The road to peace: Where does humanity go?

The road to peace: Where does humanity go?

Dr. Danilo Türk, Former President of the Republic of Slovenia
The title of the theme I am asked to discuss – “The Road to Peace: Where does Humanity Go” – implies a sense of concern and even pessimism. It is not difficult to be a pessimist in our time. The international security situation is becoming ever more complex and dangerous. Accumulating situations of regional instability, particularly the one affecting the wider area of the Middle East, are creating a global sense of insecurity. The number of refugees has reached historically unparalleled proportions. Crimes against humanity occur all too frequently. The scourge of terrorism continues to claim innocent victims and weakens international stability.

The recent outbreak of the Ebola epidemics has been a stark reminder of the fragility of health systems in several parts of the world and of the vulnerability to spreading of infectious diseases in our globalized world.

The accumulating problems caused by global warming are still awaiting an effective international response. The clock is ticking. The ever more frequent climatic disasters are a serious warning. And natural disasters of a large scale have the potential of triggering large scale movements of people and international conflicts with enormous humanitarian consequences.

It is easy to become a pessimist, indeed. However, it is always wrong to accept the difficulty of a situation as a given, as something that leaves human beings no solution or no choice of means to chart the way forward. There are always choices – in life in general and in policy making in particular.

The problems confronting the mankind today are, like the problems of the past, primarily a challenge to policy makers. Mankind today disposes with an unprecedented level of knowledge, the greatest economic wealth ever accumulated, and a wide a variety of technological skills that can be put to use in the effort to address the problems of today. So, the question “Where does humanity go?” implies the beginning of an answer: The future path of humanity depends on the wisdom and skill of policy makers. It is their responsibility to ensure that the future is less violent than today and that the problems of sustainability of development are resolved in a timely fashion.

The first condition of the sustainability of development is sustainable peace. However, developments since the beginning of the new millennium suggest that the world is not moving in the right direction. Not only have new challenges to international peace and security – such as the spreading of terrorism – evolved. The world has also witnessed the cases of the use of force that weaken the international order and its most fundamental principles, such as the principle of the non-use of force (except in self-defense or with the authorization of the U.N. Security Council), the principle of peaceful settlement of all disputes and the principle of fulfillment, in good faith, of all the obligations under the international law.

The world has to be constantly cognizant of the experiences of the past, some of which have been known from antiquity. Let us recall therefore the lessons explained by the Greek historian Thucydides and his penetrating analysis of the Peloponnesian war. The somber message of the “Melian dialogue” still resonates in many situations of modern international politics. “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer as they must” was the message of Athens, the great power of the time, addressed to the Melians who were seeking peace based on mutual respect. However, the mentality of power led the Athenians towards further military ventures and eventually to a defeat and disaster that affected all the warring parties. Unprovoked use of force is more likely to produce new problems than political solutions.

The charter of the United Nations was drafted in the wake of another disaster, more than two millennia later. In the meantime humankind has experienced many wars and accumulated much wisdom. In addition, the catastrophic experience of the two world wars of the 20th century has produced sufficient pressure on the international community to produce a global code for the maintenance of international peace and security – the charter of the United Nations.

Later this year the world will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, our common global organization as well as the repository of our hopes for survival and prosperity of humanity. Let us think about the opportunity that this precious global instrument represents today and let us be imaginative in its use for the benefit of the future of humanity.

Peace requires constant effort and an expanding ability to deal with the variety of threats that endanger its existence. Today, it is not armed conflict among sovereign states that represents the most serious threat to peace – although such conflicts still arise and must be prevented to the largest extent possible. The world is witnessing the disintegration of many states, the rise of threats posed by non-state actors and international organized crime. And above all, the threat of terrorism is not receding. Is there a key to finding an approach that can protect international peace and security and provide a sufficiently robust basis for the needed international cooperation?

The answer to this question is – yes, such a key does exist and can be found in the charter of the United Nations. The U.N. charter provides for global cooperation for the maintenance of peace and security. It gives the primary responsibility for international peace and security to the U.N. Security Council and, within this framework, it provides for the special responsibility of the council’s five permanent members. And, very importantly, it contains the necessary framework for cooperation between the United Nations and various regional organizations and arrangements in the maintenance of international peace and security.

Over time, the number and importance of regional arrangements have grown. Today the need exists to devise an appropriate form of cooperation between the U.N. and respective regional organizations in almost every situation affecting international peace – with the African Union in Africa, with the OSCE and other regional organizations in Europe, with the OAS in the Americas and with the Arab League in the Middle East. A subtle change has emerged in recent decades, placing a greater burden of tasks for the maintenance of peace on the regional organizations and arrangements.

