Impact on peace, social justice, and the integrity of creation
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns|
This document was written by the staff of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns (MOGC), with assistance from members of the MOGC’s peace and ecology advisory groups.
For more information on the MOGC, please contact us at
email@example.com or call (202) 832-1780.
Maryknoll missioners* approach the U.S. elections recognizing their enormous impact on the communities around the world where we live and work.
We evaluate the proposals of political parties and their candidates through a lens held by these communities and by the values articulated in the Gospel and in Catholic social teaching.
See Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility at
Daily, we experience the richness of living in a global context; we understand the value of global solidarity; and we suffer when relationships in the global community are broken.
Those relationships have to be evaluated under the basic ethical and Judeo-Christian value of promoting life and life in abundance.
We are both fearful of and hopeful about the future.
We see great promise in the burgeoning social movements around the world that proclaim with deep wisdom and enormous energy that another world is possible.
And we see great danger in a superpower United States that lacks a commitment to the global common good.
We yearn for a world that is peaceful because we have seen with our own eyes the human and ecological cost of war and violent conflict.
We yearn for a world where the basic right of every person to a life of dignity is honored and where the rest of creation is valued and its integrity safeguarded.
We have accompanied too many communities where this is not the reality and we have observed too many political leaders without the vision or the courage to make it so.
In the following paragraphs we describe some of the policy decisions that will be addressed by the next U.S. president and congress – policy decisions with enormous impact on peace, social and economic justice and the integrity of creation around the world.
We also suggest some questions for prompting candidates to speak to these issues.
Peace and security
The United States is the unrivaled global superpower.
While the attacks of September 11, 2001 demonstrated the vulnerability of our people, they also offered a unique opportunity for the U.S. to contribute to a more peaceful and stable world.
In the days immediately following 9/11, we responded as a people with a passion to preserve life and a commitment to compassion.
We tasted the suffering of other victims of horrendous violence, and we received abundant international sympathy and good will, but we squandered that opportunity to become a different presence in the world.
We believe that traditional notions of national security have committed our country to failed policies, giving rise to deeper insecurity.
We propose a redefinition of security in terms of basic human needs, rights and responsibilities.
Human security, as opposed to national security, guarantees access to food, clean water, healthcare, education and employment.
It recognizes the right of people to participate in important decisions that affect their lives and respects the integrity of creation.
Human security would emerge from a “globalization of solidarity” that promotes international cooperation to preemptively manage conflicts before they turn violent.
Human security must become the basis from which the United States engages the world.
U.S. unilateralism launching a preemptive war – in reality an unprovoked invasion - on Iraq in defiance of the United Nations;
repudiating the Kyoto Protocol (which is intended to reduce green house emissions);
attempting to undermine the International Criminal Court;
refusing to sign the Treaty to Ban the Use of Landmines, which 150 other countries have signed;
refusing to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
refusing to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia;
obstructing the creation of legally binding international treaties on arms brokering or marking and tracing mechanisms for small arms transfers at the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. Suggested question for candidates
What would you do to insure the integrity of existing treaties and work toward cooperative approaches to peace and security through the UN and other organizations?
How would you repair fractured relationships with countries around the world, including Muslim countries?
The war on terror
U.S. unilateralism undercuts the cooperation necessary for addressing global problems.
Terrorism, weapons proliferation, hunger, global warming, resource depletion, the movement of peoples, disease (such as HIV/AIDS), and other challenges transcend national boundaries and require cooperative action.
However, the United States has moved away from multilateral cooperation to a policy of unilateralism.
The U.S. has displayed its resistance to international agreements by, for example:
The U.S. response to 9/11 does not address the underlying problems which lead to terrorism.
A military response to what was an egregious criminal action is more likely to birth new terrorists than to bring those responsible to justice.
A military response to terrorism, a complex social, economic and cultural problem, is inadequate and dangerous.
In fact, failure to address the root causes of terrorism, including U.S. foreign military deployments, may work against the ultimate objective.
Furthermore, U.S. imprisonment of “enemy combatants” without clear charges, access to legal representation, or fair trials is immoral, violates international law and threatens the treatment of U.S. captives now and in the future.
The Patriot Act threatens basic rights of U.S. citizens by granting to the U.S. government unprecedented powers of surveillance, investigation and detention. Suggested question for candidates
What do you think are the root CAUSES of “terrorism?”
How best could the U.S. address these?
Would you work to modify or repeal the Patriot Act in order to restore to U.S. citizens liberties lost (or stolen) in the hunt for terrorists?
