World policy

  • Date / 1962
  • Ratifying Body / World Humanist Congress
  • Status / Pending-review

The congress has taken note of the following statement on World Policy and urges each member organisation to set up a small permanent workshop on World Security, with the following terms of reference:

  1. To study the problem of national defence and international security,
  2. Take account of other groups working on these problems, and to establish any useful co-operation,
  3. To stimulate, inform and articulate thinking within the organisation on these problems, and to make proposals for action when advisable,
  4. To report to the IHEU secretariat any development likely to be of general interest, and to make an annual report to the Executive Committee on the activitiesof the workshop with reference to national policy and public opinion on defence.

A Statement on World Policy

  1. As the nuclear stalemate is both a deadly threat and a challenge to mankind, humanists should not neglect to make their contribution to survival. They musthelp define the alternatives, to spread the required insight, and to promote the co-operation of responsible persons and bodies. The second Congress of the International Humanist & Ethical Union in 1957 emphasised the responsibility of humanists to further a well-informed public relation. To this end many contacts were made, which resulted in a study of the security problem and its ramifications.
  2. In the meantime, the situation has changed, in that public opinion and also governments seem at present to be more convinced of the unprecedented risks ofatomic warfare than they appeared to be in 1957. Political and strategic thinking and policies are now decisively influenced by the need to reduce the risks and avoid the occasions of war, and this attains a new high level of international responsibility in the history of mankind.

Nevertheless, the risks remain. Negotiations for agreement on a plan of disarmament are always in progress, but progress is not made. There is nothing to encourage hope of any positive outcome soon. This experience breeds political cynicism. Without hope of a practicable alternative to violence, military attitudes reassert themselves, and outbursts of impatience to be expected. In so far as it is clear that general and complete disarmament is not politically practicable in the present state of the world, the public should no longer be deceived by official proclamation of attachment to this ideal as an immediate end.

Instead, official efforts should be concentrated on working for attainable purposes, such as limited disarmament, and establishment of the new concepts and conditions preliminary to general and complete disarmament.

The present period of balance of power and cold war is not a lasting achievement of international stability and national security. The greatest danger to peace is that statesmen and peoples are all too unlikely to underestimate the risks of a peace based upon the insecure foundations of the present stalemate because they are unwilling to take risks of an unfamiliar kind.

This willingness, however, is required to break with the traditional pattern of international relations in order to establish relations more suited to the decisively new situation brought about by the indiscriminate and incalculable destructiveness of modern weapons. Unless and until this necessary radical change is initiated, the outbreak or war, remains a probability, for the old habits of thought and patterns of behaviour which have always produced international conflict will persist, and the number of governments which seek to obtain nuclear arms will increase. Meanwhile, all the same, fundamental principles of the present defective world order (based on a balance of power), such as observance of treaties and the renunciation of aggression, should be faithfully upheld.

Thus the international situation is characterised, on the one hand, by a new prudence in the political and military preparedness to prevent an outbreak of war, on the other hand, by a tendency to stay dangerously long in the temporary condition of armed peace rather than to make changes required to establish conditions of enduring peace which are well within human capability.

  1. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the required changes in the pattern of inter-governmental relations is the lack of mutual confidence. This great obstacle can be reduced and removed gradually if persistent efforts to it are made on many fronts by more and more people. The efforts required are of a political, economic, and social nature, such as:
    1. It is necessary to cease to think in black and white terms, for there are no stainless systems standing against devilish ones, and all systems, anyhow, are in a state of development. This consideration should not lead to unlimited relativism, but to that degree of mutual understanding which is a necessary preliminary to really stable international relations. Competitive co-existence is the only alternative to mutually destructive conflict.
    2. World order requires institutions, and the United Nations exists to provide them, but all nations must be members and all members must have confidence in the constitution and the secretariat before the United Nations and its agencies are fully international and workable for the purpose of international order and co-operation. That is, the United Nations must not be an instrument of any block.
      All nations must be able to participate effectively in its work. But these conditions are to be established only by working with and through the United Nations as it is.
    3. Negotiations on political differences or in connection with danger spots are called for, and if settlements are reached and jointly guaranteed, there is beginning not only of political co-operation but also of military co-operation.
      An international force, recruited, trained and equipped for emergency action in trouble spots, is not only useful and desirable, but also necessary for the development of confidence in a neutral armed force acting under international political authority. For it should be recognised that general and complete disarmament is unthinkable without the setting up of a World Security Authority, and that this requires demonstrations of limited and effective international armed intervention.
    4. Negotiations are also called for to halt the arms race, to reduce the risks of accidental war, to provide mutual guarantees against surprise attack, to prevent or limit the dissemination of nuclear weapons, to abolish nuclear tests, as a preliminary to general disarmament, even though this might entail some risks with respect to the balance of power. If progress is not made in such negotiations, the reasons are to be looked for and attempts made to remove them, and new approaches are to be tried, as in other kinds of failure.
      In this connection recent developments to be noted and welcomed are:

