International Cooperation and Peace: Values of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow



[1] This contribution will explore components of international cooperation and peace as discussed in the 1995 social statement, “For Peace in God’s World.”


[2] For more than 25 years I have been serving as director of the Lutheran Office for World Community for the ELCA and as the main representative for The Lutheran World Federation at the United Nations. My work conveys the social policy views of the Lutheran churches from around the world to the UN. We also keep church members informed of what the UN is doing on topics of interest, including new ones which may emerge.


[3] The advocacy at and with the UN is important because working for international cooperation and peace is part of our baptismal affirmation to “strive for justice and peace in all the world.”  Our advocacy also implements important aspects of “For Peace in God’s World”Let’s outline the ways, imperfect though they may be, that the UN connects to the concerns for global cooperation and security that the statement lifts up.


The meaning of international cooperation


[4] International cooperation is stressed in the social statement because it contributes to peace and even keeps the peace. International cooperation is a way through which God intends this world to work.  The United Nations, first by adopting its Charter 75 years ago, in 1945 -- but since then through its various structures -- has been the conceptual basis upon which international cooperation has been built, beginning after the devastation of World War II. 


[5] Sometimes it is easy to overlook, but all day, every day, nations do cooperate with one another. They deliver humanitarian aid, provide health and educational services, agree to treaties on a wide range of topics, and preserve and protect human rights.  They also do perhaps less obvious things like share weather reports, provide postal services, and regulate the use of the broadcast airwaves.  But sometimes the path toward new forms of cooperation is unclear or nations have disputes with one another.       


[6] The Preamble to the United Nations Charter says that the peoples of the Member States of the UN commit themselves to  


establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


and, to achieves these goals, Member States agree to


ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.


[7] These commitments express the social statement’s goal of common or mutually assured security, so let’s explore how the United Nations has set up a number of bodies to carry out such objectives and goals.  First, a General Assembly of Member States was created where virtually any topic can and has been discussed.  The Charter also empowered the General Assembly to be a place where treaties and other international agreements could be developed, adopted and open for Member States to sign and ratify.  In addition, a Security Council was created to have


primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security …


[8] Notice that UN Member States do not reserve unto themselves the primary responsibility for international peace and security but rather consign it to the international body.  Over time, the Security Council saw the need to create peacekeeping operations in order to maintain peace after a conflict, or serve as a policing mechanism to bring about peace while protecting civilians, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants or protecting human rights and restoring the rule of law.


[9] Under the Charter, Member States also pledge to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states as well as to respect the self-determination of peoples as necessary for stability and promoting peaceful and friendly relations among nations.  The Charter recognizes the right of Member States to self-defense individually and collectively but calls upon them to refrain from the use of force as mentioned earlier in the Preamble.


[10] The social statement also says that “Cultural interaction and political and economic cooperation can contribute to common security”. Those international leaders who created the United Nations saw clearly the same idea of the connection between economic and social advancement and international peace. They created an Economic and Social Council to concern itself primarily with economic, social, cultural, educational, and health issues.  Over the years, the Economic and Social Council has become the major forum for the advancement of women, for sustainable development concerns, and to follow-up on UN conferences and summits. The outcomes are not always perfect, but the concern has spawned specialized agencies over the years to deal with these and other topics.   



What the statement says about arms control and reduction



[11] A major aspect of international efforts to maintain or establish peace has been arms control and reduction.  Many of the efforts toward arms control and reduction have been initiated within the UN system although several have not. 


[12] The social statement is very specific in its call for limiting weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons are to be reduced sharply while chemical and biological weapons are to be banned outright. In the case of nuclear weapons, agreements to reduce stockpiles and decrease the possibility of nuclear confrontation or accident are to be given priority.  The statement also calls for nuclear nonproliferation agreements, monitoring and enforcement of nuclear treaties and efforts toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.  An example is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the objective of which is described by the UN as, “to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.”  The NPT, which entered in force in 1970, has been approved by more than 190 countries.  The recently-negotiated Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reached a significant milestone earlier this year when 50 states parties ratified it, allowing it to come into force in late January 2021.


[13] At the time that the social statement was being developed, banning land mines was a very contemporary issue as governments were discussing how to achieve this.  The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction -- known informally as the Ottawa Treaty -- was finally adopted in 1997.  However, coming to agreement was unusual because countries were unable to agree to a text proposed by Austria in 1996.  As a consequence, Canada created a separate negotiating process that eventually led to the treaty being adopted. While the treaty has been ratified thus far by more than 160 nations, several major countries, such as China, Russia and the United States have not ratified it.        


[14] Landmines come under a classification of weapons considered to be excessively injurious and have indiscriminate effects.  Other examples include booby traps, incendiary weapons and blinding laser weapons.  These kinds of weapons as well as autonomous weapons – those which, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator – were not covered in the social statement but pose significant ethical and moral concerns.


[15] The statement also takes up the matter of the global trade in arms calling for a prohibition on “U.S. military assistance and arms transfers to governments that use them to oppress their own citizens or to engage in acts of aggression”.  It additionally calls for making arms sales transparent and reducing the arms trade.   Fortunately, some progress has been achieved in the intervening years with the Arms Trade Treaty entering into force in 2014.  More than 100 countries have become parties to the Treaty and about 30 more have signed it, but a significant number – more than 50 – have not yet taken any action.   



Some means of nonviolent action to protest violence and injustice


[16]  The social statement calls for employing nonviolent means to protest violence and injustice.  These can be used to bring about just and peaceful change when facing oppressive systems.  Education about nonviolence is one type of action advocated.  Another call is for personal and conscientious participation in nonviolent action where it is intended to lead to greater justice.  The statement also calls for pastoral support for those who -- in conscience -- take nonviolent action for peace.  These actions may include symbolic acts that dramatize an evil. 


[17] We should also include peaceful civic involvement such as volunteering with non-governmental organizations that hold accountable the principalities and powers, exposing injustices. This may involve advocating for the preservation of fundamental freedoms, for environmental justice, or for the promotion and protection of other human rights. Community organizing and networking for the common good can be ways to contribute to and sustain peace among our neighbors whether they live nearby or in another part of the world.  Churches with their congregations are natural venues for these kinds of activities.  The ELCA gave focus to these types of efforts when it carried out a programmatic emphasis from 2001 to 2010, as part of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.


[18] In addition, one can become involved in groups who encourage and utilize nonviolent intervention techniques where there are conflicts and wars.  One recently formed organization of this kind is Nonviolent Peaceforce.


[19] Last, but not least, we should continue to support action that has become a hallmark of the U.S. Lutheran tradition for decades: humanitarian assistance to the victims of war and conflict -- those who are uprooted, refugees, internally displaced people and forced migrants. 


[20] I hope I have been able to help you draw some connections between the concerns contained in the social statement about international cooperation and peace and what you can actually do in your local setting. Both are important calls to us from “For Peace in God’s World.”


Dennis Frado is Director of the Lutheran Office for World Community, an office of the Global Mission unit of the ELCA.  He also serves as Main Representative of the LWF at United Nations Headquarters and has assisted the LWF at annual meetings and assemblies since 1984.

Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

 ©December/January 2020

​Journal of Lutheran Ethics

Volume 20, Issue 7