Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

The critical role played by unarmed civilian protectors in war zones

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International UN Representative

The United Nations, like most of its member countries, has historically relied, as one facet of its efforts to resolve regional global conflicts, on deploying to areas of active conflict international teams of armed soldiers. Yet the presence of armed forces, while perhaps prompting a temporary cessation of overt violence, cannot lead to a sustained peace.

Guns – which represent, quite explicitly, a looming threat of violence – cannot eliminate violence. While flashing a weapon may temporarily, and artificially, stave-off a violent episode, it does not address (and indeed may only exacerbate) the underlying inequities and unresolved problems that led to the violence in the first place. True resolution of violence cannot occur until and unless the issues that gave rise to the violence – whether long-simmering resentments or inequities; exclusion; a failure fairly to share and allocate resources; a lack of food, water, or housing; or other dispute – are addressed and resolved.

In a recent panel presentation at the United Nations, a university professor from the U.K. shared findings from her ongoing academic research focusing on new insights and understandings about the behavior of armed groups, as well as the most effective ways of securing peace. Her findings suggest that the world community must question the assumption that where there is violence, the best way to address that violence is through the presence of armed soldiers. The growing body of empirical evidence suggests that in a number of settings, nonviolent responses to violence are more effective than are armed responses. Furthermore, such nonviolent responses are easier and less expensive to employ, with the logistical and financial costs of employing unarmed civilian protectors, particularly in remote geographical areas, being but a fraction of those required to deploy military forces.

Another panelist at the UN session, an unarmed civilian protector working in Mindanao, Philippines, explained that, as an unarmed civilian protector, her first goal when entering a community is to reach out to those around her, getting to know them well, and gaining their trust. (By contrast, such trust-building is elusive at best in situations in which local communities of women and children are being “protected” by armed military forces, most often consisting of men whose deployment is short-term, and who may not even speak the local language.) The key to peacekeeping, she explained, is to engage in building and strengthening interpersonal relationships, thereby strengthening the capacity of the community itself to respond to challenges. For it is the community itself, and not an outside armed force, that understands best its own population, history, experience, and challenges. The community itself, by coming together, takes ownership of preserving the peace.

Given our human history, in which war is shown, repeatedly, to beget more war, it is fair to question whether the traditional model of sending armed peacekeepers to preserve peace is not only oxymoronic and ineffective, but illogical (recognizing the base motives of war profiteering). Unarmed civilian protectors have been shown capable of performing most of the traditional tasks of armed peacekeepers – including patrolling, engaging in dialogue, and negotiating. Unarmed civilian protectors – who often work in the most isolated and remote areas of the world – break the isolation of the local communities in which they live and work, serving as a connection with the outside world and being a daily visible reminder that someone from the outside world is watching, and cares about, what is happening there. The track record of unarmed civilian protection – a dramatic decrease in violence perpetuated against members of the communities with which they live – provides a blueprint for a more effective and humane response to global conflicts.

And their track record also illustrates why peace is not simply the absence of war. True and lasting peace is determined by how people treat each other – and not by the weapons they carry.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York.

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* Photo credit: Council on Foreign Relations
Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

Sanctions and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

by Doug Hostetter
Pax Christi International UN Representative, New York

(The following was presented at the Global Peace Forum on Korea, Columbia University, September 29, 2018, New York City.)

When I was first asked to speak about sanctions and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Global Peace Forum on Korea, I thought that I would cite the experts on effect of the sanctions on the people of the  DPRK, like the recent United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that indicated that 41% of people within the DPRK are undernourished, and 70% are vulnerable to food insecurity and child-stunting equals about 39.4% in all children in the DPRK[1].

I had planned that I would also mention the other ways in which sanctions are changing the country.  In addition to less nutrition, there is also less access to healthcare.  Many major humanitarian NGO’s have been forced to leave the DPRK, including the Global Fund, which over the past eight years gave more than 100 million dollars for life saving treatments of tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria to patients in the DPRK[2]. I would point out that the sanctions have created banking obstacles so great that even serious UN efforts have been unable to provide banking channels for UN agencies and NGOs that do humanitarian programs in the DPRK.

