When we encounter the above phrase, many sigh inwardly, thinking that international, national, and regional peace are probably more distant than ever today.
In fact, there are substantive grounds for hope that, in the future, unscrupulous leaders will be less able to take advantage of social and economic problems to launch violence, cyberattacks, and the like at home or against other nations.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote at the start of 2018 that the previous year had surprisingly been in many respects the best in human history: “A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before.
“Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000.
“Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.”
The preamble of the 1945 United Nations Charter pledged all member states “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.”
A similar ideal inspired the League of Nations earlier in the century, but long before far-sighted leaders had spoken of “the one human family.”
In 1945, the devastation of World War II, including the loss of 50 million–60 million lives, led the victors to rethink how to rebuild while seeking to learn from catastrophic mistakes made earlier.
The new strategy was to create institutions capable of providing peaceful ways to diffuse conflicts among nations. In parallel, defensive military alliances, such as NATO, provided muscle to deter the use of arms. This side of the international infrastructure became more important as the Cold War worsened.
Consequently, never before has the world’s almost 200 independent nations had so much in common, yet the issues that divide us have rarely been so clear.
Many populations fear that peace and stability are threatened by nations that have long histories of armed interventions; or those that have inhuman regimes and are rife with widespread turbulence; or neighbors with whom they have long-standing rivalries, border disputes, and animosity caused by social, cultural, and historical reasons.
Tensions abound, yet as more people accept the logic of the growing interdependence of the human family on issues like climate change and cleaning up our oceans, the more we should seek opportunities to overcome destructive notions of “otherness” and “separateness,” and to find ways to live and work together in harmony.
“The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war,” wisely noted the Indian politician and diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
Initiatives for institutional and other reforms are best grounded in universal values. Effective governance across the world also requires independent media, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.
The need for multi-party democracy arises out of the close link between legitimacy and effectiveness. Institutions that lack legitimacy are seldom effective over the long run.
Equality before the law is essential to guard against tyranny—the predilection of the strong and greedy to impose their will over the weak.
The ongoing Yemeni nightmare, with millions facing starvation, and the Syrian refugee crisis underway since 2011 are internationally recognized as two of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century. Yet some governments are finally allocating resources to assist, diverse faith communities are raising prayers and support, and people worldwide appear to be seeking a way to engage both crises meaningfully, with a ceasefire now declared in part of Yemen.
Londoner Jonathan Aitken recently raised some related points at the UK foreign service carol service in Westminster:
“Twenty centuries ago, fear loomed large in Israel. The fear was created by insecure and autocratic rulers, political uncertainties, horrifying abuses of human rights and lack of national confidence. … Are there any lessons here for our contemporary scene on the question of how should we project our national beliefs and values—with greater hope? … If our ancestral Christian values still count here, why have we been so mealy-mouthed about the Asia Bibi blasphemy case? Or the Jamal Khashoggi outrage? Or the violence against Christians in the Middle Belt of Nigeria? … In the spiritual realm there is something called ‘the examination of conscience.'”
Peace on earth is achievable if the better instincts of both spiritual and secular women and men across the planet can prevail.
As John F. Kennedy said, “Unless mankind puts war to an end, war will put man to an end.”
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.