Peace in the 21st Century: William Ury

Videography: Jean-Pierre Larroque, Production Coordination: Andrea Jovanovic, Interviewed by Jessica Chapman, Flat Earth Media

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, William Ury explains why achieving peace doesn't come from eliminating conflict, but transforming it into non-violent action. Read the full transcript from the interview below.

William Ury:

I believe peace is entirely an achievable goal. It may not be exactly what we think, but in terms of a basic, practical process for dealing with conflicts non-violently, it's entirely possible. I've been involved in wars and conflicts for 35 years and every one of them, if you thought about it, was predictable – there were signs – and it was preventable. Just the same way we're doing with health now, if someone's got a heart condition, it's not just you immediately do open heart surgery. There's diet, there's a lot of things, exercise, and so on. We need to apply the same kind of preventative approach to conflict.

It is possible. It's possible because it's happened. When I started in this business 35 years ago, people said the Cold War is going to go on forever, South Africa is always going to have Apartheid, the Catholics and Protestants are always going to be killing each other in Northern Ireland. All those things that people thought were absolutely impossible turned out to be possible. If it happened there, why can't it happen elsewhere?

I think many of us have the feeling like war is going to be here forever- it's impossible. What does that mean? It's a self-confirming prophecy. We don't take the preventive measures that could be done. We don't train our children in terms of education. We don't reform our institutions.

To me, the big thing is to change the mindset and realize first of all, contrary to what you would read or think about in the media, there's actually less war year by year than there was. The long term trends: there's less violence. It doesn't mean that we can just rest on our laurels, because there's a lot of work to be done.

I think that the main thing is first to shift our mindset to say, "Look, it's practical, it's possible, it's doable, and there's nothing to stop us from ..."  you know in some sense, if you look at the challenge is to make the world paradoxically safe for conflict. Conflict is not a bad thing. It's a natural thing. We need conflict. Whenever there's injustice, you need to engage it. The choice isn't about eliminating conflict, it’s about transforming conflict, changing the form from violent forms of conflict, like war, to non-violent forms of conflict that work actually more effectively or that are more satisfactory.

Whether it's non-violent action or whether it's mediation, negotiation, rule of laws, democracy, there are a lot of mechanisms that we know work. We just need to put them into practice.

One of the successes actually is that there is a general shift in the norms around war. War, a century ago, used to be a glorious thing and everyone was in favor of war, and pacifists were a tiny minority. But now, war has shifted. Nations, they still go to war, but people aren't glorifying it. It's losing its legitimacy, just like slavery, for example, lost its legitimacy. Dueling, which was once glorious, lost its legitimacy.

War is going through that long term phase. Messaging, in terms of branding ... How did dueling, which was widespread, for example, in the United States, change? It changed not just because laws were changed, it changed when it became uncool. When women started laughing at men who dueled instead of clapping. The same thing with war. When peace becomes cool, through effective messaging, we'll make progress.