Success of the United Nations

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We know all too well the failures of the United Nations. At this moment of history, its failures include the wars and potential wars everywhere in the world, including the potential of a catastrophic nuclear war. As we have stated previously, as long as the United Nations is run by the Member States, it will not be able to control their culture of war.

But let us not ignore the successes of the United Nations.

First, it has succeeded in developing around the world a universal consciousness for peace.

This is shown in the celebration of the International Day of Peace, which, as we have documented in this month’s CPNN bulletin, has been taken up by millions of people in all parts of the world. And, as we have mentioned in the bulletin, this follows in a tradition that includes the 75 million signatures on the Manifesto 2000 for the International Year of the Culture of Peace and the mobilization for peade by thousands of organizations of the civil society during the International Decade for a Culture of Peace 2001-2010.

The universal consciousness for peace follows on the heels of the universal consciousness for human rights.

In both cases, a key moment was the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a key Declaration. For human rights it was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and for peace it was the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace of 1999. The simple fact that all the countries of the world could adopt a resolution has enabled the UN to play a key role in the development of universal consciousness.

In sum, one great success of the United Nations has been its standard-setting function.

Second, the United Nations has succeeded in managing international matters on a global scale when they are not part of the culture of war.

Here are some examples:

In 1967 there were 130,000 cases of smallpox in the world. By 1984, there were no cases and the virus was declared extinct. This was due to the global vaccination program of the World Health Organization, one of the United Nations agencies.

At any given moment there is a bewildering number of airplanes taking off and landing in airports around the world without accident. This is due to the work of the International Civil Aviation Organization, another United Nations agency.

You can mail a letter to any destination in the world by puttiing it in a mailbox in any country. This is due to the work of the Universal Postal Union, yet another United Nations Agency.

In all these cases, success comes because the problems are not political. They are simply technical.

That leaves us with the big question: could the United Nations succeed in bring us a global culture of peace? Not just peace consciousness, but could it achieve a true and universal disarmament, just as dueling, slavery and other such practices were previously eliminated? The problem here is not technical. It is political.

My experiences when I worked at UNESCO tell me that a culture of peace is technically possible. As I have described previously, we were able, as an agency of the United Nations, to involve the people of Mozambique and El Salvador to design national peace programs during the 1990’s following their civil wars, and I believe that they would have achieved peace and disarmament in those countries if the Member States had supported our work. But they did not support our work – for political reasons. I am reminded of that history when I see the progress towards disarmament that is being achieved these days in Colombia, and I hope that they can sustain the peace despite the arrival of political changes.

Yes, a culture of peace is possible. What is needed is a radical reform of the United Nations, putting it in the hands of the people instead of the states.

The Universality of the Movement for a Culture of Peace

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This month’s CPNN bulletin shows that initiatives for a culture of peace are taking place in most regions of the world.  As discussed in previous blogs, Latin America and Africa are in the leadership, although this may be difficult for the North to accept . The Arab States took two steps forward with the “Arab Spring”, although the turnaround in Egypt moved them one step back.  The only region which seems to lag is East Asia.

The apparent lag of East Asia may be an illusion caused by our different terminologies.  I recall a personal luncheon with the Ambassador from China to UNESCO at the time when I was director of the International Year for the Culture of Peace.  After listening intently to my description of our initiatives for the culture of peace, he said suddenly, “Oh, now I understand.  You are talking about social harmony.”  The terminology of China was molded in the philosophy of Confucius which is quite different from Western philosophy.

The universality of the culture of peace was ensured by the adoption in 1999 of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace by the UN General Assembly which is the closest we come to a universal forum of humanity.   Just as the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights provided universal recognition for human rights, so, too, the 1999 Declaration and Programme of Action has provided, with its 8 action areas, a universal basis for the culture of peace.