      1. The appointment of representatives of the USSR & USA as co-chairmen at the Geneva disarmament negotiations who consult together on the agenda,
        The participation of neutrals in the negotiations,
        The establishment by some governments of their own permanent department on disarmament.
        All governments are more or less constrained and restrained by the influence of public opinion, and public opinion is made or influenced by the public organs of information and comment, by schools and colleges and other educational agencies, but also informally in the intercourse of every day. Opinions relevant to security and peacemaking vary from the pacifist position to the nationalistic intransigence of those who will countenance only the negotiator who brings home victory. Ill-informed and extreme opinions may not only hamper or destroy constructive negotiation on disarmament or political differences, they help to make patterns of behaviour which positively bring about war. Therefore, every effort to be informed and to inform and to take into account all relevant considerations is a basic contribution to peace and security.
      2. Informed discussion is useful and necessary not only within national boundaries but also across the frontiers. International relations and personal contacts areto be promoted and multiplied through the United Nations and its agencies, Non-governmental Organisations, religious movements and expert meetings, such as the Pugwash conferences, in industry and commerce, in the professions, and in culture, the arts and sports. For this purpose, of course, the most significant visits and exchanges are across ideological frontiers.
      3. International co-operation does not wait on the solution of all political and military problems. The machinery of the United Nations and its agencies is available for a united or joint attack on all the outstanding problems which afflict or threaten mankind: the population explosion, the waste and destruction of resources, the plight of peoples in underdeveloped areas, economic dislocations, racial and other forms of discrimination and oppression. The thoughtful and imaginative lead to the world which Dr. Sen, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Hunger Campaign, which seeks to enlist everybody in a campaign for the definitive solution of a basic problem, is an example of the kind of initiative which is possible and which is needed if a breakthrough is to be achieved in coping with the critical problems of mankind.
      4. Just distribution of prosperity, however, is not so much to be looked upon as a favour conferred by prosperous nations upon awakening peoples, but rather as a purposeful promotion of joint interests, without political intervention, but with guarantees for an effective use of means. Therefore, attention must be paid to full supra-national economic organisation, both regionally and on a world scale, requiring primarily measures for the marketing and pricing of raw material, on which the position of the nations producing these materials depends.


  1. The fundamental thought which underlies and links these considerations in the inextinguishable ideal of an indissoluble human relationship in freedom, ofwhich some consequences have been laid down in the Charter of United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  2. These consequences will to an increasing extent lose their utopian character as possibilities are created in all parts of the world or the development of a free citizenship rooted in social services and traditions which enable all persons to develop towards real maturity and responsibility adequate to the demands of modern societies: The freedom aimed at here is not necessarily and everywhere the freedom of private enterprise as against democratic economic planning, but is a defence of the plural society against every form of dictatorship and oppression. At the same time co-operation with dictatorships and non-intervention in the affairs of all independent states, other than by the United Nations, are equally affirmed as necessary guiding principles in the present state of the world.
  3. It is not the function of IHEU to try to formulate detailed solutions for the major international problems facing mankind in this era. The fundamental point is simply that in world affairs, as in all other areas of human endeavour, man must place primary reliance for the solution of our problems on the method of reason, discussion, and science, as opposed to methods based on violence and motivated by emotion and prejudice. It is with this interpretation of responsible behaviour that humanists appeal to both East and West to approach international problems in a spirit of reasonableness.
  4. In giving considered expression to these ideas, the International Humanist & Ethical Union believes that it is both expressing and appealing to the responsibility which all men have in common, irrespective of religion, race, class, or political insight. In particular, the appeal is to representative persons of high calibre in all walks of life to devote their indispensable capacities to the solution of these problems which in our time have brought men face to face with mankind. The question at issue is whether man can banish panic and fatalism, and purposefully and ingeniously create the conditions for a world in which man still has a future.

IHEU congress 1962

Suggested academic reference

'World policy', Humanists International, World Humanist Congress, 1962

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