Peace in the 21st Century - Conor Seyle

 

Videography and Interview by: Jean-Pierre Larroque,

Is the idea of peace in the 21st century an idealistic vision or an achievable goal?

OEF recently asked that question to notable thinkers who research trends in violent conflict and other key drivers affecting global stability. Their responses are captured in the series, "Peace in the 21st Century." In this video, OEF Deputy Director of Research Conor Seyle stresses the global commitment necessary for a peaceful planet.

Conor Seyle:

I think that the interesting thing about the research is that it shows that there's a lot we can do to achieve a more peaceful world. The question is, can we achieve a peaceful world? A more peaceful world, all we have to do is keep doing what we've been doing. But, the question is, can we achieve a world without war? A truly peaceful world? That's a very, very interesting question, because the trends that we've been seeing ... if we can identify the underlying causes; if we can figure out what institutions, what drivers are helping to push those, then there's no reason that we can't reinforce those. Identify the areas where they're not working, the holes in the global system, patch them up, and, yeah, I think it's entirely feasible that we'll have a world without war by the end of the 21st century. But, that's only if we as a human society, as a set of global institutions, identify what needs to be done and then do it.

Complacency is easy. It's easy to look at the trends and say, [00:02:00] "Well, the world is getting more peaceful; therefore, we don't have to do anything." In fact, the opposite is true. The world is getting more peaceful because people have put in the effort to identify what needs to be done to make a more peaceful world, and then go out and actually do it. Improving education, improving equitable access to resources, improving global poverty, which is to say, getting rid of global poverty.

There's a number of things where the globe has started on a path that, if we keep going, will probably lead to a peaceful planet. The question is, are we willing to make that commitment? Are we as a society, as a globe, ready to take that step and say, "This is what we are willing to do, and we're going to put the resources behind it?"

I would argue that the first step is changing how we think about peace. It's understanding that the trends are going in the right direction, and peace is not a crazy idea, or an idealistic idea, or a quixotic idea. It's achievable, and as a matter of fact, it's arguably not only achievable, but within our grasp, if we keep doing what we've been doing. If we make sure that we reify the gains that we've made - that we make them real by increasing the resources that we've got devoted to the issues that drive conflict.

So the first step is changing how we think about it, changing it from an idealistic discussion to a technical discussion. The second step is then identifying what are the main drivers of peace. Can we identify what elements of the global system are supporting a peaceful planet, and make sure that those get the support they need. The third step is identifying what we’re missing. What are the things that we haven't thought about, the holes in the global system, and patching those up.

Right now, it looks like there's some things that we know are working. Education, women's empowerment, economic development, the global reduction in poverty. These are all things which are strongly associated with a move towards peace. Whether that's going to be enough to carry us [00:04:00] over the top, we need a little more research to find out, and we need to make sure that what we're doing is reinforcing the gains that we've already made, and, when necessary, pushing them forward.

This is the real risk when it comes to talking about trends in peace, because we can say that they're true historically. We can say that they've been true. Does that mean that they will be true? It depends an awful lot on the environmental context. There's a number of challenges that may come up in the 21st century. Increasing pressure on natural resources. Increasing pressure on agriculture. Right now, the best evidence is that we will be able, as a society, to solve those problems, if, again, we continue the gains that we've already made. Other than that, there's always the risk of some war breaking out over something we can't identify, some flashpoint. One thing to be concerned about is the proliferation of countries seeking or having nuclear weapons, and also, of course, making sure that the control over the extant nuclear weapons is maintained.