This was summed up by Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury who shepherded the Declaration and Programme of Action through the difficult process of adoption.  Presenting the document to the General Assembly, the Ambassador said that it brought in subjects that the Assembly had rarely touched in its 50 year history: “I believe that this document is unique in more than one way. It is a universal document in the real sense, transcending boundaries, cultures, societies and nations. Unlike many other General Assembly documents, this document is action-oriented and encourages actions at all levels . . . All people from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds can contribute to its implementation.”

As Ambassador Chowdhury correctly stated, one aspect of its universality is its relevance to the everyday actions of people throughout the world.

Another aspect of the universality of the UN declaration was ensured by the manner in which we prepared it.  We began by analyzing and forming the alternative to its antithesis which is another universal culture, the culture of war, which has dominated the world at least since Neolithic times.  It has become, over time, the culture of the state.  As I have often remarked, if you placed Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Napoleon and General MacArthur in a room with interpreters, they would find themselves in complete accord.

Given the universality of the culture of war, the only way we can arrive at a culture of peace is through a universal transformation of one to the other.  In a previous blog, with the title “Can a Culture of Peace be created in only one zone of the world?”, I answered that it has not been possible, because previous attempts limited in scope have been crushed by the culture of war.

Only when the states of the culture of war crash universally will there be a chance to install a culture of peace.  This occurs periodically, including four times in the previous century:  World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and (in half of the world) the crash of the Soviet Empire.  And it will no doubt occur fairly soon again in this 21st Century.

But when the next crash comes, will we be ready to establish a culture of peace universally?  That is the key question.  If we only establish the culture of peace in one or two regions, it is likely that the culture of war will be re-established and once again return to crush our attempts at a culture of peace.

L’universalité du Mouvement pour une culture de paix

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Le bulletin de CPNN fait apparaître ce mois-ci que les initiatives pour une culture de paix viennent de la plupart des régions du monde. Comme nous avons vu dans les blogs précédents, ce sont l’Amérique latine et l’Afrique qui en sont leaders, même si le Nord ait du mal à le reconnaître.   Avec le « printemps arabe» , les États arabes ont fait deux pas en avant, bien que, en Egypte, l’évolution de la situation leur a fait faire un pas en arrière.  Seule, l’Asie orientale semble en dehors du circuit.

Le décalage apparent de l’Asie orientale peut être une illusion causée par nos différences de terminologie. Je me souviens d’un déjeuner personnel avec l’ambassadeur de Chine à l’UNESCO quand j’étais directeur de l’Année internationale de la culture de la paix. Après avoir écouté attentivement la description de nos initiatives dans ce domaine, soudainement il a dit, “Oh, maintenant je comprends. Vous voulez parlez d’harmonie sociale.”  Le vocabulaire chinois a été modelé par la philosophie de Confucius, ce qui diffère tout à fait de notre approche occidentale.

L’universalité de la culture de paix a été assurée en 1999, lors de l’adoption par l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies de la Déclaration et Programme d’action sur une culture de la paix. L’ Assemblée générale est la forme la plus proche pour parvenir à un forum universel de l’humanité. Tout comme la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme de 1948 a permis la reconnaissance universelle des droits humains, la Déclaration et Programme d’action de 1999 a fourni, avec ses huit domaines d’action, une base universelle pour la culture de paix.

Ceci a été résumé par l’Ambassadeur Anwarul Chowdhury qui a piloté la Déclaration et Programme d’action à travers le difficile processus d’adoption. Dans sa présentation du document à l’Assemblée générale, l’ambassadeur a dit qu’il avait rapporté à l’Assemblée, des sujets rarement soulevés en 50 ans d’histoire. “Je crois que ce document est unique à plus d’un titre.  C’est un document universel dans le sens réel qu’il transcende les frontières, les cultures, les sociétés et les nations. Contrairement à de nombreux autres documents de l’Assemblée générale, ce document est orienté vers l’action et encourage les actions à tous les niveaux … Tous les gens de tous horizons et de toutes sortes de milieux peuvent contribuer à sa mise en œuvre ».

