Concluding Statement on the Prospects for a Culture of Peace

Concluding statement on the prospects for a culture of peace.

By Ingeborg Breines, former IPB Co-President. Written for the webinar ‘A Climate of Peace’ hosted by IPB and the Peace Union of Finland on 7 November 2020. For the complete webinar, visit our YouTube channel.

Dear friends,

Happy anniversary Peace Union of Finland! I wish you continued success and lots of energy. You are needed! How much I would have loved to be in Helsinki today with IPB to see you all – for friendship, togetherness, inspiration and sharing. The Covid-19 pandemic makes direct contact and hugs and embrace sadly much more difficult. At the same time we have become much more skilful in web communication. Actually, in this sense, the world has become more open than ever before and networking facilitated, that is, of course, among those of us with access to the world-wide-web. However, we do not know what this situation will do to us (personally, socially, economically and politically), nor do we know the long-term effects.

We have today heard a series of enlightening and inspiring presentations – sincere thanks! The complexities revealed make it even more difficult to make a clear statement on the prospects of a culture of peace under the present circumstances. It is easier to say something about the vision of a culture of peace as initiated by UNESCO, and on the importance of having a vision, or a dream, of the world we would like to see. But is it possible that this Covid -19 with all its pain, sorrow and uncertainty, can provide a window of opportunity for developing a culture of peace? Can it inspire change? Can it lead to more people being involved in strategic and practical steps to build back better? Can it create more space for true multilateralism, critical thinking and cooperation between the peace movement and all the young people desperate for climate justice, a sound and healthy environment, green new deals, circular economy and less consumption and marked orientation?

The pandemic x-rays and amplifies the blatant existing inequalities and injustices. More people, at least so it seems, are able to see and question a world situation with more than 1.9 trillion US dollars per year for the military, whilst we at the same time have huge difficulties in providing the necessary resources for adequate health care and meeting the basic needs of millions of people. It seems that it is becoming more obvious to a growing number of people that the military is not able to protect us against the real and existential threats to humankind and to the planet: i) the environmental and climate crises, ii) the fast growing nuclear threat and iii) the huge inequalities shaping a precariat full of angry young people deprived of education and opportunities and with the risk of being lead into authoritarian and fundamentalist thinking and action.

But is this growing insight enough to counter the fear that dominant power structures are permanently trying to install in us of “the other”, of those who will come and take our riches, our land and undermine our values? Is it enough to stand against the enemy images that are created, to stand up against this massive propaganda made to legitimize and support the war industry and all those who directly and indirectly make their living or take their status from these totally outdated and dangerous so-called “security” measures? Are people able to see that military “security” is no security, but just an old patriarchal power structure that benefits the few, that misuses our natural resources, undermines the very essence of the UN to build peace by peaceful means and contributes unshamefully and very substantially to a devastating climate change as one of the world’s major polluters, largely outside any climate reporting? Military “security” is absurd, and economically, ecologically and ethically unacceptable. Instead, as highlighted by IPB, we need to develop a human security, which secures us from the real and existential threats and we need a common, non-militaristic security that works for all.

The vision, the concept and the movement of a culture of peace were developed as an alternative to the culture of war and violence, seeking to revitalize major international, normative instruments, which are basic to the United Nations’ mission, first and foremost “to save future generations from the scourge of war”. The culture of peace ‘consists of values, attitudes and behaviours that reflect and inspire social interaction and sharing, based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, all human rights, tolerance and solidarity, that reject violence, endeavour to prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation and that guarantee the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the development process of their society’.

The culture of peace program opened up a broad-based reflection on a possible new vision/scenario for the future involving researchers, teachers, artists, politicians, peace activists, the women’s movement and organizations and governments who found in the culture of peace a platform for fruitful exchange and mutual inspiration. Highly diverse groups and initiatives dealing with issues such as environment, human rights, development, disarmament, human security, gender equality and youth, related constructively to the culture of peace concept, which encompasses not only peace as the absence of war, but focuses on the content and the conditions of peace.

UNESCO managed to use the opening created by the break down of the cold war. As the intellectual and ethical organ of the UN, the rebel of the system, so to say, UNESCO was very well placed to take such a culture of peace initiative. It has a broad mandate to help create peace through international cooperation within the fields of education, science, culture and communication and a preamble to the Constitution which says: Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that defences for peace must be constructed.

The whole UNESCO was put to work – under the inspiring leadership of the then DG, Federico Mayor. We worked enthusiastically around the clock and actually believed that we were changing the world. A program of action for the culture of peace was developed for use at international level, by governments and by civil society. The rest of the UN system came on board and the year 2000 was made the International Year for a Culture of Peace. To enter the new millennium under the culture of peace umbrella created much hope and expectations. UNESCO developed with some Nobel peace laureates the Manifesto 2000 for a culture of peace, which was signed by some 75 million people who committed themselves to: respect all life, reject violence, share with others, listen to understand, preserve the planet and rediscover solidarity’. What a testimony to people’s longing for peace.

