21st Century Challenges to the Global Peace

As Francois Mitterrand, the French statesman once said, “peace is the battle and it cannot be won easily”. In a traditional approach, peace is defined as the absence of war but over the period, it became evident that peace entails much more than a victory in a war. Johan Galtung advanced this idea by arguing that beside open, physical and direct violence, there are other types of social conditions which though are not perceived as war yet but the countries or societies experiencing them also cannot be said to be peaceful. A glance at the modern world and prevalent conflicts in social, economic, political and religious spheres exhibit the complexity and tenacity of disputes among different social actors. The idea of global peace is antediluvian but in academia, the term “global peace” was coined by the Robert Irwin in 1988 in his book, “Building a Peace System”. The fundamental elements of a Peace System according to Irwin are global governance and reform, Non-threatening national defence policies, and lastly the changes in economics and culture that would support peace with freedom by lessening inequalities and tensions.

In the last century, the notion of global peace was disrupted by the power struggles of dominant military powers, resulting in the world wars, blatant use of weapons of mass destruction and ruthless cold wars. On the contrary, the idea of creating a non-violent world encountered evolving threats from belligerent non-state actors, renewed rivalries at economic, cultural, and national grounds, and emergent technologies in the 21st century. The liberal order erected by the US and allied powers after the Second World War promised the peace and stability across the globe but the emergence of new forms of warfare like economic coercion, diplomatic bushwhacking, use of non-state actors and revolutionary technologies like AI, cyberspace in conflicts enervated the ideals of American peace. Amidst the peacebuilding measures, enabling technologies and interconnectivity across the globe, most parts of the world are still overshadowed by economic and food insecurities, environmental degradation, infectious and parasitic deceases, and personal insecurity. Taking all the prevalent normative and tangible threats to the human, national and international security in the account, the idea of achieving a peace worldwide is unfathomable.

Now when it is established that there are multiple challenges to the global peace and they need a multipronged approach, which in many cases is already adopted by the UN and its bodies, there are still seeds of conflict in the world, which could erupt in the form of another world war. Due to the recurrence of wars due to territorial disputes, the article addresses the subject first and reflect the most intransigent disputes like Kashmir, Galwan Valley, the Korean peninsula, and Israel’s illegal invasion in Palestine.

The territorial conflicts like Kashmir have profound implications on the discourse of world peace, because both parties, India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed nations, fought four full-scale wars in last 70 years and still India carryout pugnacious activities like hoax surgical strikes, violence and social engineering in Kashmir and blatant violations of LOC regulations. India’s illegal move to annex Kashmir by unilaterally changing the status of Kashmir, providing incentives to Hindu citizens for relocating in Kashmir, and extrajudicial killings of Kashmiri leadership and youngsters like Burhan Wani, are deliberate attempts to suppress the Muslim majority of Kashmir and rule out their objective of achieving the right to self-determination cast doubts on the international statuary bodies, their resolutions and mechanisms. Now when the stakes are higher than ever for Pakistan due to the accelerated mega-infrastructural development in the country, the risks of Indian intrusion in domestic affairs of Pakistan is also higher. A recent incident of cyberattack by India on Pakistani officials also rings the information war bells and conflict have furthered from the conventional terrain. The analyst also seconds the idea that India has created a window of kinetic manoeuvring under the nuclear threshold but a single incident can trigger a nuclear war between both nations, having far-fetched repercussions on the region and beyond.

Similarly, the recent strife between India and China on a territorial disagreement of Line of Actual Control (LAC) herald the world at the brink of a nuclear war if there would have been an armed escalation between two Asian powers. This prolonged territorial dispute once resulted in a full-scale war in 1962 and now with the involvement and convergence of interests of other dominant powers, there is a higher risk of global and national insecurity, especially in the Asiatic region. At one end, both India and China are contesting in economic and military grounds, on the other, both nations are aligning themselves with nations of interests like India with Quad (US, Japan, Australia), and China with Pakistan, Russia and other regional economies. Other worrisome border disputes in achieving peace in the Asiatic region are Senkaku Islands of South China Sea, Taiwan conundrum, 36 parallel of North and South Korea, and Kuril Islands of Japan and Russia. Lest we have such hotly disputed border in Asia, the realization of peace and 21st century as the Asian century is impossible.

Seeds of territorial conflicts are also stemming in the Middle East region where the KSA and Iran rivalry entangles several regional and international actors in the conflict having far-fetched implications for global energy security and international development. Beside the alignments of Arab nations with the US and its allies, the spun-out Palestinian question is also a dwindling factor for regional peace. The recent geopolitical realignments of Middle Eastern nations and their grand military modernization schemes are clear indicators of the power pursuit and hegemonic desires of regional powers. In the last couple of decades, the region underwent through regime change, radical extremism and territorial conquest of non-state actors like ISIS. This led to the repositioning of dominant military powers like the US, Russia and NATO in the region, changing the strategic calculus of the eastern half of the world. The waves of civil wars, incidents like the killing of Qasem Solemani in Iraq and Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, abolishment of JCPOA for Iran, and most recent development of Arab’s recognition Israel questions the legitimacy of global peacekeeping instruments and render the idea of peace in the region as a utopia.

