A United Nations without government interference: Could it manage a culture of peace?

The latest CPNN bulletin provides good evidence that the answer to this question is “Yes!”

We are not surprised that air traffic, postal services and telecommunications are managed effectively by agencies of the United Nations.  Why should we be surprised that a culture of peace could also be effectively managed?

Let us begin with the two articles about initiatives supported by UNESCO: 1) the establishment of a network of peace research institutions for the promotion of a culture of peace in Africa, and 2) the project to develop shared histories in Southeast Asia that promote peace and mutual understanding.

Having worked at UNESCO between 1992 and 2001, I know very well the roots of these initiatives, including  staff and partners of UNESCO that understand the need for a transition from culture of war to culture of peace and who, when they can obtain the necessary resources, are perfectly capable of moving from theory to effective action.

The only question is whether the Member States of UNESCO, who determine the organization’s finances, are capable and willing to provide the needed resources.  These resources are quite modest when compared with what they spend on the culture of war.

At the meeting of the Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures of Peace we learned that the unit of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) headed by Dr. Ozonnia Ojiello has been working in Africa to develop peace structures.  These structures are as effective as their model that was so well developed in South Africa during the transition from Apartheid to democracy twenty years ago.  This again illustrates how the UN system has staff and partners capable of making the transition to a culture of peace.

But let me turn to the pointed question of Shale Sofonea from Lesotho, who congratulated UNDP for having helped the civil society from Lesotho to overcome the violence associated with national elections, but who asked pointedly if Africa would be able to depend on help from UNDP well into the future.

My experience at UNESCO makes me especially sensitive to Shale’s question.  In the early 90’s we developed effective programs in El Salvador and Mozambique for a transition from their civil wars to a culture of peace through cooperation by the former enemies in programs for education, culture, communication and science.  However, the Member States of UNESCO were unwilling to finance these programs, preferring to finance other development programs that would serve their own interests rather than the interests of the countries concerned.

For this reason, I have always counseled those working for progressive initiatives at the United Nations and its agencies to work with modest resources and  remain “under the radar” so that the Member States would not interfere with their development.

Let me recall the words of Anwarul Chowdhury, who initiated the High Level Forum on a Culture of Peace at UN Headquarters last month: “I find it is the governments and power structures which are the most persistent foot-draggers with regard to advancing the culture of peace through policy steps and action . . . The United Nations has shown great vision by adopting its historic, norm-setting Declaration and Program of Action on the Culture of Peace in 1999, but has not been organised enough in making the document a system-wide flagship effort of the world body.  I am a believer that the world, particularly the governments, will come to realise its true value and usefulness sooner than later.”

Although I am more skeptical than Chowdhury that governments will ultimately support the culture of peace at the United Nations, I am optimistic that someday we be able to achieve a United Nations that is based directly on the people (as proposed in the UN Charter that begins “We the peoples…”) and that such a United Nations will be quite capable of managing the transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace.

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