Today is the International Day of Peace, proclaimed by the United Nations. Let us remember the noble words of his Letter of 1945 to save us “from the scourge of war”. Thus, the work of generations of politicians, diplomats and security forces has been framed by the dogma that war is always bad and peace is an indisputable good that must prevail.
what is war
War in itself is not illegal. is authorized in the Charter of the United Nations to combat the crimes of aggression. The concept of “just war” also exists in international humanitarian law. War may also be necessary, in “moral truth”. Historically, genocides and crimes against humanity have been eliminated through the use of force.
At the same time, our peacemaking record is not impressive. Over the past half-century, it is hard to think of many armed conflicts that have actually ended in full force.
Instead, most go to sleep and periodically resurrect. Think of the historic conflicts, in Palestine or Kashmir, or the many struggles on the periphery of Myanmar, or the insurgencies in the Maghreb and the Sahel.
Many national officials are concerned about lingering internal divisions, such as Pakistan, which faces unrest in tribal areas, and South Sudan, which has seen continued ethnic violence.
Internationally, the UN has spent billions of dollars and mobilized tens of thousands of peacekeepers in dozens of countries. Dozens of envoys from the UN, as well as those from regional bodies such as the European Union, African Union and ASEAN cross-war zones.
Think tanks and NGOs are busy, peacebuilding projects abound, and peace conferences led by eminent personalities fill the calendar.
Some efforts are enshrined in landmark UN Security Council resolutions, on the increasingly rare occasions for consensus among the great powers. Sticks and stones, are hung on the shelves, through penalties and incentive aids.
But this well-rehearsed modus operandi of peace trading yields meager returns. This can temporarily put a damper on the violence, as the protagonists under pressure sign any piece of paper that allows relief and a chance to regroup. Then the conflict resumes until the next ceasefire or “peace” agreement. And so the cycle continues.
Worse still, there are fears that the premature intrusion of peace will prolong the conflict, as has happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on the Korean peninsula. This is because conflicts only end when they are ready. Ideally, this would be when underlying causes or differences are resolved, including accountability and justice for harm done.
But in reality, this almost never happens and so wars only end when one side wins decisively. Think of World War II or the Vietnam War.
Modern warfare is multi-dimensional and much more resilient, especially when outside sponsors play on different sides. The durability of any subsequent peace depends on two key factors.
The first is the cruelty of the way the previous war was fought. The reality is that these days horrific atrocities are the norm and survivors are raped, tortured, malnourished and dispossessed, so they don’t want to come to terms with their attackers.
The second factor then comes into play – the magnanimity or wisdom of the victors. It almost always fails. The irony is that even though we know a lot about war, we are not smart about making peace.
It’s easy to award the Nobel Peace Prize, but many winners are embarrassed when their efforts don’t stand the test of time. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed are good examples.
This is why all peace is temporary, and once a society has experienced violence it is perpetually subject to it, especially as the myth-makers of Hollywood, Bollywood and Netflix begin to shape memory. of history according to their interests.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that endless armed conflicts have accumulated over the decades: around 170 conflicts, of various types, are currently taking place in the world.
The number of those who died directly in battle has roughly tripled to 120,000 in the last year alone, compared to the mortality in the early 2000s. Such statistics give a partial view of the human cost of war, because they underestimate the indirect consequences which fall largely on civilians.
These have increased dramatically in recent decades as wars last longer and become more cruel. The United Nations estimates that currently a quarter of the world’s population – two billion people – live in conflict zones.
The education factor
The theory of war and peace argues that it should not be so. As more of us are educated, healthier, and financially better off, we should become more “peace-loving,” as it serves our own interest to achieve stable prosperity.
Moreover, with more of our basic needs met and more of our higher needs for voice and esteem met through representative democracy, we should have less reason to fear or fight others.
Even if we do, we have a plethora of norms and rights, laws and institutions to restrain us. Thus, our differences – within communities and nations, or between them – must be resolved calmly, enlightened by the rationality of the facts and the balance of exchanges.
Indeed, global indicators on poverty reduction, human development and institutional capacity suggest that despite periodic crises, including today, around energy and food, we have achieved unprecedented historic progress in most economic, social and political dimensions.
But that did not bring world peace. Does that mean the theory is wrong? Not necessarily, because history also suggests that more education and development brings greater clarity about what is wrong with our world, and the aspiration and ability to do something about it.
The inevitable reality
Most of our social and political progress is the result of our struggles. For example, every human right that we now take for granted was won through struggle. This first happened in a pioneer setting, and then, as particular rights such as food and water, or to vote or freedom from torture, were codified, they became universal.
But without the strong defense of hard-earned rights, they easily turn into mistakes, thus triggering a new conflict. And some rights have yet to be fully realized everywhere, such as the right of women and girls to learn in Afghanistan or the right to reproductive choice in parts of the United States.
Those who enjoy such rights in peace and comfort do not have the moral position to prevent others from acquiring them. Although peaceful means are preferable, conflict often erupts when authoritarian regimes impede progress.
Looking to the future, even more conflicts arise with new geopolitical tensions and new insecurities due to climate change, pandemics, competition for resources and dysfunctional globalization.
This generates violence because inequalities, within and between societies, increase and people around the world continue to fight against established interests to obtain new human rights.
All conflicts have a logic that must be understood before being fought, in a fair and honest way, so that the resulting peace is lasting. Otherwise, to achieve peace, we may be forced to give conflict a chance first.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect necessarily the editorial posture of African Markets.
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Russia/West, same size, two gauges
Picture: © internationaldayofpeace.org