The Way Forward: justice, solidarity and cooperation
Author: Rector Martin Lees
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 05/26/2003
We are living through a period of profound change in the international relationships which have been built up since the Second World War to assure peace, security and economic progress. In recent months, we have experienced an earthquake in international affairs: the foundations and structure of the international system are at risk.
This must be a matter of immediate concern to all of us wherever we live and whatever we do: it affects confidence, employment and growth in our countries and the safety and security of our citizens. How we respond will determine the world in which our children will live their lives.
In this brief statement, I will outline my personal views on how we should respond to the major challenges which are now so evident to us all.
We have reached a situation that no one could have imagined one year ago.
- The Atlantic Alliance, embodied in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, is in disarray. I do not have to underline to a German audience, the critical role which NATO played over decades to assure the security of Western Europe. However, the deep divisions among its Member states over the war in Iraq will certainly affect the future security relationship between Europe and the United States.
- A major split is also evident within the European Union. Significant numbers of countries are on opposing sides in the debate on the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. These deep divisions will have implications on other important issues under consideration in the European Union. In particular, a common foreign and security policy seems more distant than ever.
- And we have seen day by day, the profound disagreements among the major powers in the Security Council of the United Nations. At this time when the world is threatened by ethnic and religious polarization, violence and conflict, this may have serious consequences for future cooperation.
The United Nations is of course imperfect like any human enterprise. But it is the only global institution that represents the solidarity, the common purpose and the hopes of millions of people for peace and for a better, more equitable world. During the decades of the Cold War, the Security Council was frequently polarized between East and West and the veto has been used many times on a variety of issues. But never before has the role and legitimacy of the Security Council been so explicitly challenged.
These three major institutions – the European Union, NATO and the United Nations – are all confronted by the need to adapt to a radically new situation in world affairs.
This has been brought about by three fundamental changes and events.
- First, the end of East-West confrontation and the reunification of Germany have removed the most immediate and dangerous threats to the security of Western nations. This has reduced the sense of common purpose in the face of a common threat.
- Second, the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11th 2001 have resulted in a profound and permanent change in attitudes and priorities. This change is not only reflected in the policies of the Bush Administration but also, deeply, in the American public. A sense of vulnerability to international terrorism is evident across the United States. This sense of vulnerability is not of course, confined to the United States: countries throughout the world are now aware of the threats posed by international terrorism to their security, and to the lives and prospects of their citizens.
- Third, the worldwide debate on the legitimacy of war in Iraq has aroused public opinion on a scale never before experienced. Hundreds of millions of people have demonstrated to express their views. We may be seeing the first stirrings of world democracy, in which the views expressed by millions will come to influence decisions at the top level of the international system.
At the turn of the 21st Century, we are indeed entering a new, confusing phase of history with immense implications for ourselves and, particularly, for our children.
Let me now summarise three points which will help to define the new international context:
- First, the major threats to the security and progress of the developed countries will arise in the future not from military action but from the widespread poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, sickness, unemployment and hopelessness of hundreds of millions of human beings in the developing countries. The divide between rich and poor continues to widen. And this dangerous trend is accompanied by rising levels of violence and conflict in many countries and regions as long-established cultures and beliefs are threatened by rapid change. These threats to peace are aggravated by the widespread availability of weapons of all kinds, particularly by the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
This is the seedbed of despair, hatred and alienation, which breed violence and terrorism. Poverty alone does not cause terrorism. But it is quite unrealistic to believe that terrorism can be eliminated without attacking the underlying conditions of injustice and lack of human rights, poverty and unemployment, intolerance and political failure in which terrorism and violence can thrive.
- Second, we will not be able to achieve security and safety and a decent future for our children by military means alone. Classic notions of defense and reliance on the military dimensions of security will not be adequate to deal with the threats of today and tomorrow. Of course we must maintain an effective level of defense and military security. But this is no longer enough.
As we have seen in Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Iraq, and in many other countries, advanced weapons and sophisticated technologies can rapidly achieve military objectives against less sophisticated opponents. But the subsequent building of peace and of just, progressive societies is an intensely difficult task. It requires openness to other views and cultures, patience and restraint and long term commitment.
We can in fact, only achieve security for ourselves if the world around us is peaceful and prosperous. Our security and progress are, in the long term, indivisible from the security and progress of others. We cannot be, and do not wish to be, an island of wealth and privilege in a sea of poverty and despair. We must therefore renew our efforts to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, disease, injustice and failure in the developing countries. This is not only a moral imperative: it is a practical necessity if we are to achieve world peace.
We must promote equity and human rights – for the absence of justice breeds hatred;
We must strengthen education – for ignorance breeds prejudice and failure;
We must stimulate employment – for unemployment breeds hunger, poverty and despair.
My third point follows from the first two:
- If we are to reduce poverty, alienation and violence in the lives of millions of men, women and children, this can only be achieved through effective international cooperation and commitment, in which the Western democracies must play a major role.