I had intended to go into some detail about the absurdity of the sanctions on the DPRK. Security Council Resolution (s/RES/2397 -22 December 2017, paragraph 7) states:

“Decides that all Member States shall prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK … of all industrial machinery (HS codes 84 and 85), transportation vehicles (HS codes 86 through 89), and iron, steel, and other metals (HS codes 72 through 83).”[3]

The sanctions have even been interpreted to include fingernail clippers and simple water filters, which the Mennonite Central Committee has tried unsuccessfully to send to pediatric hospitals in the DPRK.  I had even considered pointing out that the UN sanctions on the DPRK could be considered collective punishment on the people of the DPRK, which, during time of war, is a war crime under the Hague Regulations of 1899 and subsequent Geneva Conventions, most recently, article 33 of the Geneva Conventions IV of 1949[4]. (This is another compelling reason to end the Korean War.)

On reflection, however, I decided that it would be simpler and more useful to look at the issue of efficacy, to see whether sanctions have actually been effective in achieving desired results, or if other measures might in fact be more successful in accomplishing those goals.

Security Council Resolution 1718[5] is quite clear that the goal of the sanctions was to discourage the DPRK from pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and to encourage the DPRK to return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

So, let us compare the accomplishment of the sanctions to the accomplishments of dialogue.

The UN Security Council significantly increased sanctions against the DPRK with Security Council Resolution 1718 on 14 October 2006, five days after the DPRK detonated its first nuclear explosion.  In the past 12 years, the UN Security Council has passed more than ten resolutions sanctioning the DPRK, each resolution more draconian than the previous one.  During those last 12 years of sanctions, the DPRK has detonated five additional nuclear tests, and has continued to improve the power of their missiles from intermediate range rockets in 2006, to intercontinental missiles today, capable of reaching the United States.

Now let us look at the accomplishments of persuasion in just the last nine months.  Chairman Kim Jong-Un, in his New Years speech on January 1, 2018 stated:

“We will open our doors to anyone from south Korea, including the ruling party and opposition parties, organizations and individual personages of all backgrounds, for dialogue, contact and travel, if they sincerely wish national concord and unity. . . As for the Winter Olympic Games to be held soon in South Korea, it will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. From this point of view we are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures; with regard to this matter, the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon. Since we are compatriots of the same blood as South Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them.”[6]

Chairman Kim’s New Year’s statement was welcomed by President Moon Jae-in, who immediately invited the DPRK to send athletes from the north to join the Olympics, and even filed a joint women’s hockey team for the 2018 Olympic Games.  Since then, there have been numerous meetings at various levels between the DPRK and ROK, as well as a joint meeting in Singapore between President Trump and Chairman Kim on June 12th earlier this year.

Since January of 2018, the DPRK has suspended all nuclear testing and missile launches, demolished its only nuclear testing sight, and destroyed its rocket engine testing site.  The DPRK has also returned the remains of US military service personnel killed in during the Korean War.  The ROK and DPRK have worked together to establish a liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the DPRK, have established a program for reunifications of Korean families who were separated by the war, and just last week held another inter-Korean summit, the third this year, in Pyongyang. These are only a few of the major changes that have been initiated as the result of dialogue.  It is hard to remember that it was only one year ago, at the opening of the Seventy-Second General Assembly, that President Trump and Chairman Kim were threatening each other with nuclear annihilation.

Since the beginning of time people have been arguing which is stronger, hard power or soft power: the use of force, or the arts of dialogue. There is an ancient Greek fable which tells of an argument between the north wind and the sun as to who was the more powerful.  They argued for many days, each boasting of their superior strength and finally deciding to settle the argument by a contest.  A pilgrim was traveling below so they decided that each would try to remove his coat.  The north wind went first, blowing a gale force wind which nearly tore away the coat, but the pilgrim grabbed his cloak, and the harder the north wind blew, the more tightly the pilgrim wrapped his coat around himself.  When it was the sun’s turn, the wind and the clouds disappeared, and the sun beamed its kind warmth on the pilgrim, who immediately took off his coat.

In the past 12 years, we have witnessed the abject failure of the use of sanctions and military threats to get the DPRK to dismantle its programs for nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles.  It is now time for us to give support to dialogue, already begun by Chairman Kim, President Moon and President Trump, which has produced many positive results , but need to be continued to end the Korean War, lift the sanctions, normalize the relations between the US and the DPRK and establish a Korea Peninsula Nuclear Free Zone – a Korea Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and protected from threat of nuclear attack by international treaty[7].