While the United States admonishes or attacks those seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it develops new more “usable” nuclear weapons and is the number one arms dealer in the world.
This double standard sets the United States outside the international community and makes it impossible to speak with moral or legal authority on proliferation issues.
The U.S. underfunds its own nonproliferation efforts such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which safeguards nuclear weapons, materials, and knowledge in the former Soviet Union.
At the same time small arms and landmines, manufactured in the U.S., are the “weapons of mass destruction” in Africa, Central America and other places where they take lives and limbs every day.
Suggested question for candidates
Would you oppose the development of new U.S. nuclear weapons including so-called “mini-nukes”?
Would you pursue arms control talks with other nuclear powers to reduce the dangers posed by our nuclear arsenals and bring the U.S. into compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?
What action would you take to curtail U.S. arms exports, including sales of small arms and light weapons?
Military spending exceeds $400 billion per year, while spending for nonviolent means of conflict prevention and resolution is miniscule.
Excessive and wasteful spending has built armed forces that cannot address the primary threats today.
Meanwhile, nonmilitary foreign aid and domestic social programs are cut as poverty, injustice, and human insecurity persist worldwide.
This situation can only lead to more violent conflicts.
Suggested question for candidates
How would you restructure the federal budget to promote human security (employment, healthcare, education, housing, etc) at home and abroad?
The U.S. is increasingly building relationships with other countries through military training programs.
Every year U.S. forces train about 100,000 foreign soldiers in at least 150 institutions within the U.S. and in 180 countries around the world.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has offered police or military training to a growing list of countries said to be at the front lines in the fight against global terrorism.
Yet, the U.S. has trained soldiers who are known abusers of human rights.
Graduates of one such program, the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security and Cooperation (WHISC), have been implicated in murders, rapes, and torture.
The identity of the SOA as a training ground for assassins requires its closure, and the system of controls and follow up for other programs is inadequate.
Suggested question for candidates
What problems do you see with U.S. training of foreign military and police forces?
• Would you vote to close the School of the Americas (now WHISC)?
The “war” on drugs
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars fighting the “drug war” around the world, producing no significant results on our streets.
The focus on crop eradication in countries like Colombia, Bolivia, Afghanistan and interdiction along supply routes does not work.
The U.S. is using a military strategy to solve a socio-economic problem.
The war on drugs will continue to fail because it does not address demand in the U.S., the role of organized crime internationally, nor the poverty and lack of economic alternatives in the producing and transporting countries. Suggested question for candidates
What changes would you make to the U.S. drug control policy?
How would you respond to the global epidemic of drug trafficking and abuse?
Beyond the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. plays a role in many other situations of conflict around the world.
Too often, rather than being a force for peace, the U.S. exacerbates the conflict through military aid or training, unjust economic policies, arms sales or political positioning.
Candidates for national office in the United States must make very clear their proposals for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for positively engaging other conflicts in a way that moves them toward a peaceful resolution. Suggested question for candidates
What would your administration do in Afghanistan and Iraq?
How would you contribute to a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
What should the U.S. role in Colombia be?
How would you use U.S. power for preventive diplomacy and nonviolent conflict resolution to promote human security?
Maryknoll missioners live on the margins of society, in slums, rural villages, refugee camps, indigenous communities — dynamic places where people work hard not only to survive but to live a life of dignity.
According to the 2003 UN Human Development Report, 54 countries are poorer now than they were in 1990.
We know that women often carry the greater share of this burden of poverty.
35,000 of the world’s children die every day because of hunger and preventable diseases.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, impoverishment is exacerbated by the devastation of HIV/AIDS.
Vast numbers of people are on the move; many are economic refugees.
Not often welcome as they cross borders, they are suspected of being drug traffickers and terrorists.
Their journeys are dangerous – many die en route, and if they survive, imprisonment and exploitation are common.
Around the world we have witnessed the disastrous impact on local communities of economic decisions made in distant or disconnected places and see it happening once again as people in increasingly centralized positions of power shape the global economy, placing profit and growth before human and ecological well-being.
Transparency and participation Suggested question for candidates
How would you ensure U.S. transparency and broad stakeholder participation in economic decision-making?
Would you support opening all World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade related meetings and negotiations to the media and the public?
Most important economic decisions are made by powerful nations; among those, the U.S. takes the lead in designing policies that benefit a wealthy minority.
Poor nations and organizations of impoverished people are regularly excluded from a meaningful role in these decisions.
People negatively impacted by private sector activities are left without means to hold corporations accountable.