And for this cooperation, a framework of international institutions and treaties and of international law is obviously essential to guide concerted action towards commonly shared values and objectives. In this perspective, it is evident that the United Nations will become more central to international action in coming decades, not less. The UN alone has the international reach, the expertise, neutrality and legitimacy for such a task.
We who believe in the importance of international law to guide and constrain the actions of states are now being attacked as being naïve and unrealistic. It is in fact, far more unrealistic to assume that the profound problems of an interdependent world community which directly threaten our future can be resolved by the unilateral action of individual states or by ad hoc coalitions.
Clearly, the United Nations must be adapted to meet new challenges. And this is indeed difficult. But the United Nations is the only global institution which enjoys world wide legitimacy: it attracts the hopes and enjoys the support of millions all over the world. This recent crisis should in fact be seen as an opportunity to strengthen and to consolidate support for the United Nations as custodian of our common future. It is needed and valued by the vast majority of people on this planet.
If we stand back from the drama of day to day events, what do we see?
We, in greater Europe will be around 400 million people. We enjoy privileged and safe lives and high living standards. Together with all other developed countries however, we constitute only a small minority of the six billion people on this planet. And, in the lifetime of our children, we will be an even smaller part of a world population of around nine billion people.
Fortunately, a number of developing countries are making progress and providing better lives for their citizens. Some however, where democracy, stability and progress appeared to have been solidly established are now at risk. Others are facing stagnation, failed governance and injustice, rising levels of violence and conflict and environmental deterioration. Our planet is in fact, divided into two worlds: a relatively safe world of wealth and privilege and a dangerous world of poverty and hunger, injustice and misery.
But these two worlds are interdependent in countless ways. Besides the evident links of trade, investment, finance and globalization, we are linked in many other vital ways: we are linked through environment and climate change for example: we cannot achieve the sustainable development of the planet on our own. We are linked through the movement of people, through migration and tourism. And we now understand that we are also obliged to face together the threats of international crime and terrorism which affect developed and developing countries alike. Perhaps most immediately, we must cooperate effectively to confront the threat of rapidly spreading, deadly diseases, such as SARS.
And, in this age of interdependence, our purposes, our investments and our relationships extend across the world. Our well being – and our security – depend directly and indirectly on an intricate web of international relationships and cooperation. And these in turn depend on good will and common interest which can so easily be destroyed.
Above all, the peoples of the developed and developing countries have one overriding common interest: the preservation of the planet and of the global community in which we must all learn to live together.
We cannot therefore choose to pull back from the world we live in to exclude and to defend ourselves against the underprivileged millions.
We have only one realistic choice, and in my view this is the only ethical choice. It is to commit ourselves to building a world based on justice, solidarity and cooperation and of compassion for those less privileged than ourselves. This is how we, in Europe, seek to build our own national societies. It is difficult and may be inadequate. But there is no viable alternative if our children are to live in peace.
In this context, I salute the remarkable work being undertaken by the City of Nuremberg to advance human rights across the world. This is a unique demonstration of how a highly motivated and focused effort, actively supported by you, the people of Nuremberg, can improve the lives of people, promote justice and provide inspiration in distant regions of the world.
We can in fact, choose our future. Historians will be surprised that it took us so long to understand that we must reach out – before it is too late – to the underprivileged peoples of the planet and work together to achieve a more equitable and secure world of peace and progress for all.
We must in fact follow two paths of action: we must maintain adequate levels of military security and fight consistently against terrorism. But this is not enough. We must also, through international action, work together to reduce poverty, hunger, illiteracy, sickness, injustice and violence. This can provide hope and opportunity and release the potential of millions of people across the world.
We do have the capacity to do this. It is not a question of resources. It is a question of priorities and will.
Never in history has humanity had so much knowledge, expertise, power, technology and resources to create a decent world. But they are used little for this purpose. The resources devoted to world development are pitifully small in comparison to those devoted to armaments and war.
World arms expenditure has again reached around $800 Billion per year. But even this vast diversion of resources for military expenditure will not assure a secure and peaceful world in the 21st Century. In comparison, the finance devoted to development assistance, which does seek to improve the lives of millions and to build the foundations of a peaceful world, amounts to only around $58 Billion per year – around 7% of defense expenditures.
Even in these difficult times, we could find the resources to extend peace and prosperity across the world. And we do know how to use resources of all kinds effectively to cooperate in improving the lives of people in developing countries, and to lay the foundations of peace.
We must recognize that this would be the best investment that we could make to assure the future of humanity. Would this not be a worthy vision to mobilize humanity in the 21st Century?
We must build bridges of trust, tolerance and hope between races, cultures and religions by mobilizing our common efforts in the cause of human rights, gender equity and world development.
This is not an unattainable goal: there have been times in human history when enlightenment, restraint and common purpose have overcome prejudice and narrow interest. As the war in Iraq demonstrates, it is possible to generate tens of billions of Dollars for war. But it is immensely difficult to raise funds for the prevention of conflict, for assisting refugees and for building peace.
Let us commit our energies and efforts to promote justice and human rights, peace and progress for all the peoples of our small, fragile planet. In truth, this is the only path to security for us all. We do have the knowledge and resources. Let us find the will.