Peace, an Ongoing Endeavour


José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

Jan, 2024

A horizon of hope marked the dawn of this century, heralded by the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the United Nations. For the first time in history, nations worldwide united in endorsing a comprehensive plan—a programme aimed at eradicating hunger, improving health, advancing education, upholding gender equality, combating desertification and tackling climate change. For the first time in history, a world-encompassing development agenda was championed by its most fitting platform: the United Nations, the only institution which embodies the Kantian utopia of an international political community. The MDGs continue to serve as a pivotal reference point, laying the groundwork for what is now known as the 2030 Agenda, which sets 2030 as the target year to assess the achievement of these ambitious goals.

However, the early years of the 21st century were abruptly overshadowed by the attack on the Twin Towers. This tragic event catalysed the so-called war on terror, which led to nearly a million deaths in the Middle East and spurred extraordinary military expenditures and profound instability in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. The war on terror transformed the Middle East, pushing most of the region into failed statehood. From that point on, subsequent economic and financial crises managed to outline a horizon of hopelessness, overshadowing that of the Millennium Development Goals of the 2000s.

Photo_ oatsy40_ CC BY 2.0
The financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic share a notable commonality: their nature as global crises. Today, economic challenges invariably lead to global crises. Health emergencies, notably pandemics, lead to global crises. Environmental problems, such as climate change, lead to global crises. The internationalisation of communication, transportation and technological advancements has fostered a global society. This interconnectedness implies that the problems we face today are inherently global. All crises now have a worldwide reach and implications. Yet, we lack a sufficiently mature global political community. There is no such a thing as a global state or a global government. And this absence presents the greatest challenge of the 21st century.

It is a crucial test for nations and a pivotal challenge for democracies. No democracy can thrive within a fractured international order, one beset by crises, wars, and the looming threat of climate change. Without some semblance of stability in the international order, democracies will suffer. Many already are, as evidenced by the numerous electoral battles won by only a slim margin. Progressive forces across various nations are clinging to their positions with great difficulty. Many have secured electoral victories by the narrowest of margins, setting off numerous warning bells.

The United Nations is the only institution which embodies the Kantian utopia of an international political community.

There will be no chance for peaceful Europe alongside a turbulent Africa. In today’s international landscape, every nation is deeply intertwined with the global community.

Europe and the Western democracies must recognise that they cannot stand alone in their defence. Building walls or increasing protectionist policies will not shield them from the repercussions of crises in other regions of the world. Our current and near term realities dictate that every nation, regardless of its level of development or democratic status, is significantly dependent on the conditions of its neighbouring countries. Every nation is inextricably intertwined with the global community in today’s international landscape. There will be no chance for peaceful Europe alongside a turbulent Africa. Notions like a European welfare state and a Europe grounded in peace and security cannot coexist with ongoing conflicts like the war in Ukraine. A stable United States remains unattainable if inequality, poverty and injustice continue to fuel migration, violence, and organised crime in Latin America.

Our paramount challenge as a global civil society is to spearhead an international movement akin to the one that realised the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. By 2030, this movement should aim to transform the international political community. This entails a comprehensive reform of the United Nations system that strives for a new international treaty; one that would serve to modernise and replace the San Francisco Charter, which dates back to the 1940s. Since then, the world has witnessed numerous geopolitical and geo-economic shifts, and yet despite these changes, the structure of the UN’ normative framework and institutional model remain unchanged, underscoring the urgency for reform.

Echoing the proposal of Brazilian President Lula Da Silva, there is a critical need for an intergovernmental conference involving all world governments to review the international political system and spearhead UN reform, beginning with its Security Council. The reform must extend to encompass international financial institutions, war prevention mechanisms and the tools with which we safeguard global public goods and enforce human rights. It should also address the collective responsibility to address challenges brought forth by new technologies.

We need the audacity to draft a constitution for the global order—a constitutional treaty for the international political community grounded in the objective, verifiable truth that the political union of nations fosters progress and stability. The political union of nations, exemplified by Europe and which Latin America can embrace, represents the sole path to strengthening democracies, combating organised crime, establishing models of peace and stability, and furthering human rights. The political unification of peoples and nations, rallying around shared objectives, offers a means to reinvigorate the civilising spirit of progress. This spirit embodies the recognition that we are one humanity with a shared destiny and that, even from a self-interested perspective, cooperation is essential. An enlightened self-interest must acknowledge the unavoidable fact that we inhabit an interconnected world and that we are bound to share it.