Besides considering the territorial disputes, the ideational differences also play a significant role in the establishment of peaceful world order. After the end of the cold war and the beginning of the unipolar era, the future trajectory of international relations was predicted to be peaceful due to interdependence and presence of global regulatory regimes like WTO and UN. Another contributing factor was the globalization and advancement in science and technology. However, with the interconnectivity and fast-paced communication and transportation, the normative and ideational differences also matured. The treatise of Fukuyama, End of the History contended with the Huntington’s Clash of Civilization and world stepped into the 21st century with new challenges and threats to global peace. The thesis of the clash of civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington also reifies itself with the emerging conflicts in the globalized world based on the religious and cultural identities in the 21st century. However, with the incidents of 9/11 twin tower attack and armed attacks on the US embassies in Africa, the ideational differences furthered, especially between the Western and Islamic world. In the first decade of the new millennium, the emergence of non-state actors corresponded with the emergence of discourses of Islamic radicalism. Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man failed to ascertain the perpetual prevalence of liberal democratic order as the discourse of Political Islam gained traction. Along with the religious differences, scholars like Huntington and Fukuyama also considered the liberal democracy as the contravening political ideology in the post-cold war world due to presence of authoritarianism, partial communism and quasi-democracies in many parts of the world. The idea of the clash of civilization or contesting religious/cultural ideologies is also evident in the cases of Zionist expansionism in Palestine, Hindutva hegemonic designs in South Asia, and Chinese cultural supremacy across the globe. All these inter-faith divides and contesting ideologies are deepening the differences of nations based on religiosity.

With the advent of 21st century, it became evident that without the unity between different religious and social groups, like Western Christians and Islamic populations, the global challenges like climate change, poverty, gender inequality cannot be addressed fully. UN also realized the need hour and established the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in 2005 to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

Noam Chomsky said in an interview while mentioning one of a kind survey by the Gallop polling agency in 2017 revealing people think that the US is the greatest threat to world peace followed by Iran. As mentioned by Jeffery Heynes in his article, Former US President Barack Obama with an ambition to bridge the normative ties aimed to set relations on the improved footing and reached out to the Muslim world but he failed to establish a counter-narrative in the US. Afterwards, Trump as a Presidential candidate exploited the fault lines, massed domestic support on the very same idea of the clash of civilization, and blew the air of populism in the pluralistic society of America. His unilateral approach to the global challenges is also a threat to the cooperation –the zeitgeist of the 21st century and the ideal of American led liberal peace. His dictatorial actions like the killing of Iranian General Solemani, terminating JCPOA, imposing a travel ban on Muslim countries etc. are not in line with the agenda of forging an inclusive global society, diminishes the significance of UNAOC and interfaith harmony initiatives of UN, and render them undeliverable for making the world a peaceful place for all identities.

In times of liberal institutionalism, there are countless institutions at governmental and non-governmental level, established for peacekeeping, peacebuilding, forging interfaith harmony, avoiding violence, addressing human rights, technology, education, engineering, medicine or diplomacy used as an end to all forms of fighting. On the contrary, many parts of the world are facing direct violence; others are oppressed by structural or cultural violence. Johan Galtung identified that without addressing structural violence, the idea to attain peace is inconceivable. For the purpose, we established norms and institutions for the peaceful settlement of disputes, peacekeeping, and the protection of civilians; and the use of force for territorial conquest has lost its legitimacy as a tool of statecraft, but at the same time the wars to end all wars is still going on.

With the advent of modern technology and accelerated globalization, the seeds of conflict also dispersed swiftly across the globe, hindering the realization of a peaceful and non-violent world. Emergent technologies like cyberspace, AI, robotics, outer space etc. are also impeding the realization of the non-violent world due to their application in military affairs and coercive purposes. The success of crypto-currencies was a utopia achieved by the unison of computing power, cyberspace and advanced algorithms, thus proving the viability and soliciting characteristic. With the dawn of the 21st century, cyberspace emerged as a platform of conflict, and informational and psychological warfare. Fake news through social media platforms and propagandist cyber channels added hysteria and frenzy to the global and national developments, especially concerning national security. The positive use of cyberspace proved the technology as an epochal shift in the human civilization and progression but it also furthered the religious and cultural divides. At the same time, non-state actors are also leveraging the nascent domains like cyberspace to propagate their narrative and recruit while also remain anonymous at the same time. Cryptocurrencies also facilitated these non-state actors and trans-continental crimes. AI-led cyberattacks coerced the governmental and non-governmental actors and extorted capital or information in the bargain. Robots equipped with AI are now conscripted by militaries as immortal soldiers and weapons having potential for mass destruction. At one end the technology is becoming an enabler of warfare and spurring arms race at the national level, while on the other hand, it has potential to be used for the purpose of achieving individual and national security.

