Critical examination of Western-centric concept of “peace”

The deepening international crisis after the Great Depression in 1929 changed the atmosphere of the IPR significantly. The optimistic hope for regional cooperation that permeated among the IPR members in the 1920s faded away. The heightened political tensions between Japan and China eventually led to the Manchurian Incident in 1931. Before the fourth conference, which was planned to be held in Shanghai in 1931, Japanese members tried not to include the Manchurian problem in the conference program. Though their attempts ended up in failure, at the Shanghai conference, which was held a month after the Manchurian Incident, they employed almost the same arguments as the official imperialistic views on Manchurian problem, and defended Japan’s “legitimate interests” in China.31 After Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, the IPR conference increased its importance for the government as one of the few diplomatic channels left for Japan, and the Japan Council was increasingly put under government influences.

As Japanese members were increasingly isolated in the IPR, they began criticizing the status quo which had unequally served for the benefits of huge economic powers like Britain and the United States. They insisted that in order to overcome the turbulent political tensions and restore stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the IPR should invent a new concept of peace, that is, “peace through change,” instead of “peace through preserving the status quo." Before the fifth IPR conference which was planned to be held in Banff, Canada in August 1933, Takagi Yasaka and Yokota Kizaburô, both of whom were professors at the Tokyo Imperial University, jointly submitted a preliminary paper entitled “Some Consideration on the Future Reconstruction of Peace Machinery in the Pacific,” which was eventually developed into a formal report titled, “Security Pact of the Pacific,” and was submitted at Banff. In these papers, Takagi and Yokota argued that the fundamental reason of the current instabilities in the Asia-Pacific region lay in the lack of an effective regional peace machiner}' to alleviate economic injustices and political injustices between “have” and “have-not” nations, and insisted that peace could be restored only through devising a new regional framework with a peaceful procedure to modify the status quo toward realizing a more equal regional order.32 While accusing Japan’s imperial ambitions in Manchuria, the other participants recognized the significance of Japanese members’ claim for “peaceful change,” which resulted in several important reports on this topic such as Henry F. Angus’ The Problem of Peaceful Change in the Pacific Area. 33

It was only after the outbreak of World War II that the imperial status quo was fundamentally questioned at the IPR. On August 14, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill released the Atlantic Charter, which included self-determination as one of the important principles for a post-war international order. Nevertheless, the scope of its application was made intentionally unclear. At the eighth conference held in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, in December 1942, driven by the long-oppressed desire for abolition of imperialism and colonialism, non-Western participants strongly demanded that the principle of self-determination should be applied to all people without any reservation. Indian members especially criticized the qualifications of the Atlantic Charter made by Churchill, and insisted that Britain should issue a clear-cut statement on the immediate independence of India.34

This time, these anti-colonial voices were no longer the minority'. Non-Western members successively criticized British “imperialistic” attitudes, insisting that Britain should make an appropriate declaration which would dispel existing uncertainties concerning its acceptance of the principles of the Atlantic Charter in all its terms and in relation to all areas. Facing all round criticism, British members finally had to admit, “The people of Great Britain today have no reservations whatsoever about the application of the Atlantic Charter to every' part of the world,” and “We have no qualifications in our own mind in regard to India or to any of our dependencies.”35

The debates repeated at the ninth conference held under the title “Security' in the Pacific” in Hot Springs, Virginia, in January' 1945. The members from the colonial powers more apparently' defended the status quo, emphasizing that “security'” should be the imperative goal of international society'. American members insisted the necessity' of preserving U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific. British members also openly' defended the necessity' of great powers’ continued military' intervention, which according to them would be exercised only for peoples’ safety' and benefits. Responding to these claims, Indian members bitterly' criticized great power-centric definition of “security',” and insisted that the purpose of IPR should never be a false “security” imposed by force but be a true “security'” which develop spontaneously in people’s hearts. Non-Western members’ critical eyes were also directed to the United Nations Charter, which granted veto power to the five permanent members of the Security' Council with primary responsibility' for the maintenance of international peace and security'. Criticizing the UN as too great-power centered, non-Western members demanded a more democratic League, pointing out that one of the biggest failures of the League of Nations lay in its underestimation of non-Western powers, particularly Asian powers, which were already emerging in the interwar era.36

When colonialism and imperialism were critically examined at the IPR, Western intellectuals were not entirely' unaware of the importance of these problems. From the late 1930s, several international conferences were held to have scholarly' discussion on concrete measures for ending hostilities and restoring peace. One of the important debates took place at the International Study' Conference, founded in 1928 under the auspices of the League of Nations International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation as a non-governmental body and was made up of academic representatives mainly' from Western member states as well as the nonmember United States. At the 10th International Studies Conference held in Paris from June 28 to July 3, 1937, based on the shared understanding that dissatisfaction with the status quo widely shared by people all over the world could lead to serious threats to peace, scholars examined possibilities of “peaceful change” of the international order. After a general debate over “peaceful change” considered from a philosophic and psychological angle, the Conference was divided into several committees, each dealing with the aspect of demographic questions, raw materials, markets, colonies, and so on.37

“Peaceful change” debates discussed at the International Study Conference, however, did not envision radical changes in the international order. Certainly, they discussed colonialism, and some scholars even stipulated possibilities of abandoning some colonies, yet only in the context of appeasing Germany and the other “have-not” powers. They never challenged the existed Western-centric international order per se. Rather, they regarded “peacefill change” as a last resort to maintain the Western-centric world.

Compared with the debates at the International Study Conference, the “peacefill change” debates in the Asia-Pacific region could be said to be much more fundamental ones. In the eyes of non-Western participants at the IPR, any IR Theory' which was silent on Western imperialism and colonialism could never provide a sufficient theoretical base toward durable peace. Though their voice was mostly silenced in the 1920s and the 1930s, their anti-colonial voices gained momentum toward the end of World War II.

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