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A Floor Under The Risks Of Peace

( Originally Published 1952 )

THE DRIFT TO ANOTHER WORLD WAR CAN STILL BE HALTED, the Cold War gradually ended, disarmament at laSt made possible—if the United StateS and other nations put a floor under the economic risks and difficulties of peace; if they commit themselves to concrete plans for full employment, full production, full use of modern science and technology; if they make certain in advance that peace would find them ready to put into constructive use for the achievement of material progress everywhere the men and SkillS, reSources and machines they now employ on armaments or still have to leave idle.

Peace would become posSible if the prospect of diSarmament, or even of a mere lull in the arms race, no longer threatened the United States and other nations that have come to depend upon her with loss of jobs and profits, with cut-throat competition, depression, crisis and social unrest; if the search for peace were no longer hampered by the all too well founded fear of its economic consequences; if, on the contrary, the urge for peace, in so many nations motivated only by the wiSh to avoid the horrorS of another world war, were powerfully activated by the valid promise that peace would be more than the mere absence of bloodshed, war threats and heavy armament burdens, that it would open the way to the safe and growing prosperity our age is able to bestow on all.

To lay a floor under the economic risks of peace while the Cold War goeS on and hot war threatens would oblige no nation to reduce its armaments at once. It would involve no danger, no sacrifice of security. But timely preparation of the world's economies for the possibility of real peace would give new meaning and new force to international negotiationS now bogged down because of the fear of peace and the reactions which that fear provokes on all sides. It would give new hope to negotiations on armistice where there is fighting, on compromise settlements where problems left by the second world war demand solution, on all aspects of international co-operation and security, and finally on disarmament and peace itself.

It should be the task of the United Nations to learn and apply this foremost lesson of post-war history. For Article 55 of its Charter reads: `With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations . . . the United Nations shall promote: (a) higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development; (b) solutions of international economic, social, health and related problems. . . .' And Article 56: 'All Members pledge themselves to joint and separate action in cooperation with the Organization for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55.'

If the United States and other member states enforced these obligations in the letter and spirit of the Charters of the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies—the International Labour Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Health Organization the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, etc.—a floor would be laid under the economic risks and difficulties of peace, an inspiring stimulus would be added to efforts at achieving real peace. It would at last become possible to fulfil the opening pledge of the United Nations Charter—`to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war'.

Circumstances, of course, have changed since the Charter was written in San Francisco during the last stage of the second world war. Then, the trend all over the world seemed to be toward the kind of economic systems which might have permitted the extent of national planning, state controls over business, and long-term international agreementS on economic co-operation, without which the enforcement of Article 55 is impossible. In the meantime, this trend has been defeated in the United States. In consequence it has been reversed in Britain and the Commonwealth, France and other Western European countries and prevented from developing in most of the economically backward nations.

The great majority of governments that now make up the councils of the United Nations are committed to more rather than less 'free enterprise' and laissez faire, to the contraction rather than the growth of 'welfare states' which alone can compose a truly peaceful and progressive world.

Even so, the need for a floor under the economic risks of peace, for the timely preparation of a swords-into-ploughshares change, occasionally finds some partial expression in the United Nations sphere. For example, the Director-General of the International Labour Office, Mr David A. Morse, stated in his annual report of March 1952: 'It is not too early to prepare for the change in the economic climate that may come when present rearmament plans are completed. It is not tooearly, recalling the world's experience both before the war and even occasionally since the war, to urge that serious and responsible thought be devoted over the next two years to ensuring that when expenditure on rearmament is reduced the result will be, not a cruel return of mass unemployment, but an expansion of economic development and a raising of living standards.' And India proposed at the General Assembly in 1951 the creation of an international fund for the development of economically backward nations, to be financed out of savings from any reduction of armaments that may become possible.

So far, even the 'backward' nations, which have most to gain, have been reluctant to go further and demand that the 'advanced' nations, particularly the United States, enforce Article 55 of the Charter in order to make peace and economic development possible. The reasons for their reluctance to raise the issue more categorically in the United Nations are that they do not want to antagonize America and Britain, nor to provoke controversies which would add weight to statements of the Communist nations that to their centrally planned economies, and to them alone today, disarmament and peace entail no risks but only opportunities. Moreover, every under-developed country has powerful vested interests as strongly opposed as business is in the United States and elsewhere even to the minimum of governmental planning, economic controls and 'welfare state' reforms implicit in the Charter aims of the United Nations.

But events in the 'backward' two-thirds of the globe are marching fast. While China shows what can be done for economic development even under conditions of actual war, most other under-developed nations feel more and more the paralyzing impact of the planlessly drifting economies of the war-geared Western powers upon which they depend, and see less and less hope of solving their formidable problems within that community while there is time to stave off the revolutionary forces in their midst.

Some of them at least, like India, may therefore still try to make the United Nations live up to its promise of world-wide peace and progress through economic reform.

The governments of Britain, France and other Western nations are in a quandary over the problem of laying a floor under the economic risks and difficulties of peace. They fear the 'post-rearmament' depression dangers that threaten the Western world and its dependencies from the United States. They would welcome any means of taming the ever blundering American giant, of obliging him to put his house in order, to determine his armament policies free from the need for economic 'pump priming', and to co-operate with them in a more considerate and predictable manner. So far, however, their other concerns have been stronger. They have been anxious not to irritate America and not to strengthen domestic opposition forces, which have every reason to accuse them of carrying on at home the very policies whose effects they dread from the United States.

But the opposition is growing. As unemployment rises and rivalry for the world's markets becomes fiercer even during the armament boom, as deflationary dangers increase even while the inflationary undercurrent continues to be fed by mounting military expenditures, and as the prospects of peace and prosperity become more remote and the armament burdens harder to bear, the domestic opposition may gradually force the conservative governments of Britain and other Western countries to yield or themselves to face the basic issue of our time.

The American Government would of course have to deny the very need for laying a floor under the economic risks and difficulties of peace if United Nations members were to demand such action. It would have to minimize the 'pump priming' role armaments play in the American economy and the depression dangers that would become acute once near-war should yield to peace. For, to acknowledge these facts and their peace-preventing influence would amount to the confession that the post-war world leadership of the United States has indeed failed; that 'free enterprise' has definitely proved unable to provide peace through plenty, political through economic security; and that the world has the right, or actually the duty, to demand that America reform her economic order.

But in America, too, the forces of opposition are bound to rise, for the same reasons as they do elsewhere, and to demand reform. Their success will to a large extent depend upon the support they receive from the outside. For they are considerably weaker and face much greater odds of concentrated power, apathy and poplar confusion than do the opposition forces in the rest of the Western world.

The historic choice the world's most powerful nation will have to make is one that concerns not only the United States but mankind as a whole.

The choice before American democracy is this, in its 'great and tragic simplicity', as Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber defined it on February 20, 1950 in Le Monde, the leading French middle-of-the-road newspaper: `... to decide which of its two traditional moral laws to transgress: the one that makes preventive war inadmissible, or the one that does not permit free enterprise to be touched.'

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