It is broadly accepted that business as usual is not enough to effectively address the urgent global crises confronting humanity today, which range from wars of the traditional, geopolitical kind in Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen, Sudan and many other places to non-military threats like climate change, pandemics, food insecurity, inequalities and a self-serving global financial system. Change is required to (re)build trust in and among governments and international organizations in terms of increased transparency, accountability and inclusiveness in decision-making, as well as effectiveness in bringing about results for the benefit of all, “not leaving anyone behind”.
Creating a safer, more resilient and sustainable world cannot be relegated from one UNFCCC COP to the next, nor from one UN Summit to another. Only by acting with urgency to confront the various crises at hand, on the basis of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and existing institutional and operational tools improved as necessary, can we truly chart a path towards an effective multilateral system that works for all. It is a question of everybody doing their part for the desirable effect to be reached, from politicians and civil servants at all levels of government to religious, cultural and business leaders, civil society activists and the broader public. A special burden falls on national and international media, which should realize their responsibility not to present one-sided views of a given situation but respect in practice the principles of objectivity and inclusiveness in their reporting, aware of their mood-setting and educational role.
To reflect contemporary realities, peace and security need to be reframed through the lens of human security. No doubt, traditional wars are here to stay, as we were reminded in recent months, and have to be dealt with through well-tested peacemaking and peacebuilding tools, as foreseen in Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter. Human survival, though, also requires focusing on adequate preparedness and solidarity vis-à-vis different types of menaces that affect human resilience and wellbeing, such as climate change and pandemics. Mounting inequalities, government corruption and lack of transparency and accountability have also been identified as risk factors of this latter kind.
More emphasis needs to be placed on multilateral mechanisms to build trust and cooperation and thus resolve violent conflicts through peaceful means. The role of the UN as “violence interruptor” needs to be further developed and made central. For non-military threats, the creation of a Global Resilience Council, with an intergovernmental core and a constellation of non-state actor constituencies organically tied to it, would offer a human security counterpart to the Security Council’s traditional security threat considerations. The two together, with the Security Council duly reformed to regain its legitimacy and effectiveness, would cover the continuum of threats to peace and human security and would revitalize confidence in and the effectiveness of global governance arrangements through the UN.
Regarding current conflicts, including the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war, preventive action by the UN Secretary-General (Article 99 of the UN Charter) and negotiated outcomes by way of conciliation, arbitration and mediation (Article 33 of the Charter) are tools that exist for decades but have been underutilized. What is urgently needed, though, is practical steps such as convening an emergency summit, appointing a high-level envoy, and exploring avenues for good faith negotiations. Taking adequate consideration of historical grievances, root causes and using violence interruption methodologies can prepare the ground for negotiations towards a ceasefire, ending the loss of life and infrastructure destruction, while buying time for a negotiated settlement.
There is need for more candour and moral compass to overcome biases, structural and systemic inequalities and disparities. Acknowledging and understanding different epistemological and cognitive paradigms, such as those of indigenous populations, are necessary not only for paying due respect but also for bringing the experience and wisdom of those cultures to use for the common good. For example, learning by doing and speaking from the heart are some of the means through which indigenous peoples learn about the world, resolve conflicts amongst themselves and remain resilient while facing numerous adversities. The view points and voices of underprivileged countries and peoples, as well as of women and youth, are valuable for resolving longstanding issues entrenched in outdated mindsets.
Creating a culture of peace and resilience requires entertaining diverging opinions and enabling the conditions for civil debate – hence the importance of freedom of speech and objective media. The ability to freely associate oneself with a political view point, conviction, ethical consideration or religion is also paramount to the creation of a culture of solidarity and mutual respect. Strengthening institutions and the rule of law to protect these rights and freedoms is indispensable. There is a need for a more balanced approach where the Global South reclaims increased agency in global governance, thereby countering the claim by the West or the North to being the sole voices of the international community.
In sum, increased empathy, solidarity, transparency and accountability, grounded in ethics, truthfulness, equity, inclusivity and fairness are the necessary foundations for building a more peaceful and resilient world. Alternative perspectives from the Global South and underprivileged or marginalized groups can help build bridges and find innovative solutions in an increasingly polarized and fragmented international community. If the United Nations still has a useful role to play, and wants to play it, it should take initiatives and provide the fertile ground for all this to flourish. This takes moral strength and dedication to humanity, which is sought beyond words, in concrete actions.
* FOGGS and partners convened a whole-day event under the same title on 15 September 2023 in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level segment. In the course of the event, two reports were launched, the first one prepared through the Global South Perspectives Network and entitled Global South Perspectives on Global Governance Reform (linked here), and the second prepared through the Peacemaking Reflection Group of former UN system staff (PRG) and entitled An Enhanced Role for the UN in Peace & Human Security (linked here). The agenda and the video recording of the event can be found at: https://www.foggs.org/foggs-partners-event-in-nyc-15-september-2023/ This Thought Note is partly based on what was discussed at the 15 September 2023, without purporting to be a summary of the discussions held there. The Note is also informed by subsequent discussions and events like the Israel-Hamas war that started on 7 October 2023.