The pressures on our world are serious, and expected to grow. Humankind must ditch the military habit – and tackle conflict at its roots, Hazel Healy writes.
1 Start by stamping out exclusion
Evidence shows that conflict happens in places where people can’t trust the police or get access to justice, and their prospects for a decent life are stolen by corrupt elites. Governments everywhere need to start respecting and stop the neglect, abuse and stigmatization of their own people. Media and others that promote ‘them-and-us’ thinking must be challenged to stop spreading hate.
2 Bring about true equality between women and men
The larger a country’s gender gap, the more likely it is to be involved in violent conflict, according to research in Valerie Hudson’s Sex and World Peace (2012). Gender inequality trumps GDP, level of democracy or ethnic-religious identity, to make more likely both external and internal conflict, and being the first to resort to force in such conflicts. In contrast, when women participate in peace processes, peace is more likely to endure.
3 Share out wealth fairly
According to a World Bank survey, 40 percent of those who join rebel groups do so because of a lack of economic opportunities. Relative poverty is just as important, with more equal societies marked by high levels of trust and low levels of violence. Economic fairness when it comes to public resources, taxation and tax evasion is also key. The systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor – instead of the other way round – improves security for everyone.
4 Tackle climate change
Ecological stress from global warming is proven to exacerbate conflicts over resources such as land and water, particularly in East Africa. For all its shortcomings, the UN climate agreement is evidence that the world can tackle and mitigate crises by cooperation, instead of war. A functioning climate deal ‘is the greatest peace deal the world could have,’ according to Dan Smith, from the leading arms-control thinktank SIPRI.
5 Control arms sales
The promotion of arms sales and heavy spending on aggressive military capabilities is heightening global tensions. The proliferation of arms drives conflict and makes violence more likely. Arms treaty signatories must be held to their word, as we build evidence of violations and hold sellers accountable. We can also build support for a groundbreaking new convention that bans nuclear weapons and makes it illegal to possess or use them.
6 Display less hubris, make more policy change
A look at the track record of counter-terrorism, the ‘war on drugs’, stabilization and state-building efforts and colonial wars ‘shows a pattern of largely very sobering failure’ says Saferworld’s Larry Attree. Humility and willingness to atone for past aggression on the international stage is essential – as is an end to the self-serving and counter-productive policy in the Middle East.
7 Protect political space
If governments expect young, marginalized people to embrace an open society rather than pursue more violent and vengeful paths, they must allow public dissent. Across the world – and the political spectrum – this space must be defended from repressive tools such as ad hoc administrative regulation, misuse of anti-terrorist measures, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, even torture and murder.
8 Fix intergenerational relations
Much conflict can be understood as a youth revolt against established corrupt systems run by, generally, older men. In countries with strict age hierarchies young people can’t voice their frustrations, which creates a dangerous dynamic, explains researcher and peacebuilder Chitra Nagarajan. This is compounded by classic victim-blaming, in which young men are treated as a ticking time bomb.
9 Build an integrated peace movement
Short-term anti-war movements have taken the place of active and permanent peace movements. We need to promote nonviolent alternatives and successes; peace campaigner Phyllis Bennis believes peace must be woven into other social movements, giving the example of the Poor People’s Campaign in the US last March, which attacked the war economy and linked it to poverty at home.
10 Look within
Peace starts with you. Ordinary citizens can make a difference. When’s the last time you said sorry? Think about who loses when you win. Are the people around you heard and respected or marginalized, ignored and left out? Make a decision to care about what happens to them. Start a constructive conversation with someone you disagree with. Challenge ‘them-and-us’ thinking in yourself as well as in others. Every one of us can choose to make society more just and peaceful, or more unjust and warlike.