I think the real issue that's coming out of this discussion [at the Forum], though, is the potential for backsliding on the norms, the ideologies and the beliefs, that have supported the trends towards peace, because, at the end of the day, peace is a decision that we make as individuals and as countries, and that decision is influenced by our beliefs about what's appropriate. Whether it's okay to use military force to take other countries or to steal natural resources, or things like that. The world has largely decided that that's not appropriate, but there's no guarantee that that couldn't change. Some of the risks in the current system, and some of the actions in terms of Ukraine, Crimea, and some of these other areas, suggest that that global norm is changing. This, I think, may be the real risk. Is there a change in our understanding, as a species, about what's appropriate, when is it okay to use violence? So far, we've done a pretty good job of [00:06:00] encouraging the belief that that is rarely, if ever, okay, and as long as we can keep those gains going, we should be all right. But, we may be at a turning point. We may be at a point where we have to decide, as a species, are we willing to say, "Yes, we reject the use of violence." Or, is it the case that these 'dulce et decorum est' arguments, the ideas that using violence in the service of your country is okay or appropriate, start to creep back into the discussion.

I think that peace is relevant specifically because of the fact that enormous gains have been made, and, if global institutions, including non-profit organizations, including foundations like OEF, if we decide that this is an issue that we care about, that we are going to put in the resources necessary to study what needs to be done and then commit to doing that, then we're at a point where we can influence the trends in peace in a way that may create a peaceful planet.

On the other hand, if we decide that enough's been done and we have other priorities, then those gains may be lost. At the end of the day, the trends are in a positive direction, and the gains have been very positive, but only because we have decided that that's how we want the world. That's a decision we have to keep making. On the basis of the best available research, on the basis of the best available empirical evidence, we have to decide what needs to be done in order to increase peace.

This opportunity, this discussion, is intended both to help us understand what we should be arguing for others in their making that decision, and also to help us make that decision ourselves.

[00:02:00] "Well, the world is getting more peaceful; therefore, we don't have to do anything." In fact, the opposite is true. The world is getting more peaceful because people have put in the effort to identify what needs to be done to make a more peaceful world, and then go out and actually do it. Improving education, improving equitable access to resources, improving global poverty, which is to say, getting rid of global poverty.

There's a number of things where the globe has started on a path that, if we keep going, will probably lead to a peaceful planet. The question is, are we willing to make that commitment? Are we as a society, as a globe, ready to take that step and say, "This is what we are willing to do, and we're going to put the resources behind it?"

I would argue that the first step is changing how we think about peace. It's understanding that the trends are going in the right direction, and peace is not a crazy idea, or an idealistic idea, or a quixotic idea. It's achievable, and as a matter of fact, it's arguably not only achievable, but within our grasp, if we keep doing what we've been doing. If we make sure that we reify the gains that we've made - that we make them real by increasing the resources that we've got devoted to the issues that drive conflict.

So the first step is changing how we think about it, changing it from an idealistic discussion to a technical discussion. The second step is then identifying what are the main drivers of peace. Can we identify what elements of the global system are supporting a peaceful planet, and make sure that those get the support they need. The third step is identifying what we’re missing. What are the things that we haven't thought about, the holes in the global system, and patching those up.

Right now, it looks like there's some things that we know are working. Education, women's empowerment, economic development, the global reduction in poverty. These are all things which are strongly associated with a move towards peace. Whether that's going to be enough to carry us [00:04:00] over the top, we need a little more research to find out, and we need to make sure that what we're doing is reinforcing the gains that we've already made, and, when necessary, pushing them forward.

This is the real risk when it comes to talking about trends in peace, because we can say that they're true historically. We can say that they've been true. Does that mean that they will be true? It depends an awful lot on the environmental context. There's a number of challenges that may come up in the 21st century. Increasing pressure on natural resources. Increasing pressure on agriculture. Right now, the best evidence is that we will be able, as a society, to solve those problems, if, again, we continue the gains that we've already made. Other than that, there's always the risk of some war breaking out over something we can't identify, some flashpoint. One thing to be concerned about is the proliferation of countries seeking or having nuclear weapons, and also, of course, making sure that the control over the extant nuclear weapons is maintained.

I think the real issue that's coming out of this discussion [at the Forum]

[00:06:00]