However, this tendency has not diminished – let alone removed – the primary responsibility for international peace and security from the United Nations, its Security Council and, above all, from the council’s permanent members. There is no substitute for the cooperation among the permanent members of the Security Council. When they cooperate, many problems can be resolved. When they cooperate it becomes easier to find an appropriate balance between the global and the regional efforts for the maintenance of peace and security. When they do not, the problems tend to grow and become ever more intractable.

Problems of international peace and security today are putting spotlight on the special responsibility of the permanent members of the Security Council for the functioning of the international system as a whole. The accumulation of these problems calls for a renewed effort. A global security compact among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council is called for.  Admittedly, such a compact was due but could not materialize in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. However, the intervening years have brought additional experience and wisdom. This should help developing consensus regarding the main challenges to international peace and security and would help the international institutions – the U.N. and the regional arrangements to play an effective role in the maintenance of peace in our increasingly complex and increasingly multipolar world.

Another lesson, learned and re-learned throughout human history, is that sustainability of peace requires strong socio-economic underpinnings. The charter of the U.N. has extensive provisions on international cooperation in the economic and social spheres. Over time, the U.N. has helped to conceptualize the requirements of development process. In the 1990s the U.N. convened a series of global conferences, starting with the “Earth Summit” in Rio in 1992. An important global conference on the urbanization as the major aspect of development took place in Istanbul in 1996. Taken together, the outcomes of these conferences have provided the needed analysis and policy orientation with regard to the direction of global development. The results of these conferences enabled the formulation of the “Millennium Development Goals,” adopted by the U.N. summit in 2000.

The implementation of the Millennium Development Goals has been partly successful. Much progress has been made with respect to the reduction of absolute poverty, improvement of health and education and in the overall economic progress. However, the achievements have been uneven.

Differences in the level of development between countries remain dramatic. The poverty-stricken areas are far too numerous. The income inequality within states has grown.  There is a clear need for further improvement.

Later this year the U.N. will adopt a set of new development goals, the Sustainable Development Goals for the period after 2015. The formulation of the 16 Sustainable Development Goals has been successful and there is reason to hope that the adoption of these goals and – as part of the program – the more specific targets will mark the beginning of a new and energetic effort for economic, social and ecological improvement worldwide.

An important realization resulting from the preparation of Sustainable Development Goals relates to the very notion of sustainability of development. While this concept was originally focused on the environmental aspects (which remain the major focus for the future) it has gained in texture so that today it includes social, political and legal components as well. Sustainability requires adequate policies in economics and in environmental protection, in strengthening of the social fabric and inclusiveness in every society as well as the care for political stability and the strengthening of the rule of law.

This comprehensive approach in no way diminishes the importance of the critical requirements as the need to address the problems of global warming. In fact, the Paris conference on global warming that will take place towards the end of this year represents a clear expression of the awareness of this important priority and an opportunity to make an important step forward. Is this possible? The answer is and must be “yes.” The awareness of the need to curb the emissions of greenhouse gasses is growing. The agreement reached last year between the U.S. and China promises a new approach. The commitments made earlier on by the European Union should inspire all other developed parts of the world. The Paris Conference on Global Warming should be understood as the critically important opportunity for policy makers to define a framework for an effective implementation.

The key word for the future sustainable development is “implementation.” This key word applies to the future of the sustainable development goals as a whole and to every individual element in their fabric. The goals and targets related to global warming have to lead to rapid and effective implementation. International meetings in the future years will have to be devoted to it.

Social development must be directed toward the eradication of extreme poverty and reduction of income inequality. The objectives in this domain are measurable and must be accompanied with sufficiently sophisticated methodology of gathering the relevant information about the social situation, with the appropriate national policy making and international policy coordination and policy advice. All this represents a momentous task for the international community and, above all, for the United Nations.

And last but not least, the world has to improve the authority of rule of law and implementation of human rights. It is already clear that the rule of law is an essential condition for social and economic progress. In addition, all the basic achievements of development need to be protected by law and by the effective operation of the rule of law. The quality of legislation and the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary are among the key conditions for success in development.

Human rights, obviously, are among the most important elements of the rule of law and development more generally. While they represent an independent universal value per se, they are also a vital ingredient of development. The ultimate objective of development is an improvement of the human condition. Every country defines the priorities of the implementation of human rights according to its most pressing needs. This does not diminish the universality of human rights but it does recognize the social context within which human rights are being implemented. Progress in human rights is an important measure of the progress of development in general.

So, where does humanity go? The answer to this question depends on what the policy makers – within countries and internationally – are prepared to do. In life and in policy making there are choices. Let us make the right choices, so that peace, sustainable development, rule of law and human rights will give the answer to this awesome question.