The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001 – 2010) followed the International Year. But the events of 11. September 2001 and the aftermath undermined the drive for a culture of peace. The world’s attention, and resources, was, and still is, focussed on fighting terrorism. The commonly held beliefs or myths that the program analyzed and confronted, are unfortunately still active: (i) if you want peace, prepare for war, (ii) nothing can change because violence is inevitable and intrinsic to human nature, and (iii) violence is an efficient method for solving problems and disputes. Even though these myths are placated both by research and experience, they are still dominant in international affairs, legitimizing military build-ups and militarized security measures.

Again, we need to state loud and clear that if we want peace, we must prepare for peace. We should not only have ministries of defence or security, but ministries of a culture of peace; not only prestigious military academies, but obligatory peace education at all levels of the school system; not only peace research that is preoccupied by following the developments of new weapons and armed conflicts, but peace research that truly helps us to understand and to solve conflicts creatively and in non-violent ways.

Today, whilst the term “culture of peace” is being used ever more frequently, it is in practical terms mainly kept alive by civil society organisations, not least the peace movement and women’s organisations and youth organisations. The UN continues with yearly high-level summits on the culture of peace and UNESCO has some initiatives, primarily in Africa, but with less ambitions. UNESCO has also, with the Japanese amendment to the Constitution, lessened its role as a unique “worldwide brainworkers parliament”, to use the wording of the British minister of education, Ellen Wilkinson, at the opening of UNESCO in 1945. She had high hopes, expressed with conviction: “It is for us to clear the channels through which may flow from nation to nation the streams of knowledge and thought, of truth and beauty, which are the foundations of “true civilization”.

We know that a culture of peace is possible and could guide our action. If there is a special window of opportunity now, we have to use it! Both democracies and true civilizations are presently at risk The program of action, the Manifesto 2000, the Statement on women’s contribution to a culture of peace, the Seville statement on violence and a lot of other relevant publications and best practices are available for use. And we have now also the UN Declaration on the Right to Peace, which states that: “Everyone has the right to enjoy peace such that all human rights are promoted and protected and development is fully realized”. We also know that it would largely benefit the implementation of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015-2030) if we would link it more closely with the program of action for a culture of peace, not least as to Sustainable Development Goal 16 and SDG 4.7 on education for global citizenship, non-violence and a culture of peace.

Since changing minds or mindsets are essential factors for peace building, education and competence- and institution building is vital.  Investing in relevant quality education for all is an investment in a better and more peaceful society. The hallmark of the peace movement has always been the high level of knowledge. This is particularly precious in our digitalized world order when it has become more difficult to know what is true and what is false. In addition, in order to try to overcome the many obstacles to a culture of peace, we must struggle to be both solution oriented – and future oriented! It is also vital to encourage openness for real dialogues, not only debates and discussions. We must ensure that the words we use are tools to build confidence, trust, mutual understanding and cooperation even though it might not be obvious to show decency, kindness and understanding when bombarded with war-mongering and nice, but hollow, words veiling ill-intentioned plans. Perhaps it would help avoid some of the harm that is being done if we were to develop ethical codes of conduct, as we have for medical doctors, also for other important professions, for instance for scientists, journalists and politicians?

The vast amounts of resources used for military purposes, peacekeeping and in conflict and post-conflict humanitarian assistance depict our failure to meet basic human needs and concerns in an adequate and timely manner. Instead of trying to tackle problems and conflicts at the roots, we mainly deal with symptoms and undertake “stop-gap” measures in times of crisis. Acting in a timely manner with long- term preventive measures to radically address the root-causes of violence: poverty, exclusion, ignorance, inequality and injustice, would be more humane and less costly. This misuse of resources also makes it difficult to finance important and necessary peace activities. Would establishing national peace structures, such as ministries for a culture of peace like what was done for the environment, help channel resources for building a culture of peace? Could we refuse to pay the part of the GDP that goes for military purposes and in stead pay that part of the tax into a peace fund, as a peace tax instead of military war-preparing tax?

We who are together here are all struggling to be the change we would like to see, using the worlds of Mahatma Gandhi. Such change on the personal level is desperately needed on a structural and political level. I look forward to continued cooperation within IPB for a deep shift of paradigm – from a culture of war to a culture of peace.

Perhaps the following quotes can be of inspiration:

Eleanor Roosevelt:  “Nobody won the last war, nobody will win the next”.

Bertha von Suttner:  “We have to create an active disgust for war”.

John Lennon: “ Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away”.

Hafiz : “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive!”