Some would say that by the time you have lived almost a century, you have seen it all. But what I saw the House of Representatives do with its continuing resolution is beyond the pale. That Congress would seek to eliminate funding for the United States Institute of Peace is abhorrent and unthinkable.
Congress should know better: The last century marked the most violent and destructive era in human history. Wars great and small cut short the lives of more than 100 million people. We learned a great deal from those wars and, fortunately, we now have a vibrant and active field of peacebuilding. As recent events have shown, there is hopeful progress for peaceful management of conflict, but more violence is certain to come in a world where disputes are fueled by religious intolerance, ethnic divisions, failing states, terrorism, intractable territorial conflicts and the uncontrolled proliferation of highly destructive weaponry. The young field of international conflict management is just beginning to bear fruit.
Now is not the time, in the face of global adversity, to cut peace. The United States must be a leader in nonviolent international management. This conflict-ridden world needs an organization committed to peacemaking: one that can deploy teams of specialists to conflict zones; create and implement methods of resolving disputes before guns are drawn; and train leaders who can mediate conflicts and make civil societies work. That is why Congress created the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1984. President Ronald Reagan’s wise investment continues to pay dividends in the training and education of peacemakers, facilitators, trainers and other experts.
As a man of faith and reason, I know that we need to balance our budget. But I also know that you cannot balance a budget on the backs of our men and women in uniform. Nor can we take the risk of making our nation less safe. We need the tools of diplomacy and peacebuilding to stop international conflict before it starts and to manage its aftermath. We have wonderful institutions in the State Department and the Pentagon but they alone cannot deal with every foreign affairs issue. There are times when you need nongovernmental organizations, legislative agencies and the help of those who have relationships on the ground in conflict zones to run interference or to pave the way for officials. We must never suffer from pride and hubris, thinking that only Washington has the answers.
All the global conflicts raging around us may have seemed of little consequence to earlier generations. In the new century, however, even small conflicts risk growing to a scale that can destroy lives and economies around the world. In the U.S. Institute of Peace we have an organization that understands the sources of violence as well as the tools to prevent international conflict.
If the United States is serious about peacemaking, its citizens and national leaders must defend the institutions that are doing the hard work of transitioning societies from war to peace. The U.S. Institute for Peace should have a permanent home in the nation’s capital from which to work, teach, inspire and prepare current and future generations of peacemakers — and to be a symbol of America’s commitment to reducing violent international conflict in the 21st century.
We must, as a nation, show courage, steadiness of purpose and commitment to core principles. We cannot afford the alternatives.
Ted Hesburgh is president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and co-chair of the United States Institute of Peace National Campaign for Peacemaking.