Driven mainly by overpopulation and increasingly impactful advancements in technology, humanity is facing a series of existential threats unlike anything it has experienced before in its short history. Mostly of our own making, the combination of these factors could be fatal for humanity.
Countering environmental degradation, pandemics, species extinction, our increasingly scarce stock and overuse of natural resources, population growth, social discontent, and the proliferation of extraordinarily destructive weapons – to name but a few – will require a new way of conceptualising our relationships with each other and the ecosystems we depend upon.
We need to find a new approach that will allow us to adapt in the short term and reverse the decline in the longer term. Despite the diversity of the problems, they share one important characteristic: they cannot begin to be solved without collaboration. And neither collaboration nor adaptability are possible without peace.
To put it simply, without peace we will never achieve the level of trust, cooperation and inclusiveness necessary to solve these challenges. Therefore, peace is a prerequisite for the survival of society as we know it in the 21st century. In the past, peace may have been the domain of the altruistic, but in this century it is in everyone’s self-interest. Peace is central to a safe and productive society.
“Peace is a prerequisite for the survival of society as we know it in the 21st century.”
— Steve Killelea, ‘Peace in the Age of Chaos’
For decades the concept of peace has suffered from association with the utopian anti-establishmentarianism of the 1960s. Critics point out that trying to put flowers down the barrels of the guns of groups such as the Islamic State is as effective as attempting to hold back a tsunami. Peace advocates, at best, were seen as being impractical and irrelevant to real-world issues and at worst as being socially destructive. Moderate advocates of peace, in their efforts to be relevant, shrivelled the concept of peace so that its meaning was little more than security, and it was epitomised by phases such as human or personal security. The concept of peace as something that is thriving, positive and fulfilling for the human spirit was all but lost. When I started working on peace I was counselled not to use the word “peace”, especially in Washington, as my work would not be taken seriously.
The desire to live in a safe, sustainable and prosperous world is universal. I believe it is achievable if we use a more expansive understanding of the concept of peace. It is a peace that is practical, one that recognises threats and believes a level of military action is needed. Many parts of the world are not safe, and therefore the military is a necessity; similarly, violent criminals do need to be locked up. However, it is possible to lessen the number of wars and reduce the number of criminals. I believe peace, when properly defined, is the first fundamental human right that makes all other rights possible. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to use the examples enshrined as “unalienable rights” in the US Constitution, will remain forever out of reach in the absence of peace.
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