Tranquility, calm, freedom from interference, serenity, law and order, harmony, non-aggression… These are words that define peace. Finding peace at an individual, societal, national and international levels can be a challenging task to achieve. When one observes international history, peace has been constantly targeted and violated for political and economic gains.
With the idea of bringing lasting peace in the world September 21st was declared the International Day of Peace in 1981 at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). It came at a critical time during the Cold War era when there was economic recession and decolonized nations were trying to find their own path challenged by conditions of lending imposed by international financial institutions, commonly known as structural adjustment programs (SAPs), that created further hardships, inequalities and conflicts.
Is there real willingness in promoting international peace? Are we all equal when it comes to peace? These are questions that come into mind when thinking of peace versus war.
History is full of conquests, invasions, wars with the sole purpose of gaining more power and more wealth. According to the realist thinkers such as Waltz and Mearscheimer, the search for power and the nature of international anarchy is what influence states to go to war. The neorealist thinkers also have a similar pessimistic approach to the world by looking at the continuing violence in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia. In other words, “we continue to live in a world of mistrust and constant security competition” (Baylis, 2006:304).
Accordingly, it seems that the world is on one side growing towards more cooperation, living in peace, while the other part of the world doesn’t seem to be allowed to live in such harmony. What we see today is a world where those living in peace decide the fate of the others. It is a continuity of the past with the exception that it is no longer about inter-state wars but economic wars, civil unrest or violation of one’s country’s sovereign territories as it is the case of Ethiopia towards Eritrea. In fact, despite enjoying peace domestically, Eritrean sovereign territories have been occupied by Ethiopia for more than 17 years while the international community doesn’t raise a finger on this issue. Such tensions, thus, wipe out any chances for peace and even less for cooperation.
Promoting the International Day of Peace is definitely a debatable concept. Who is benefiting from it? Have there been any changes in today’s world since its establishment? The international day proclaimed by the UN is often celebrated in areas where there is peace, where people have the chance to think further than just about survival. Peace allows states to think about education, health, transport, economic growth and culture whereas wars confine states to think about defense, death, violence, humanitarian assistance, hunger, and refugees and the list goes on. Those conflicting aspects continue to divide the world where those living in harmony continue to decide the future of those living in constant fear.
This year’s International Day of Peace is honoring the spirit of togetherness under the theme of “Together for Peace, Respect, Safety and Dignity for All”. This slogan may signify little to their everyday lives as peace is perceived as the norm. However, the global order has brought new challenges to those who only enjoy peace with the rise of terrorism and attacks in major cities.
Wars and violence, which used to be only a matter to the “poor”, is changing its feature by coming at the doorsteps of those enjoying serenity. With about ten peacekeeping missions on the African continent alone, the emigration of African youth towards those so-called ‘peaceful’ nations, where they often become second-class citizens, is bringing the idea of international peace under a question mark. Do we actually want to create this ‘international’ peace? Isn’t war profitable to some? Actually, with the growth of the so-called “security regimes”, states cooperate to resolve security dilemma for their common interests (Jervis in Palme report 1992). This is the current state of affairs where states sit at the UN headquarters in Geneva or New York to discuss the destiny of people living in “hostile” states.
Certainly the idealist approach of a peaceful world that the creation of the League of Nations would offer international order and a peaceful global society was good in theory. But, the reality on the ground is showing the contrary. Conflicting ideas, imposing ideologies of development to less developed countries and the endless exploitation of resources show that neo-realists are to some extent right in their assumptions that relative gains, interests and remaining in fear that some will cheat on any cooperation or agreement are shaping the state of affairs (Baylis 2006:303). What we see today is a growing modern military technology, mistrust towards not only states but also individuals due to the rise of extremism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and mechanized warfare (Meffe 2017).
At this year’s International Day of Peace it is time to reflect further if such peace is feasible today. Despite living in a more globalized order, many features of the old order continue to rule the world. The International Day of Peace has a heavy task in raising awareness of people in places where the words combat, conflict, struggle, hostility and enmity are parts of their daily lives, to be able to turn their reality to calm, harmony, security, and amity. Such a task would require a global responsibility and understanding that peace is a fundamental human right.