. Opposition to the peace agreement seems to be based on a combination of distrust of the enemy the nation has been fighting for so long, and an unwillingness to accept its members back into society. The former president of Colombia, an opponent of the treaty, said that peace is an illusion, and that the proposed peace agreement was too forgiving of the rebels.

The good news, though, is that both sides in Colombia seem to be tired of fighting, and agreed at least on the idea that violence is not the best solution to conflict. Perhaps they will at least lay down their arms, even if they haven't yet been able to come to terms that their constituents will accept.



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