THE BLOG

Reflecting on Peace Day 2017: Resetting the Button

25/09/2017 12:17 BST | Updated 25/09/2017 12:17 BST

The World Peace Day has come and gone. For many it is a time of celebration and for others it is the annual time to do some reflections and soul searching with regards the state of world peace. This time round, it seems that the state is slightly in a poorer state than the year before. The global incidents make it clear that there is a need for a pause and reset button in terms of just the basics of relationships. Somehow over the last year, it is clear that what has been lost is the very basic element of relating to someone: of empathy: sympathy and compassion.

So this year whilst we have seen protracted conflict, we have seen unexpected conflict turning violent, with many asking the question, why? We know that there are many drivers of conflict. Often, in many cases where there has been a cessation of violence and hostilities, peace agreements and the accompanying international apparatus to support their implementation have suppressed the violence but not addressed the causes of conflict. Accordingly, the risk of a re-eruption remains. One of the best indicators of where there is risk of future violent conflict is simply identifying where there was violent conflict before.

Yet for example if we examine what happened last month in Charlottesville, USA and the simmering tensions since then, one might be tempted to say that this is not the case. After all the USA has not been in conflict internally since the end of the Civil War in the late 19th century. Yet and this is the point, conflict can remain and tensions manifest themselves into deep socio-political cleavages, if moves are not made to bring about structural peace and reconciliation. A simple end to a violent conflict or war with one side being victorious over the other is not enough to build peace.

So the concept of building peace remains different to how we normally understand it. The common understanding of peace is often misinterpreted as a hippie type of affair with utopian love. The more working definition of peace is more disciplined than that. It is about defining an environment where people can pursue conflicts without violence and harm to themselves or others. In other words, it is not conflict that is the problem, but violence. Indeed, conflict is often a necessary condition for making social progress, and the ability to manage conflicts without violence is an important means by which we do so.

Thus in talking about peace, we talk about maintaining of a balance of certain conditions that encourage people to handle conflicts peacefully and prevent serious problems from emerging, as well as offering many other shared goods. These conditions draw on the idea of human security and 'positive peace' (a peace that is more than just the absence of violence). They express both what needs to be aimed for and how one assesses whether a society is indeed moving in a peaceful direction. The concepts of political power: safety and security of people; economic prosperity; rule of law and justice and wellbeing all factor in these conditions. If these are in balance, you have a better chance for peaceful conditions to be met.

Running through these five peace factors are values of equity, fairness, inclusion and respect for human dignity, and with that the importance of human relationships that are fulfilling and functional for peace.

What these conditions also point to is the long term nature of things. While political leaders' decisions are required to make these unfold positively, to sustain or protect them, they do not come about at the flick of a leader's switch. Similarly, while peace is most likely and strongest when many individuals gear their actions toward peacebuilding, the effects of activism are not necessarily either quick or linear. Rather, change is indirect, incremental and cumulatively transformative.

In the face of the current global challenges with the multitude of conflicts we are facing, this year's peace day has to call for new solutions, that challenge exclusion based on difference. Peace Day has to reinforce the commonalities of existence such as values, ethics, social justice and social responsibility. We have to build communities that are resilient to stress and strain; that is knowledgeable, healthy and can meet its basic needs; that is socially cohesive; that has economic opportunities; that has well-maintained and accessible infrastructures and services; that can manage its natural assets; that is connected.

Understanding how the different elements of risk interact with each other, is fundamental to conflict analysis and to understanding what can be done to build peace in any particular context and to build resilient peaceful communities. The capacity to respond to challenges is necessary but not enough and relying on crisis response is truly inadequate. It is essential to meet emerging problems upstream.

In this age of growing long-term risk, the international community as a whole needs to be better at risk management. In order to be able to meet problems upstream, there need to be strong advocates for creative dialogue, and diplomacy that understands the context and addresses civic empowerment.

True inclusivity can only be obtained when we carefully position all elements to create a compelling cosmopolitan mosaic. There is a need to remain committed to engineering the software needed to work effectively in a range of situation. This will never be easy, but remains vitally important for, it involves creating the very 'ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become'.