Monday, February 09, 2009

Peace through Parks

Throughout the last hundred years, there have been proposals for Peace through Unilateral Disarmament, Peace through Love, Peace through Strength, and Strength through Peace. Wars rage on.

I propose Peace through Parks.

First of all, note that many, (most?) but not all, of the world's many wars originate in border disputes. Russia-Georgia, the Falklands, Israel-Palestine, and others come to mind. By resolving all outstanding border disputes, war is less likely. Imagine if the property lines between you and your neighbors were not clearly defined, and you were all armed to the teeth and had some long-standing grudges. If you could at least agree on the property line, you could build a fence there and relax tensions.

Secondly, note that the world can use as much greenery, preservation of nature, and parkland as it can get. Areas not exploited by humans are needed in every biome to preserve biodiversity and other Gaian systems.

Basically, therefore, the proposal is to turn all disputed territory into international peace parks -- natural areas where human presence is prohibited.

To work best, such a system would need some kind of sanction or push. Most of the world's nations would have to be sick of war and push the rest to agree to settle their border issues. They could block countries from having a vote in the UN General Assembly until they had resolved all disputes. Alternatively, countries with unresolved issues could be kept out of the latest trade agreements or the WTA.

There could be a multi-stage process for this. The flowchart would go something like this, as follows. Nations would report their borders to the UN or another mediating authority. In cases where they disagreed, where two entities claimed the same territory, they would be given a chance to resolve it by mutual agreement, submit it to binding arbitration, or agree to remove all personnel and installations from the disputed area and allow it to revert to nature, either for perpetuity or for a century at a time. If you choose the century option, simply suspend all arguments and agree to discuss this issue again in 100 years time. The default option of creating international parklands would be the preferred wherever possible.

Returning to our neighborhood analogy, you don't need to necessarily settle disputes with a surveyor's clear line. You can take the area between your line and their line, and grow a big hedge there, a stand of bamboo, or whatever grows there, an impenetrable brush, perhaps.

How would this look in its actual implementation? Let's start near home, in Japan. Japan's claims to Sakhalin and some of the Kurile Islands would either be agreed to, resolved in favor of one of the parties, or the whole area would just be turned into a vast nature reserve. Where the sea is involved, the old 12-mile limit or a similar rule would probably be best. Bears and perhaps wooly mammoths would again roam and rule the land. Displaced persons would be compensated for the loss of their property. Call it a stimulus package, or create a system to generate income from the area to repay the displaced or to fund the compensation board.

Also involving Japan, the Takeshima/Dokdo/Liancourt rocks/islands and the waters around them would make a good nature reserve. This place is a wasteland not worth the investments made in it (and certainly not worth fighting over). The fishery resources around it benefit both sides the most if the area is preserved as an undisturbed breeding ground to help sustain fish stocks in the open ocean. The resources on the immediate sea floor can be saved for another century. There are similar disputes with Taiwan and China, and between China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others, which can all be settled in the same way, by creating nature reserves.

More complicated cases arise where large populations, third parties, or different cultures are involved, such as the Basques, South Ossetia, the former Yugoslavia, Kashmir, Tibet, and the Amazon. Without self-determination and devolved autonomy to indigenous people, this would not make much sense. In other words, it's better to give autonomy to Kashmir, or make it a nation (or two) than for India and Pakistan to settle the dispute by evacuating Kashmir.

Let's take some extreme and potentially absurd cases. What if Mexico were to claim California, Texas, Colorado, and the rest of the southwest United States? The disputed area is probably too big to be considered as a park. Suppose then that, in addition, the settlement went Mexico's way, and these areas were returned to Mexico. This might seem to be a nightmare scenario, but would it really be so bad? Adding 60 million or so "Anglos" to Mexico's population would instantly make it a bilingual country. The wealth of the north combined with the labor force in the south could create a potent economic superpower. The northerners would demand better governance than has sometimes come from Mexico City in the past. If the northerners didn't feel they were getting a fair deal, they would secede again, or perhaps parts of the south would, repeating history in a different form. The America that didn't fight and win the war with Mexico would be different but possibly better, and no worse than the America that did not fight and win the war with Canada. By this I mean that people tend to be prejudiced in favor of their own timeline and not consider that an alternate history could have been better or worse.

In the case of Israel/Palestine, we often hear of the two-state solution and less often, the one-state solution. Other integers must be considered. The no-state solution would evacuate the entire area permanently and plant lots of cedars. Property-owners and refugees would be compensated for their inconvenience and loss. In many cases you would have to compensate both an Israeli claimant and a Palestinian claimant to the same property. This would still be cheaper and more humane than continued human occupation of the area. Fortunately, there is a ready source of income to fund this project. The incorporated park of "HolyLand" would be a continuing site of religious pilgrimage for many centuries, and the high admission charges would insure that the displaced Israelis and Palestinians would be well-compensated in their new homes in the countries of their choice in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Australia. Visitors to the HolyLand park would find it as hard to imagine the park grounds were once a battlefield as visitors to EuroDisney do. The park would be governed by a council composed of Jewish rabbis, Muslim ayatullahs, Christian priests, Buddhist monks, Sihks, Hindus, and members of other religions, with most employees being neutral Buddhist monks and secular scholars. Religious sites would be operated in a secular manner as museums most days, with multi-religious sites holding Islamic functions on Fridays, Jewish functions on Saturdays, and Christian functions on Sundays. Visitors to the park would be issued a sackcloth robe and would be required to bring their own food and water since all vestiges of electrical and water infrastructure would have been removed. Complex chemicals and technologies, such as lighters and matches, would not be allowed, while simple substances such as salt, oil, and soap would be allowed to be carried inside the park. These austere measures and strict policing would reduce the chance of violence.

That's a no-state solution, but what of a three-state solution? This solution could also work with a rump Israel, a rump Palestine, and the neutral third state enveloping the middle land and all shared religious sites. Rather than being abandoned, a variation on this would be for the central state to be a secular union of the peaceful, moderate members of both communities, with the 30-50% of radical Zionist Israelis in their own "Zion" enclave, the 30-50% radical Islamicist Palestinians in their own enclave, and the moderate ones of both communities who just want to get along in the largest group. This would not be a peace park but would have to be free of explosives and automatic weapons, and be highly policed. Unlike the area today, civilized life might have a chance of succeeding (without religion).

The nation-state-based world order may not be the most ideal, but until a transcending and unifying idea takes its place, it would at least be better for it to function peacefully.

Inspiration for peace parks comes from the DeMilitarizedZone between the two Koreas, one of East Asia's richest wildlife reserves. The experience of Chernobyl after 1986 also suggests what much of the abandoned world parkland may look like as it restores itself.

Rather than being imposed worldwide from above by the community, people could encourage their countries to drop their territorial disputes and/or convert lands in disputed border areas into national parks.

Warning: It may make people angry when you propose turning their entire country into a wilderness area.

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