The First World War one hundred years ago, in hind-sight, was avoidable. One historian has called it “the 20th century’s seminal catastrophe”. But in hind sight, we all have perfect vision.
It is now evident that nations abandoned diplomacy a bit too soon. This is not an indictment, but a conclusion that diplomacy should never be discontinued or abandoned.
We know war is brutal and recurrent. Wars kill, maim, torture and leave a trail of devastation in their wake. And yet they become an imperative because nations constantly prepare for wars to deter aggression. Sun Tzu said, “The greatest victory requires no battle.” Clausewitz wrote that “War is continuation of policy by other means.”
War is a reality and that is why nations should always be ready and equipped to avert it.
What are the lessons the international community has learnt from World War I? One thing is clear: this century, we should not repeat the mistakes that were made one hundred years ago. There should be no complacency. Never lower your guard for peace.
The comparisons of the 21st century with the first two decades of the last century are eerie. The dawn of last century was imbued with hope and flush with new technologies, both benign and harmful. The only difference is that today’s technologies are thousands of times more beneficial or more destructive. A hundred years ago, the world did not have supercomputers or weapons of mass destruction; but today we have them and they are becoming much more sophisticated by the day.
Last century, all sides plunged into a cataclysmic war, while at the same time denouncing it as ignoble.
Apparently, in a narrow sense, there was no casus belli for such a wide, global war. Nations were sucked into the war because of their apprehensions and latent hostilities.
There is no such thing as permanent peace. If such a state was at all possible, the world’s warmongers and pacifists will go out of business. And the United Nations’ never-ending task of saving the succeeding generations from the scourge of war will come to an end. War can erupt anywhere, any time. That is why, vigilance is so important. The United Nations should remain constantly watchful.
There should be a system in place to stem potential threats. The United Nations is that system, but it should be used optimally.
The transient, random eruptions of conflicts should not be confused with deep-rooted inter-state tensions and disputes.
The desire for domination or hegemony can cause war today as it did a century ago. To avert war, international politics should not be guided by zero sum mindsets, but by respect for the legitimate interests of other nations and peoples. We should strive to work for security of all, not a select few.
Wars are ruinous, expensive and debilitating for all.
Once conflicts break out, they should not be allowed to drag on. Swift diplomacy should be set in motion to secure and build peace.
In the last century stereotyping and mischaracterization of ethnic and religious groups and communities led to wars and horrendous pogroms. This century, that mistake should not be repeated.
From the ashes of the First World War, the world extracted the principles on which the United Nations is founded today, for instance the inalienable right to self-determination.
The United Nations is not getting the credit it should for what it has done for peace. If there was no United Nations, in all probability a third or a fourth World War would have broken out.
The UN has made, kept, maintained and built peace around the world. It has invested heavily in social and economic development, promotion of human rights, disaster relief and environmental protection.
In the past seven decades, the United Nations has been more successful in dealing with conflicts within states than between states. Festering disputes, which are much more challenging for the UN Security Council, have been shelved because of realpolitik.
The UN is forced to grapple with contingent or chronic conflicts by using Chapter VII’s enforcement mandates, but there is inadequate utilization of Chapter VI for the pacific settlement of disputes and preventive diplomacy.
The Security Council should use the full range of diplomatic means in its toolbox – negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies and arrangements and last but not least the Secretary General’s good offices. An engagement using these means, even if it is on a back burner, is better than no engagement at all.
Reconciliation remains an important objective, as it is evident from most of the situations on the UN Security Council’s agenda – from Syria to Iraq and Yemen, from Somalia to Darfur to the DRC; and from Côte d’Ivoire to Liberia, Libya and Mali; and in the Balkans.
A fine balance needs to be struck between reconciliation and criminal justice. This is important not only for the healing process of the societies and states torn apart by conflict but also for preventing relapses and building peace. Moreover, the international community should not try to resolve solution hastily without addressing the root causes.
Conflicts start within or between nations but the resulting fires engulf the neighboring nations and often the entire globe. Therefore, it is important to emulate the incipient regional frameworks for peace, security and cooperation launched by the Secretary General primarily for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali, but which are supported by the wider neighborhoods in the Great Lakes Region, SADC and the Sahel Region, as well as international financial institutions.
It is a fact that more money is being spent on the conflict than on ways to deal with the drivers of conflict. Poverty, hunger, competition over natural resources, climate change, bad governance and lack of the rule of law drive people towards conflict.
In a sense, contemporary doctrine and practice are skewed more to conflict management than to conflict prevention or conflict resolution. More efforts should be made to address the outstanding issues and the socio-economic drivers that fuel hostilities.
In our region, Pakistan seeks peace, security, stability and prosperity for all; and is exploring all avenues for conflict resolution, reconciliation and economic cooperation. Pakistan would continue to support UN peacekeeping. It is incumbent on all member states of the United Nations to oppose the dark forces of extremist ideologies, terrorism and asymmetric warfare that undermine peace and harmony.
The Security Council needs a comprehensive reform. This reform should reflect the aspirations of all states; not ambitions of a few. It should not replicate past patterns; but prepare us for a dynamic future.