L’ambassadeur avait raison: l’un des aspects de l’universalité, c’est la pertinence des actes quotidiens des gens partout dans le monde.

Un autre aspect de l’universalité de la culture de paix a été assurée par la manière dont nous avons préparé la Déclaration. Nous avons commencé par l’analyse d’une autre culture universelle, celle dans laquelle baigne notre humanité depuis au moins le Néolithique : la culture de guerre.  Elle est devenue au fils du temps, la culture de l’Etat.  Ensuite, nous y avons projeté et construit une alternative: la culture de paix.  Comme j’en ai souvent fait la remarque, si vous pouviez placer Alexandre le Grand, Gengis Khan, Jules César, Napoléon et le général MacArthur dans une chambre avec des interprètes, ils se trouveraient tous en complet accord !

Compte tenu de l’universalité de la culture de guerre, la seule façon par laquelle nous pouvons parvenir à la culture de paix passe à travers une transformation universelle de l’une à l’autre.  Dans un blog précédent, avec le titre “Est-ce qu’une culture de paix peut être créé dans une seule zone du monde?”,  j’avais répondu que jusqu’à aujourd’hui cela n’avait pas été possible, car chaque tentative localisée a été écrasée par la culture de guerre.

C’est seulement quand les Etats guerriers échoueront universellement qu’il y aura la possibilité d’installer une culture de paix. Des tels échecs arrivent périodiquement: par example, dans le siècle dernier, cela s’est produit quatre fois: -Les deux guerres mondiales, la grand dépression, et la chute dans la moitié du monde de l’Empire Soviétique.  Et cela va sans doute se reproduire bientôt.

Mais quand le prochain crash arrivera, serons nous prêt pour établir une culture de paix de manière universelle?  Si nous établissons une culture de paix dans seulement une ou deux régions, ce sera insuffisant, parce qu’il est probable que la culture de guerre reviendra et l’écrasera.

Sowing the culture of peace: The International Day of Peace

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When I went to work in Mozambique on behalf of UNESCO to help develop a national culture of peace program in the early 90’s, my African friends criticized the European notion of building a culture of peace.  “No, they told me, you don’t build a culture of peace.  You cultivate it.”

The culture of war, on the other hand, is built.  Empires and their states are built on fear through domination, exploitation, control of information, and the development and use (or threat) of armed force.  Economic enterprises are constructed within this shield.  Entire economic systems are built, eventually to be ruled by speculation.  As a result the culture of war is not sustainable.  Fear is eventually overcome by courage, and the truth eventually will out.  Arms production exhausts the economy.  And speculation, like a house of cards, eventually crashes.  From time to time, these spectacular, unsustainable institutions collapse and leave space for the sustainable processes of culture.

And so human history, human culture, slowly, by fits and starts, makes its way forward.  Culture is not a state of being, but a process.  It is not static, but dynamic.  It is not built but cultivated.  As stated in the UN Declaration on a Culture of Peace (UN Resolution A-53-243), it consists of “values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behavior and ways of life.”  It is a social, not an individual process.  It is not “inner peace.”  Instead, it is political in the sense that Aristotle meant when he began his greatest work with “Man is a political animal”, linking the word “political” to “polis,” the city.

The process is not steady.  We may plant seeds and fail to see the results afterwards.  We may harvest fruit and have to wait for the winter before planting again.  But slowly, over time, the culture grows – that is our theme and our hope for the future.

There is a terrible urgency to what we are doing.  We know from history that when empires crash, there is great suffering, and there is an immediate cry to rebuild the structures of the culture of war that are stronger than ever – what is known as fascism.  If we are not prepared at that moment to make the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace, we will risk a transition to fascism.

To help us attain universality for the culture of peace we need to continue involving the United Nations in this process.  Even though it is now controlled by states with their cultures of war, the time will come when we can reclaim the United Nations, as the Charter says, in the name of “We the peoples….”