HUMAN civilization since ancient times has been in search of peace. All major religions and belief systems enjoin peace. But war is as much a fact of life as peace and therefore it is incumbent upon individuals, communities, nations and international community to make and build peace.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims all around the world want peace, decent lives, respect for basic human rights, social justice and human dignity. A cardinal tenet of the Quran is that war is permitted only in self-defense; and that too against those who would proactively fight you. War has to be averted and prevented at all costs, but if it becomes inevitable, it is mandatory that it is a just war.
The Bible, the Torah, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucius – all preach peace and yet war stalks us and disrupts the best laid out plans for peace.
You must be wondering why I have started a conversation on peace with such a heavy reference to religion. I believe that future wars are going to be religious wars for the most part. Islam, to which more than 1.6 billion people adhere, is widely perceived in the West as a religion encouraging violence, though Muslims contest this notion. What’s more, the wars raging within the Muslim world are being fought partly on sectarian and denominational basis. Two thirds of the conflicts in the world are fueled by sectarian clashes, violent extremism, terrorism, and civil strife. It is also true that these conflicts have geostrategic overhang and at least one third of conflicts world-wide stem from territorial and political disputes.
Instead of conflicts being spawned across borders, there should be interflow of peace and cooperation. Instead of transporting terrorism, drugs, and arms, borders should become stronger arteries for peace, commerce, and connectivity.
Some believe World War III has already started, though in a different form. It is not a conventional war, and instead of using firm alliances, this war is being prosecuted by overlapping coalitions – coalitions of the willing. The enemy is nebulous and amorphous, on the one hand, and a concrete and menacing threat, on the other. The strongest and richest nations on earth form blocs to defeat this enemy and to wage wars against some of the weakest nations on earth.
Peacemaking is recessive, peacekeeping is growth industry, and peace-building gets scant attention. Some two billion people live in countries riven by war, conflict, terrorism, and extreme violence. Wars’ cumulative impact on global economy is estimated at $ 14 trillion a year.
Looking for the drivers for cooperation, we should not reinvent the wheel. The United Nations is there and it is evolving. Despite its weak form, the UN has been able to avert or prevent deadly wars since 1945. The reality is that it has been marginalized in dealing with the most serious issues of peace and security. The Security Council needs reform. But it should not be a reform that inducts new permanent members but makes it more representative, more accountable, efficient and effective.
The drivers for transnational cooperation would include overlap of national interests, market access, a culture of shared prosperity, and connectivity, as well as national and regional institution building. Weak institutions create vacuums and that in turn breeds conflict. All nations need to take steps to invest in stability and foster resilience to make regional forums and institutions viable. To break the vicious cycles of conflicts and to create and sustain virtuous cycles of peace, reconciliation and cooperation, the international community should promote international rule of law and respect for the UN Charter.
Considering that most of the wars are religious, interfaith and inter-civilizational dialogues are a must. These dialogues at the moment are anemic and suffer from inattention. Similarly, peace-building, which is right now the weakest link of the UN peace agenda, should be upgraded to avert relapses.
The US and Russia must resolve their differences over Ukraine, missile defenses, and NATO’s remit in Europe, because of the reignited rivalry between the two countries has triggered a new cold war, which is fraught with grave risks. This new cold war is unravelling confidence between the two nations. Unless they reduce their tensions, Europe and Middle East will remain volatile.
In the Middle East, the root causes of wars are a crumbling order crafted in the first half of the last century, activated sectarian fault lines, and proxies being backed by both regional and extra-regional.