The fallacious debate on deglobalisation

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that impacted us globally, there was a flicker of hope for a resurgence of genuine cooperation, potentially prompting the formation of a new international political community. Such a development would favour the strengthening of multilateralism and international institutions over the rise of protectionism and sovereignism, which currently highlight supply chain issues and engage in the fallacious debate over the so-called deglobalisation.

Asserting that globalisation is merely a byproduct of neoliberal ideology is a significant display of political arrogance. (…) The invention of shipping containers has done more for globalisation than a thousand political speeches.

Asserting that globalisation is merely a byproduct of neoliberal ideology is a significant display of political arrogance. This view overlooks the true drivers of globalisation: technological advancements, the advent of the internet, enhanced communication technologies and improved air transportation. Consider the 1950s, when merely 50 million people travelled by air, compared to over a billion passengers today. Similarly, the invention of shipping containers has done more for globalisation than a thousand political speeches. These examples should help us understand there will be no deglobalisation. It is futile to try and gate-keep the world itself or even technological development. Political leaders should embrace humility and recognise that any efforts to reverse globalisation are destined for failure. Should a country attempt this, it will end up isolated. Should a region try, it will find itself so, sooner than later. To ignore the irreversible nature of today’s global interconnectedness is to fall short of the ambitious perspective that the 21st century demands of our civilisation, of our very species.

We are in dire need of global leaders who possess a capacity for dialogue and a multilateral worldview. Such leaders should hold an ambitious—and even utopian—vision that bravely confronts the formidable challenges facing the international community in this current state of disorder. In today’s fractured international system, marked by severe wars in Europe and the Middle East, the ever-present threat of conflict in Asia due to tensions between the US and China, and the ongoing deterioration in Africa; the role of global leaders is more critical than ever.

These leaders must be capable of unequivocally declaring that the world does not want a new Cold War. Instead, like us, they must be wholeheartedly dedicated to addressing the major challenges of our era.

Lessons from the last century

To effectively address the challenges of today, it is crucial to draw lessons from the past. This requires us to first identify the greatest achievements of humanity in the last century. There are two accomplishments. The first is the significant progress made in the realm of equality. This includes not only the historic strides in advancing women’s rights but also the transformative changes brought about by a progressive approach to human rights. These changes have led to the recognition of new rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Bisexual (LGBTI) community.

Photo_ Dave Haygarth_ CC BY 2.0

Like all rights combatting any form of discrimination, they have a powerful origin. Feminism has helped in revealing the decline of the patriarchal system. And while sexism may not readily concede its loss of privilege, it stands as a defeated ideology—defeated by the concscience, human rights, history and the principles of ethics.

Secondly, alongside the significant strides in the emancipation of women, historically marginalised groups and peoples who suffered under slavery and colonialism, another major driving force of progress has been science, knowledge and culture.

Feminism has helped in revealing the decline of the patriarchal system: while sexism may not readily concede its loss of privilege, it stands as a defeated ideology—defeated by history and the principles of ethics.

Today, we see how, despite challenging times and the resurgence of denialism, science is prevailing. Culture and knowledge are asserting their importance. The COVID-19 vaccine which saved countless lives and had the fastest development in history, happened thanks to a “Science International” of sorts. It was made possible because scientists worldwide cooperated. German, Chinese, American and European laboratories worked together, rapidly uncovering methods to combat the virus.

Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to place our trust in science, culture and rationality. We must support teachers and university professors who now find themselves combating denialists—those who reject the efficacy of vaccines or deny climate change. I deeply empathise with educators tasked with instilling knowledge, reason, science, logic and wisdom in a generation of children and teenagers frequently exposed to denialist rhetoric on television.

These educators, along with scientists and academics, should be a focal point of governmental and institutional efforts. Indeed, if we align ourselves with science and feminism, we can work towards that historic restitution, shaping and building an international political community that aims towards the 2030 horizon.