A serious commitment to transparency and full participation in decision-making by those affected by economic policy is essential.
Transnational corporations are major players in the global economy - 51 of the world’s 100 largest economies are corporations.
Yet no enforceable corporate codes of conduct exist to hold them accountable for any negative impact of their business practices on the community of life, including human beings.
In the United States and around the world, corporations should be obligated to treat workers justly, to pay living wages, to protect the integrity of creation and to respect local culture and laws.
The right of the private sector to benefit from patented products or business investments must be subordinated to the right of all people to human security – to access the basic necessities of life, including food, health care and essential medicine, shelter and basic education.
It also comes with corresponding responsibilities of transparency and accountability to all stakeholders.
Suggested questions for candidates
Would you support an enforceable code of conduct for U.S. corporations whether they are doing business in the U.S. or overseas?
Do you believe transnational corporations should be bound by international human rights law and subject to sanctions in U.S. courts?
Do you support legislation that would require U.S.-based corporations to report publicly on their environmental, human rights and labor rights practices overseas?
Do you support the “publish what you pay” campaign, which would require corporations to disclose aggregate information about tax payments, royalty and license fees and revenue sharing payments with government and public sector entities?
Many impoverished countries carry an overwhelming burden of foreign debt.
Often the debt has already been repaid and much of it is illegitimate – from loans to corrupt governments; for failed projects; or to pay for extravagant weapons purchased from creditor country companies.
In spite of millennial calls for Jubilee, promises of debt relief toward poverty reduction through the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) have not materialized.
In fact, the economies of indebted countries have been forced open and restructured, in most cases against the best interests of the poor majority of citizens. Suggested question for candidates
Would you support the cancellation of all impoverished country debt to the World Bank and IMF, using the institutions’ own resources?
In your opinion what would constitute a fair, transparent and impartial international mechanism for resolving illegitimate and overwhelming debt?
As people of faith we believe that international trade should uphold the dignity of the human person and the integrity of creation.
Any trade agreement should place sustainable development, personal and ecological well-being at its center.
The valuing of goods and services for trade is prejudiced against the poorest countries that often depend on raw materials, basic agricultural products, and human labor for their export earnings.
The free market alone cannot be assumed to assign just value to these products.
Powerful nations, including the U.S., protect their own markets and subsidize products while forcing more vulnerable countries to eliminate market protections and subsidies for domestic products.
Suggested question for candidates
How would you change U.S. trade-related policy, particularly with regard to subsidies, dumping and market protection?
The interpretation of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) provisions has been a stumbling block to providing lifesaving drugs to people suffering with diseases including HIV/AIDS in epidemic proportions around the globe.
Compulsory licensing should enable the production of cheaper generic drugs, making pharmaceuticals more accessible to poor people.
But drug companies, afraid of losing profits, have pressed the U.S. Trade Representative to negotiate intellectual property provisions in regional and bilateral trade agreements that are even stricter than legal WTO processes.
These will effectively diminish the availability to poor people of essential medicines. Suggested question for candidates
Do you support full funding of the U.S. fair share of the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria?
Would you end U.S. support for trade initiatives that undermine access to affordable and generic HIV/AIDS and other lifesaving medications?
Hunger and food sovereignty
More than 840 million people in the world are malnourished, 153 million of them under the age of five.
In the U.S., 33.6 million people, including almost 13 million children, live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger.
U.S. policy assumes that increased production will eradicate hunger.
In reality, there is enough food in the world.
Distribution and lack of access to good, nutritious food often play far greater roles in hunger and malnutrition than does production.
The development of large scale, capital intensive export-oriented agriculture can increase production but, at the same time, undercut food self-sufficiency.
In preparation for the World Food Summit+5 held in Rome in 2001, “food sovereignty” rather than “food security” was promoted by anti-hunger advocates.
They argued that the possibility for countries to determine their own agricultural policy based on the needs of their people and for communities to have access to nutritious food and sustainable livelihoods are essential elements in ending global hunger.
Suggested question for candidates
What would you do to eliminate hunger in the U.S. and in the world?
How would you change U.S. foreign policy to allow other countries food sovereignty?
Ecology: Sustainable communities of life
The 2004 elections come at a time when the whole community of life is under attack.
The very survival of this community - all of creation, including human beings – is threatened by war and other forms of destructive violence, by poverty and degradation, by a global economy that is not ecologically sustainable and by lifestyles of a wealthy minority that are consuming the future.
Natural resources essential to life, like water and air, are being poisoned or commodified.
