Why is world peace elusive?

What you need to know:

Despite the sane voices calling for peaceful solutions to human problems, it is often violence and war that have been pursued to realise goals

Russia President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has accelerated the raise in conflict and war around the world as international law is disregarded with impunity, nuclear arsenals are swelling and millions displaced. Seeking solutions to such wars/conflicts through peaceful means is no longer a cherished method.

Despite the sane voices calling for peaceful solutions to human problems, it is often violence and war that have been pursued to realise goals. It is an oft repeated cliché that while diplomats talk about peace, they prepare for war.

The realist philosopher Machiavelli in his book The Prince advocates a path of war and deceit to expand the dominion and rule the subjects. The emphasis here is – might is right, and the more powerful a king or a ruler is, the more secure his kingdom is.

Such a view prioritises fear as a key factor in governance, and it is based on the argument that subjects would follow the law out of fear than out of love. So, in appearance, the king must be seen as kind but in reality, he must wield all weapons of terror.

There were also philosophers who advocated peaceful means of conflict resolution and cautioned deleterious effects of war. Immanuel Kant argued that republican form of government, trade and interdependence, and foundation of democratic institutions, could help build peaceful relations among states. English author and politician Norman Angell made a similar argument and pointed out how the countries economically dependent on each other are peaceful and prosperous than the countries engaged in war. He called war ‘an orthodox statecraft’ as in the modern world there are many peaceful avenues available to address conflicts between nations – to which one could add international treaties and organisations like the United Nations. But an assessment of the working of the United Nations, the apex international body, does not evoke much hope as the deliberations within it reflect how geopolitical and selfish national concerns have trumped over larger global concerns of peace and harmony.

One of the major differences between the wars earlier and the wars of now and future is possible use of nuclear weapons. Albert Einstein, whose theory contributed to the development of nuclear weapons and who recommended the development of nuclear weapons during the Second World War, later became an advocate of peace and opponent of war. He famously said, “the third world war – if it ever happens – will devastate the world and almost cause extinction, and after that the humans, if they survive, will fight with sticks and stones as a nuclear war would already push human society to the stone age”. So far, the principle might is right – or military might is right – is followed, the wars and violence will continue with perhaps much more devastating consequences. A nuclear war will not only kill people but will unleash disasters on many fronts, perhaps unimaginable. Unless the military might is transformed into the might of love and compassion, war as a cherished method of conflict resolution will continue despite high preaching and promises by world leaders.

As international principles, built on the collective conscience of nations, are frequently violated in recent years and decades, it appears that the moral foundation of international organizations, built on the debris of the Second World War is crumbling, and the world is entering into another phase of intense anarchy and violence, with unseen consequences for the human society and the world.

There appears a chasm between moral ideas and actual working of the international politics. And that chasm has grown in recent decades. For example, Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory and China’s aggressive pursuit of territorial ambitions vindicate a collective aptitude in which might is right is the supreme principle.

A philosopher argued that violence and war originated from individual and collective egos. He made the case that unless we transform this ego – first at individual and then at collective levels – into a spiritual force for true human unity, the problems will continue. Unless there is this fundamental transformation, the human species will pass through various phases of turbulence, perhaps in much larger scales, to realise the futility of war and violence, and move towards the ideal human unity. At present such a vision might appear a dream, but it is better to pursue such a dream than to engage with a reality that leads to death and destruction.

Phillip Kimumwe