Wherever we look there is conflict. It has shaped the course of human history and brought us here. Revolutions have created the world’s first democracies, colonial powers have reshaped the composition of the world and wars have caused victims in the high millions. According to the New York Times, out of 3,500 years of recorded human history, we were at peace for only 268 years, a mere eight percent!
When thinking about conflict in the past decades evidently both world wars come to mind. The biggest atrocities which are known to humankind seeing the genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the death of approximately 120 million people in both world wars, and the deployment of nuclear weapons in Japan. Acknowledging the failure of the world in preventing these horrendous crimes, the United Nations were founded to maintain international peace and security and ensure that these wars of the 20th century would never repeat themselves. Nevertheless, conflict persists.
Today, conflicts are about identity, ideology, beliefs, equality, and justice, but also about access to natural resources, subjective security interests, and nationalist dogma. Our current world continues to be conflict-ridden and conflicts are multi-faceted. The past decade has seen civil wars around the globe, cartels taking violence to the streets, jihadist terror attacks, and states turning into autocracies. The Democracy Index recorded 21 full democracies in 2021 while 59 countries were authoritarian. In 2008 there were still 30 full democracies and only 51 authoritarian states.
Besides, social conflicts are growing intensively. The global poor lack access to clean water, adequate housing, and education while the richest people see their wealth growing. The gap between rich and poor might even grow further with the acceleration of global climate change drastically impacting the Global South. Future conflicts will hence be about access to food, water, and space in cooler parts of the world. It seems as if humanity is not on a path to adding more peaceful years to its history.
The 24th of February 2022 is a historic break. 21st century Russia started a highly illegal war against Ukraine with the ideology of the 19th century nation-state and the military methods of the 20th century. Russia is without question the superior military power, however, they underestimated the fierce courage of the Ukrainian people who have fought for their freedom and right to determine their own peaceful ways since the Euro Maidan protests of 2013, or even since the Revolution on Granite of 1990 marking the start of a second independent Ukraine and breaking ties with Russia.
The Ukrainian people show the world day after day that in order to overcome conflict and establish peace one must not give up but have the courage to stand up for principles of peace, justice, and the right to self-determination. These should be lessons to all of us in solving the current and future conflicts that lay ahead. Only united we will bring about peace.
A former teacher and MUN director of mine once quoted Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” This requires courage but perhaps that courage is what humanity needs acting together as “We the peoples of the United Nations”.