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[1] UN Resident Coordinator for DPR Korea. “DPR Korea Needs and Priorities March 2018.” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 11, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-peoples-republic-korea/dpr-korea-needs-and-priorities-march-2018.
[2] Seung, Kwonjune J. “Why Is the Global Fund Pulling out of North Korea?” NK News – North Korea News. May 02, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://www.nknews.org/2018/05/why-is-the-global-fund-pulling-out-of-north-korea/.
[3] UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 2397 (2017) [on strengthening measures regarding the supply, sale, or transfer to the DPRK], 11 September 2017, S/RES/2397 (2017), available at: https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/s/res/2397-%282017%29 %5Baccessed 17 September 2018
[4] “Practice Relating to Rule 103. Collective Punishments.” Treaties, States Parties, and Commentaries – Geneva Convention, 1864 – 3 -. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_rul_rule103
[5] [5] UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 1718  (2006) [on recalling its previous relevant resolutions], 14 October 2006, S/RES/1718 (2006), available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1718%20%282006%29 %5Baccessed 17 September 2018
[6] “Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s Address.” NCNK. January 01, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018. https://www.ncnk.org/node/1427.
[7] See also Pax Christi International’s statement of 12 June 2018: https://www.paxchristi.net/news/statement-todays-historic-meeting-between-donald-trump-and-kim-jong-un-key-points-be-included.
Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

Is it sufficient simply to acknowledge the nonviolent heroes among us?

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International NGO Delegation to the United Nations

It is not difficult to find heroes at the UN: individuals and communities who, in the face of enormous challenges, maintain a commitment to peace and nonviolence. Najlaa Sheekh, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, exemplifies the power of nonviolence in the midst of the ravages and soul-grinding consequences of war.

I first met Najlaa late last Fall, at a forum at the UN sponsored in part by Peace Direct, celebrating women from around the world who were making a difference in their communities. The following day, Najlaa joined our UN-NGO Syria Working Group for a discussion of her life and work.

Najlaa and her family once lived a comfortable life in cosmopolitan Damascus. With the breakout of war in Syria, that life ended. A brutal barrel-bomb attack killed members of her family and demolished parts of her neighborhood. In the aftermath, her younger son could not be found. Najlaa and others searched frantically through the rubble for him, eventually finding him – alive, but seriously injured. The only way for Najlaa and her family to secure the medical care her son needed was to flee to Turkey. Her son did survive. But Najlaa and her family remain refugees.

Upon arrival in Turkey, Najlaa was haunted by the number of older Syrian women in the streets desperately begging for food for themselves and their families. She was also deeply saddened to learn that the only real way for young Syrian refugee women – many of whom had been raised in deeply conservative families – to survive was to join the local houses of prostitution.

Herself personally experiencing the deep loss and trauma of displacement, Najlaa recognized that the nightmarish existence now confronting Syrian refugee women could not be borne alone. So she approached and introduced herself to other women, inviting them to join with her, in her small rented home, to discuss what they could do collectively to adjust to their new realities.

These small gatherings gave birth, in 2013, to a new organization, Kareemat (meaning “women of dignity,” in Arabic). Over the years, Kareemat has functioned as a place of gathering and stability for Syrian women refugees and their families. Kareemat offers counseling and vocational training for women, teaching them sewing and other life skills. To Najlaa’s immense pride, young Syrian refugee women are no longer forced to work as prostitutes; instead, they have acquired , through Kareemat, work skills and community connections that enable them to live a less degrading and dangerous life. In addition to helping Syrian women lead better lives, these new avenues of employment for women afforded by Kareemat also help combat negative stereotypes of Syrian women in Turkey.

Kareemat also engages in a variety of peacebuilding activities: hosting workshops on the dangers of war; facilitating discussion groups regarding the impact of violence against women; and presenting film screenings to raise awareness of the important role of women leaders in effective conflict resolution.

Kareemat also engages in activities designed to dissuade young Syrian refugees, whose passions are sometimes stoked by their vengeful elders, from returning to Syria to pursue armed retaliation. When Najlaa’s own eldest son vowed repeatedly to return to Syria to seek vengeance, she responded that if he insisted on returning to Syria, she would also return, with him, to remain always by his side. Her threat of accompanying him – which her son recognized would place his mother in mortal danger – convinced him to relinquish his dream of retaliation and violence. Instead, both he and his brother have now renounced any plans of revenge, and are directing their energies instead to acquiring an education.