In order to preempt the social, economic and political repercussions of nascent technologies on human, national and international security, there is a dire need of establishing normative structures at all levels. Nations are securing themselves on cyber grounds and tech giants like Microsoft are pushing the agenda of Digital Geneva Convention but the potential of the technology for forging peace can only be harnessed through imposing constraints on the nation-state and non-state actors in the realm of technological application.

The human civilization has survived through cooperation and adhering the idea of mutual coexistence of different races, cultures and religions. According to Irwin, the idea to realize peace worldwide can be overwhelmed through pragmatic and incremental steps such as placing legal limitations on the conduct of the war, building institutions for conflict mediation, cooperating on peacemaking after the war, promoting norms of human dignity and human rights, extending humanitarian aid, and protecting women and children in war zones

The archaeological and recorded history of the world provides us with shreds of evidence of conflict and at the same time, the apparatuses of establishing a peaceful social order, like the ancient Cyrus Cylinder granting equal rights to all, the Magna Carta, and the petition of rights or French Declaration, all illustrating a prolonged struggle to create a peaceful world. Amid these peaceful initiatives, our world remained engulfed in complex power struggles. The 19th and 20th-century international relations, specifically the wrath of World Wars and invention of weapons of mass-destruction acts as a signpost of the prevalence of the realist approach for security and global peace. The idea of global governance and establishment of international statuary bodies was considered as the pragmatic approach for peaceful resolution of disputes among nations, but still, there are seeds of conflict and flashpoints of war present in each part of this world. Although the dissection of the discourse of global peace is an arduous task through contextualizing and undertaking broader patterns of human co-existence, one is able to draw the contours of global harmony and freedom from strife.

The social scientists have opined myriad approaches to overcome the differences and disagreements in a peaceful manner. Numerous approaches of peaceful conflict resolution are also congealed into a broader spectrum of global peace system, an approach of peace and conflict studies, involving a multi-layered, non-violent process of resolving disputes by incorporating broader social and political solutions. However, the physical, normative and hermeneutic differences are still endangering our world, providing a conducive environment for the escalation of trivial feuds into armed conflicts. Human civilization has survived and progressed as a result of the cooperation and compassion, and in order to erect a peace-loving society, the need of the hour is inclusivity and pluralism.

Box 1: Peace through Strength –the American way of building a peaceful world

Forging a peace through military power is often denoted with the phrase “Peace through strength”. The maxim is as old as Roman Empire and is often related with the concept of realpolitik in the discourses of international relations but the idea remained persistent in the US administration in its brief history of 200 years. George Washington, first American President, deliberated the policy of establishing peace through strength in his fifth annual message to Congress, the 1793 State of the Union Address, stating that, “there is a rank due to the United States among nations which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity; it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.” Alexander Hamilton argued, “Peace through strength by establishing strong garrisons in the west and a navy in the east would protect the Union from the threat of Britain and Spain.” The phrase became cold war rhetoric and during the 1964 presidential campaign in the United States, the Republican Party spent about $5 million on “Peace through Strength” TV spots. In 1970’s the lobbying for MX missile was symbolized with the very same slogan. In 1980’s President Ronald Reagan often quoted the phrase as denoting it with “to be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.” On assuming office in January 2017, President Trump cited “the idea of Peace through Strength is central to his overall “America First” foreign policy. The ideology is often related with the neoconservative foreign policymakers of the US and Republican platform have reiterated the catchphrase since the 1980s.

Box 2: UN maintaining International Peace and Security

UN was established in 1945 after the catastrophic Second World War with a mission to act as the regulatory body for the maintenance of international peace and security. The statuary international regime was aimed “to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish.” The UN Security Council (UNSC) bears the primary responsibility for international peace and security while the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Secretary-General play major, important, and complementary roles, along with other UN offices and bodies. The international regime aims to foster global peace and security through preventive diplomacy and mediation, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, counter-terrorism and disarmament. The Charter empowers the Secretary-General to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” One of the most vital roles played by the Secretary-General is the use of his “good offices” – steps taken publicly and in private that draw upon his independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The main strategies to prevent disputes from escalating into conflict, and to prevent the recurrence of conflict, are preventive diplomacy and preventive disarmament. Preventive diplomacy refers to action taken to prevent disputes from arising or escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of conflicts as they arise. It may take the form of mediation, conciliation or negotiation. Transnational organized crime takes many forms from trafficking in drugs, firearms and even people to money laundering and corruption. Today organized crime has diversified, gone global and reached macro-economic proportions so that it constitutes a threat to peace and security.

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About Amna Malik 50 Articles
Author is the President, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR) and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’.