Abolish war

It would be decisive for the aspired international political community to commit to the abolition of war. A few centuries ago, the idea of abolishing slavery was considered an absolute utopia. Similarly, not so long ago, the notion of a woman attending university or becoming a professional writer was also regarded as a far-fetched utopia. In the same spirit, we must not abandon the promise, the goal, of abolishing war.

The same can be said about poverty. Hunger should be categorically outlawed and subject to sanctions by the international community. In a world where resources are sufficient to prevent anyone, especially children, from suffering starvation, nations that fail to provide support to avert hunger should face political sanctions. We must advocate for this paradigm shift.

In any war, the primary aggressor is invariably the invader. However, in the endeavour to bring an end to a war, the responsibility is collective. We all share as much responsibility as the invading country that initiates the conflict. We all bear responsibility for cultivating peace, as peace is an ongoing endeavour.

Take the war in Ukraine, for instance. This conflict will see no victor. There is no military solution to this war. Nevertheless, there remains an opportunity to prevent further tragic loss of life and to stop the spread of a hatred that threatening to become entrenched in the very heart of Europe.

Hunger and war should be categorically outlawed and subject to sanctions by the international community.

The calling to abolish war benefits the aspirations of the 21st century. It is a mission worthy of those who framed the Declaration of Human Rights, those who formulated the Millennium Development Goals, and all the non-governmental and feminist organisations that, over the last decades, have transformed collective consciousness into a powerful international movement. Just 20 or 30 years ago, the idea that any country would recognise the rights of homosexuals, gays and lesbians—who had been historically humiliated, marginalised and persecuted—was inconceivable. But now, 40 countries around the world recognise these rights on equal terms. Change becomes a reality when people truly believe in it.

This historical perspective instils hope that we will remain steadfast in our commitment to peace, multilateralism, peaceful conflict resolution and our ideals. It reminds us not to stop in our pursuit of utopia.

The peril of self-destruction

Last summer, during a heatwave that swept across all of Europe, the leading newspaper in my country featured a headline: “Spain is Getting Scorched”. The country was indeed burning. This heatwave brought extreme temperatures across the Iberian Peninsula, surpassing 40 degrees Celsius, and this included the typically cooler northern regions. It was unprecedented. Yet, this marked the third heatwave our country endured within a single year, unfolding also amidst a period of severe drought. This serves as a stark example of the warnings just made by the chair of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who noted that “some changes in the climate are occurring faster than anticipated”.

The acceleration of climate change is an undeniable fact. And yet, we find ourselves waiting. Driven by a biological imperative, we strive to bequeath something for our children—be it a house, a home, or some form of inheritance—in thus we should shift our perspective. We ought to realise that the most valuable legacy we can provide our children is a habitable planet. There is no greater heritage than a planet where they can live and breathe.

Driven by a biological imperative, we strive to bequeath something for our children (…) There is no greater heritage than a planet where they can live and breathe.
Our civilisation’s remarkable capabilities seem to come with the risk of self-destruction. And this challenge will not be solved by artificial intelligence (AI), for AI doesn’t get skin crawls . It cannot feel and, thus, will always fall short of natural intelligence. However, the brightest and most insightful minds have long cautioned us about our overreliance on plutonium and the excessive risks associated with nuclear energy. They have also pointed out that we have birthed a threat as formidable as the nuclear threat: climate change and our failure to reduce emissions.

The Colombian writer and Nobel Laureate in Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, as early as the 1980s, issued a warning and stirred our consciousness by speaking about the capacities and limitations of our species: “From the emergence of visible life on Earth, it took 380 million years for a butterfly to master the art of flight. Another 180 million years passed before a rose, whose sole purpose is to epitomise beauty, was created. And it took four geological eras for humans to evolve to sing more beautifully than birds and to experience the depths of love. In the age of science, it is hardly a tribute to human ingenuity that we have found a way to potentially reduce this extravagant, thousand-year-long journey to the oblivion it came from by the merely pressing of a button”. Today, we might add that similar consequences could arise from our inaction on climate change.

Let us heed the essence of this quote, striving to protect our unparalleled species. Let us safeguard this singular planet that has nurtured the extraordinary phenomenon of life.

This planet is the sole known place in the vast universe where one can experience the joy of reading a book. Let us preserve it.