This accomplishment, Najlaa said – her turning her two sons away from perpetuating the cycle of violence – is her proudest personal achievement.

Najlaa’s vision, courage, and fortitude, alone, would have made her remarkable. But what will stay with me most is the message she had for those of us who might be inclined to simply romanticize her story, without connecting it to our ourselves.

Najlaa explained that she recognized that traveling to the United Nations was a once-in-a-lifetime gift and opportunity for her, and for the women of Kareemat. When she arrived in the United States, she realized that her first obstacle was the fact that few of the people she would meet spoke Arabic, and that she would thus not be able to convey, in her own tongue, the urgency, or nuances, of her personal story. Instead, she would have to rely on the sensitivity and goodwill of an interpreter. (Luckily, her interpreter, Lebanese journalist Sawssan Abou-Zahr, who had previously published an excellent article about Najlaa, https://www.peaceinsight.org/blog/2018/10/remarkable-story-kareemat-and-its-founder, was both an effective and empathetic translator.)

Thus, the first words spoken to us by Najlaa – this woman who has accomplished so much, in unfathomable circumstances – were an apology to us for not being able to speak English. At that moment, I felt the tyranny and imbalance of a world in which people given vast power over the lives of others – the global decision makers – do not speak even the same language as those who suffer the consequences of their decisions.

Najlaa then described to us, repeatedly, her burning desire and goal of returning to her homeland, to help rebuild her country. It is the Syrians themselves, she said, who must solve Syrian problems. It is not for other countries to do. The people being sent to resolve the Syrian crisis should not be special envoys from international organizations, jetting in and out. It should be Syrian women. For it is the women of Syria who best know Syria. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian families. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian needs.

Najlaa’s story was both heart-wrenching and memorable. Yet I sensed her holding back.

Finally, after about an hour of questions-and-answers, there seemed to be a shift in our group dynamics. Najlaa sat back, paused, looked at us closely, and asked if she could be frank with us. She seemed finally to trust her audience – despite the imbalance of power and access – to hear what she was really trying to say. We (with some discomfort), urged her to speak honestly.

I want you to listen to me, Najlaa said to us. I want you to remember my words. I want you to remember my story. I want you to think about the way that you, being privileged, are connected with this story. I want you to think not simply about what we Syrian refugees are experiencing, but about what you can and must do to change that story.

She then explained that, in preparation for this trip to the UN, she had made cards (no easy task, living as a refugee) to share with the people she met, listing the contact information for her and for Kareemat. Najlaa had made a significant effort the day before, she said, personally to hand a card to everyone in the room.

And yet at the end of the meeting, most of her cards remained on the table. People had accepted her card, but had not cared enough to take it with them.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York. She is member of the UN-NGO Syria Working Group as well as the UN – NGO Security Council Working Group.

Peace, UN Report

UN REPORT: 2018 Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

by Jonathan Frerichs
Pax Christi International Representative, UN in Geneva

Note: The 2018 Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference took place in Geneva from 23/4 through 4/5/18.

The NPT is the main legal instrument for exercising some controls over nuclear weapons and the civilian use of nuclear energy. About two-thirds of its 190 states parties showed up for part of this 2018 “PrepCom”, as did 65 civil society and international organisations.

Two themes provide a snap-shot of this first NPT meeting since the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

I. Persistent warnings that “today’s security environment” is bad and likely to get worse. Factors mentioned include complex regional conflicts, renewed big-power rivalries, proliferation of improved nuclear weapons, and asymmetric dangers posed by nuclear terrorism and cyber threats.

Some of the warnings even spoke of a “new” Cold War. A series of “hot” exchanges took place between the U.S. delegation and the delegations of Russia, Iran and Syria regarding the various crises in the Middle East.

While the U.S. and USSR made massive cuts in their nuclear arsenals at the end of the Cold War, honouring and extending existing commitments (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and New START) are in doubt today. It could happen that no major nuclear arms limitation treaties will be in force between the U.S. and Russia shortly after the Review Conference and the NPT’s 50th anniversary in 2020.