Hunger is ever-present and starvation is one failed harvest away for millions of people.
Food is being processed and traded to benefit a few people and nations, while the majority sit with empty bowls.
Maryknoll missioners work with indigenous and traditional communities in the Americas and in parts of Asia and Africa.
For centuries, their ecological wisdom and way of life that modeled alternative relationships between human beings and the rest of creation have been derided and destroyed.
Debates over access to land, the privatization of water and intellectual property rights carry enormous weight for these communities.
Movement toward a new way of life in right relationship with the rest of creation and new national priorities for protecting the integrity of creation must be urgent priorities for the next president of the United States.
Suggested questions for candidates
On what values have you built your proposals for U.S. energy policy?
How would you address the issue of climate change/global warming? Would you implement the Kyoto Protocol?
Would you withdraw U.S. support in the World Bank and regional development banks for socially and environmentally destructive projects such as in oil, gas, mining and big dams?
What would you do to decrease U.S. dependence on oil and to promote research, development, and use of renewable sources of energy?
Entirely missing from the public policy debate over energy policy have been values of environmental justice, creation stewardship and intergenerational responsibility.
The present administration has endorsed new nuclear energy plants; provided enormous subsidies for extractive industries; supported exemptions and tax shields that protect polluting industries and endanger clean air requirements; and failed to take seriously the threats associated with climate change and global warming.
The U.S.’s repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol was a devastating example of its unilateralist posture and its unwillingness to challenge corporate U.S. America.
Exploration and the exploitation of natural resources are valued over conservation and the rehabilitation of damaged ecosystems.
From global warming to global warring we deal with the problems associated with fossil fuel use everyday.
U.S. dependence on oil from foreign and domestic sources puts us into conflict with countries around the world and the environment which sustains us all.
Water is essential for all life on this planet.
Clean, affordable water is part of the global commons and has long been recognized as a basic human right.
Without it, life cannot be sustained.
Nations go to war and relationships between neighbors often clash over access to water.
Yet, the U.S. supports economic policies that promote the privatization of water in impoverished countries around the world.
The management and distribution of water for profit by private companies – including in the U.S. – puts at risk the access of poor people and their communities to a resource that is fundamental to life.
The intense promotion and sale of bottled water is highly profitable for a few corporations.
This practice, which is unsustainable and unjust, often depletes local water supplies, robbing local communities of a basic resource.
Safe water is indispensable for all communities and should not be commodified. Suggested question for candidates
How would you balance public and private interests in proposing domestic and international water policy?
Would you work to change macro-economic policy prescriptions, including the privatization of basic resources like water, given by the IMF and other creditors to impoverished countries?
Genetically modified, or transgenic, organisms (GMOs) are created through high-tech transfers of selected genetic material from one organism to another to create new varieties of plants and animals with chosen characteristics.
This process is highly controversial.
One concern most often identified is the potentially negative impact of GMOs on the natural world – for example, on the “insurance” provided by biodiversity against unforeseen natural disasters – and on food safety, especially for people with serious allergies to certain foods.
The economic impact of GMOs on small farm owners and workers is also of concern, as GMO technology is of most benefit to large scale, capital intensive agriculture and is likely to concentrate control over agricultural production.
Promoters of GMO technologies claim that these technologies may be of use in addressing critical issues like hunger, drought, water shortages, poor soil and limited access to land.
But serious questions must be asked about whether the present technological direction addresses these problems, what new problems it creates, and whether it is appropriate to the continuing evolution of the full community of life on Earth.
At least, aid recipients, trading partners and consumers have a right to full disclosure regarding GMOs.
Suggested question for candidates
What is your position on genetically modified organisms in agricultural production, foreign aid and trade policies?
Concrete political decisions can have enormous impact on peace, social and economic justice and the integrity of creation, moving our world closer to or farther from the biblical vision of New Creation.
But too often, campaign rhetoric avoids discussion of issues that profoundly affect the well-being of people and the earth.
We hope this brief review of some important policy decisions to face the newly elected president and U.S. Congress next year will contribute to an informed electorate and to a full and serious debate in the coming months.
* Maryknoll, the U.S.-based Catholic missionary movement, includes:
the Maryknoll Society (Fathers and Brothers),
the Maryknoll Congregation (Sisters),
the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful (lay people, priests and religious),
and the Maryknoll Affiliates.
Maryknollers have been representing U.S. Catholics in overseas mission since 1911 and currently serve in 39 countries worldwide.
For more information on Maryknoll,
or call 914-941-7590.