Instead of examining the linkages between current dangers and the big-power reliance on nuclear weapons which the NPT legitimises, much of the meeting was a peculiar mixture of crisis talk and business-as-usual.

II. Steps to reduce nuclear threats remain pending, while the stigma surrounding nuclear weapons continues to grow. The steps listed again and again at this PrepCom have been on the NPT agenda for more than 20 years. There are few if any indications of the political will to pursue or implement them at present.

Meanwhile, the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by 122 states last July is a demonstration of political will. One focus of that will is the NPT’s very own disarmament clause, Article VI. Brazil called the TPNW “the wind of change” because this new legal instrument makes the humanitarian and environmental impact of nuclear weapons the basis for multilateral action.

During the PrepCom, news came that the Pacific island nation of Palau is the 8th state to ratify the TPNW. Shortly after the meeting, Austria ratified it as well. Indeed, forthcoming ratifications and signatures were a frequent topic in conversations with governments during the meeting.

PrepComs do not make decisions; they prepare for the five-year NPT Review Conferences. It is not clear at this point whether the RevCon in 2020 will be able to decide anything of importance.

The most important step for us is to help bring the TPNW into force. Building support for the TPNW serves as a reality check for the NPT. The goal across the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon’s membership is to secure the necessary 50 ratifications in 2020, or before. Actions speak louder than words, perhaps especially where nuclear weapons are concerned.

For further information:

* Photo from REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Peace, UN Report

UN REPORT: The United Nations’ conception of “peacekeeping” evolving, recognising the need for building and sustaining peace

by Mary T. Yelenick
Main Representative, UN-NGO Delegation of Pax Christi International

The United Nations’ concept of “peacekeeping” has historically centered upon the provision of humanitarian aid and the deployment of UN-member nation troops abroad, in an effort to maintain, through that third-party military presence, a cessation of active warfare in the host country.

Yet that time-honored formulation and concept of “keeping peace” is undergoing a fundamental reevaluation at the United Nations, under the leadership of Secretary General Antonio Guterres. There is a new focus on helping to create and foster the underlying conditions – the availability of sufficient food, housing, employment, opportunities for youth, clean water, and healthcare, and the elimination of gender-based violence, among them – that give rise to, and sustain, true peace.

These new approaches are consonant with those long embraced by Pax Christi International. Peace is possible and lasting only where there is enough for all.

The vexing reality is that most UN-donor nations are more likely to agree to commit “peacekeeping” troops, funding for troops, and funding for post-conflict humanitarian aid than to commit resources to help create the conditions that would avert conflict. Money from UN-donor nations dedicated to funding education, training, jobs, housing, food, and clean water is difficult to come by. Yet that is precisely what may be needed to prevent global conflict.

On 24-25 April, Mr. Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, convened a High-Level Meeting on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.” In announcing the meeting, he described its motivation as follows: “We need a stronger focus on peace when it still exists. We should be acting faster, and sooner, when there is a peace to keep – rather than scrambling for solutions once it has been lost… Currently, the UN’s peacebuilding and sustaining peace activities are chronically underfunded. [W]e need to join the dots … everything the United Nations does must be seen through a lens of peace. … [A]nd, I also want to stress one more important aspect, when it comes to sustaining peace; namely, the participation of women and youth. We have seen that it is mostly men who negotiate and sign peace deals. However, this is not sustainable. And it does not reflect reality on the ground. Because women and young people play a major role in building and preserving peace. Their experiences and ideas must be seen and listened to.”

Speakers at the April High-Level Meeting at the UN – which I attended as an observer, as a representative of Pax Christi International – included representatives of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) around the world, as well as high-level officials from a variety of UN Member States. Among the recurrent themes were the following:

  • We must address, first and foremost, the root causes of conflict. Humiliation, exclusion, inequality, marginalisation, and suppression are factors leading to violent conflict.
  • We must each strive to understand the experience of the “Other.”
  • Each conflict is different. Its resolution requires a deep understanding of the particular roots of that conflict.
  • Conflict resolution must, if it is to be long-lasting, include all shareholders. It is that “ownership” of the process which creates the basis for a lasting peace.
  • Lasting peace cannot be dictated simply by a tribunal, but must instead be premised on the harder work of truth and reconciliation.
  • Peacebuilding is hard work. It must be done brick-by-brick. The process must be inclusive and transparent.
  • Sustaining peace is often as difficult as achieving it.
  • Conflicts can and must be resolved differently, in the future. If generations continue to address conflict in the same ways that they have historically, then conflict will simply continue, down through succeeding generations.
  • Peacebuilding requires that we choose dialogue and compromise over arrogance.
  • Women and youth are key participants in any peacebuilding and peace-sustaining endeavor. They have unique access to, and understanding of, their communities – including marginalised communities of which national leaders may know little.
  • Providing youth with employment opportunities is critical. Absent such opportunities, youth may easily turn to other options, including terrorist groups, if only out of a need to be acknowledged, welcomed, appreciated, and of service.
  • Humanitarian aid is not a substitute for dialogue and mediation.
  • While the world needs security, we must not, in the process, forget our humanity, or human rights.

The current debate regarding the proper role of the United Nations – whether to expand its traditional role as humanitarian-aid and troops-provider to one more committed to addressing the root causes of war – as well the challenge of soliciting (from some less-than-enthusiastic, but powerful, donor nations) the financial resources necessary to address social inequities – is a highly consequential one. As members of Pax Christi, we must educate ourselves and do what we can to help our local, national, and international representatives make decisions that lead in the direction of lasting peace. In that way, we can be global peacebuilders too.

Peace

The message of internationalism is banning war

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Si vis pacem, para pacem
If you want peace, prepare for peace

This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War – 1914/1918 – a conflict that reconfigured the face of Europe and the entire world with the emergence of new states in place of ancient empires. The death toll from the First World War was at least 16 million.

From 19 to 22 April 2018, the French cities of Arras and Lille (and its surroundings) commemorate and celebrate the armistice of November 1918. Pax Christi International and several members of its national sections are participating in the programme.

From the ashes of the Great War, we can learn lessons that, sad to say, humanity did not immediately grasp, leading within the space of 20 years to a new and even more devastating conflict. Some experts, by including war-related deaths from disease and famine, put the total death toll from the Second World War at over 80 million.

Lessons learned

The first lesson is that victory never means humiliating a defeated foe. Peace is not built by vaunting the power of the victor over the vanquished. Future acts of aggression are not deterred by the law of fear, but rather by the power of calm reason that encourages dialogue and mutual understanding as a means of resolving differences.

This leads to a second lesson: peace is consolidated when nations can discuss matters on equal terms. This was grasped a hundred years ago by the then President of the United States Woodrow Wilson[1] who proposed the establishment of a general league of nations with the aim of promoting for all states, great and small alike, mutual guarantees of independence and territorial integrity. This laid the theoretical basis for that multilateral diplomacy, which has gradually acquired over time an increased role and influence in the international community as a whole.

A possible third lesson is that people are made to pay for the wrongs of their state, especially when these states are losing wars. Collective responsibility has its limits. The role of an individual can take various forms from collaborator, co-perpetrator to dissident or conscientious objector. Countries that win a war determine the punishment of the transmitters, including the actions of some individuals.

Institutions to ban war

The ”Internationalists”[2] or “Multilateralists”[3] maintain that war is a barbaric way to resolve disputes and that the best way to resolve controversies is through international institutions such as the League of Nations and later the United Nations.

The League of Nations, established in 1920, was not able to make the last war the last war. The League of Nations was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. USA President Woodrow Wilson[4] was the initiator but due to the isolationist policies of USA Congress, his country never became member of that intergovernmental body. Throughout its history, the League has never really been able to prove its full value. There was a serious absence of an adequate organisation of international police action.

Ten years after WWI, in 1928, the Paris Peace Pact[5] was signed by 63 nations. Aristide Briand, the French foreign minister, and Frank Kellogg, the USA secretary of state, took the lead in getting the Pact realised. The message of the Pact was that the world would no longer treat war as a lawful mean to resolve disputes. War was deprived from its legitimacy. War is regarded as a departure from civilised policies. The Pact was aimed at ending war between states. It certainly had not ended all armed conflict.

The pact was supposed to end war, just as the League of Nations, but the Kellogg-Briand pact failed because of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, and the German invasion of Poland in 1939. The pact did some good for international laws and is still known in the US as a federal law.

International peacekeeping

The establishment of the United Nations[6] took place on 26 June 1945. The Charter has been signed then by 50 nations. During the WWII both USA President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill have been the big fore takers. Roosevelt had to fight against isolationism and Churchill had to learn that the UK was at its end of being a world power.

The main idea was that four countries (USA, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China – later on France was also de facto included in the P5[7]) should play a kind of police keeping in international relations. They gave themselves also a permanent seat in the Security Council and a right to veto draft resolutions and that became a serious blockage in specific cases, as happened in the recent wars in Syria and Ukraine for instance.

Peacekeeping is the main drive of the UN. Right from the beginning, NGO’s were also allowed to be part of the UN system mainly as consultative bodies.[8] In June 1945, the war with Japan was still ongoing and nuclear bombs were dropped on the country on 6 and 9 August 1945. The new constitutions after the war of the losing countries, Germany, Italy and Japan – the Axis – includes an article that made it impossible for these countries to go to war again. That article was enforced by the winning countries – the Allies.

They are the “United Nations”, not the “Western Nations”! The great benefit of the UN is that almost all countries are members of it. So also the countries with non-democratic regimes, some of which violate human rights on a daily basis. The UN is a forum where everyone can talk to everyone. This is a pragmatic approach.

When WWII ended, the tension between the rhetoric of self-determination and the reality of colonisation became difficult to maintain. After 1945, the number of states exploded. Two keys forms of state birth – decolonisation (notably in the 50s and 60s) and the fracturing of larger states into smaller ones – the former Soviet Union and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for instance in the 90s – led to the rapid increase in UN members. The membership has increased to a total today of 193 states and the present accommodation of the General Assembly has room for about 204 members. The most recent state is South Sudan that split from Sudan in 2011.

Still, a series of conflicts emerged since 1945 and many open conflicts have not yet been solved. The UN has almost no or not at all influence over certain conflicts. The dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir since 1947; since 1948, conflict between Israel and Palestine; war raged in Korea 1950-1953; in Vietnam 1955-1978. Genocidal conflicts erupted in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s; and civil war ravaged Sudan for more than two decades. In addition, in 2015 alone, high-fatality civil wars continues in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Ukraine.

Wars are costly!

The modern attitude is to regard wars as uncontroversial bad, moral catastrophes to be avoided at almost all costs. Waging war have always been very expensive. Wars are costly, in both lives and treasure, and often lead to unintended consequences – as the turbulent aftermath in both Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate. Wars between states are now rare. Conquest has been the exception, no longer the role. Wars within states still happen.

In a world where weak states can become failed states and failed states give rise to civil war and terrorism, it is not only good law but also good sense to pressure state institutions with outcasting – with sanctions policies for instance – rather than destroy them with war.

Need stronger framework for solving disputes via diplomacy

The concept and the right of “self-defence”[9] is and has been open for interpretations and has been allowing certain states for military interventions protecting their own territory or interests. Sure, war crimes and genocides need to be prevented. Reliance on “self-defence” as a justification for using force can only be justified in cases of “armed attack”. Good functioning international institutions should provide the framework for solving disputes diplomatically.

Throughout the world, anti-internationalist sentiment is growing. That is not a good evolution. Isolationism and unilateralism cannot be an option. We all bear responsibility for the world in which we live. Together we can and must continue to support institutions that have kept the peace, adapt them to changing circumstances, and develop new ones that will further reduce violence.

All states are by nature equal in dignity, as well as the acknowledgment of one another’s rights and the fulfilment of their respective duties. The basic premise of this approach is the recognition of the dignity of the human person, since disregard and contempt for that dignity resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind.

Indeed, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 affirms, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.[10]

Ideas are stronger than weapons

We live in a fragile world. The status of peace should be a condition in which globalisation has produced so many shared interests in trade and finance that states prefer to go to arbitration rather than war. To win a war over the future of the world order, one must fight not simply with powerful weapons, but with power ideas. Much has to do with the struggle of the minds! “Si vis pacem, para pacem” – “If you want peace, prepare for peace”.

 

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodrow_Wilson
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internationalism_(politics)
[3] http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0103.xml
[4] https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/league
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kellogg–Briand_Pact
[6] http://www.un.org/en/sections/history/history-united-nations/
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_members_of_the_United_Nations_Security_Council
[8] Pax Christi International has its consultative status with the UN since 1979.
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-defense
[10] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

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Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Centre.