Christmas and New Year is a time to think about and hope for ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ (and women, of course).
Peace is precious, because around the world there are so many conflicts and disasters that make world peace impossible.
From conflicts and disasters come death, destruction and displacement.
The world currently has the worst crisis of people displacement since the end of the Second World War in 1945.
More than 65 million people have been forced out of their homes because of war or other disasters. Twenty million of these have had to cross borders from their home country.
In East Africa, millions of people are experiencing chronic hunger and the threat of famine. Violence, persistent severe drought, and rocketing food prices are to blame. The people are dying of starvation.
Following more than six years of civil war in Syria, the Syrian refugee crisis is recognised as the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. The country’s national standard of living has been set back by decades.
In western Myanmar’s Rakhine State more than 600,000 people have fled their homes to Bangladesh since late August alone, because of fresh fighting between inter-communal groups, minority groups, and government military forces.
This year’s hurricane season in the Caribbean and Atlantic regions has been of historic proportions. Successive hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria delivered some of the strongest and wettest storms on record.
Even though the Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely rich in minerals and other natural resources, around 77 percent of the population is extremely poor, living on less than £1.50 a day. The country is near the bottom of the world’s human development index due to many years of political instability, armed conflict, and human rights violations.
Terrorist attacks have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries across the world including the UK, which saw attacks on London’s Westminster Bridge in March, at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May, on London Bridge in June, and on the London Underground in September.
Of couse, there are currently many other world conflicts.
But today’s world conflicts and disasters are likely to be dwarfed by the planetary problems caused by climate change, undoubtedly now the worst threat to world peace and stability.
A new report published last month by the Environmental Justice Foundation predicted that tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes by climate change in the next decade, creating the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen.
If there is anything we should learn from history, it’s that world problems are best resolved by countries working together.
Indeed, countries ‘going it alone’ are often the cause of world problems, and create barriers to preventing or resolving world conflicts and disasters.
‘There may be trouble ahead,’ goes the Nat King Cole song. But we can now be pretty certain that as far as world troubles ahead is concerned, there is no maybe about it.
A wave of populist, isolationist sentiments, however, has turned some key countries to become inward thinking and less co-operative with other countries.
USA President Trump has shunned co-operation on climate change. He intends to pull the USA out of the United Nations Paris Agreement, which aims to prevent global warming. The USA is now officially the only country to reject the agreement.
President Trump sold his ‘go it alone’ policies to the populace by claiming that this was the way to, ‘Make America great again’. It was such an important slogan to him that he registered it as a trade mark.
One of his first actions as President was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
One of his big election promises was to build a wall between the USA and Mexico.
He also pledged to crack down on inward migration and have a ‘total and complete’ ban on all Muslims entering the country.
He also threatened to withdraw from NATO.
The President’s way of making the USA great is to isolate the country.
His message is that America doesn’t need other countries to be successful. The USA is so wonderful, it will do better on its own.
Mr Trump’s populist, isolationist ‘American dream’ was so similar to Nigel Farage’s vision of Britain ‘going it alone’, outside the European Union, that Mr Trump tweeted during his election campaign:
America’s and Britain’s current wave of populism have the same DNA.
It’s born from a nationalistic fervour that drove Germany, Japan and Italy to ‘go it alone’ in the 1930s, because their leaders persuaded ‘the people’ that their country was better than all the others.
‘The people’ could get ‘their country back’; ‘the people’ would be in control; their country would be ‘great again’, they would ‘restore their national identity’, and ‘the people’, however lowly or depressing their jobs and lives, would also feel ‘great’ and expand their chests in hubristic nationalistic pride.
But anyone with any understanding of history should know that such nationalistic ideologies often lead to disaster, and do nothing to help create peace or reduce international conflicts, but instead, are more likely to cause them.
Because any country that is so driven by such self-pride and introspection will look down on other countries and not want to work or collaborate with them.
This was the lesson learnt by the six founding countries of the European Economic Community back in 1957.
France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg joined together for one purpose and one purpose alone: to create lasting peace between them, after the most devastating war between them.
These were countries that in the past were used to ‘going it alone’ and resolving differences between them through violence and war.
But they came to realise in the post-war years that only by closer co-operation, through trade, through the sharing of some sovereignty and common goals, would they ever manage to create the circumstances for enduring peace.
And it’s worked. The nationalism and self-pride that previously led these countries to go to war with each other, turned instead into a care and concern for each other.
Sure, they could still be self-respecting nations with their own languages, cultures and traditions. But they could also be proud citizens of their own continent, and in turn, the world.
Because by looking less inward, these countries were able to look more outward, and co-operate.
And it’s been a remarkable success story.
The EU has created the world’s biggest free trade area.
It has enabled lasting peace between EU countries.
And it has achieved substantial co-operation on so many levels, such as an EU-wide commitment to tackling climate change with a common goal to transform Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy.
The EU’s ambassador to the USA, David O’Sullivan, summed up these achievements brilliantly when he told an American audience earlier this year:
“The great strength of the EU has been that we have found a new way of living together on the European Continent.”
“When you look at the devastation of two World Wars in the 20th century and the Holocaust, and you now look at over 70 years of peaceful coexistence on the European continent, it’s the longest period of peace we have ever known.
“This has been the most successful peace project in the history — probably of mankind.”
Indeed, this was recognised in 2012 when the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
In awarding the prestigious prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee explained that its decision was based on the role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe ‘from a continent of war to a continent of peace’.
The EU’s most important achievement, according to the committee, has been, “the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights”.
It should come as no surprise then that the Global Peace Index 2017, published every year by the Institute for Economics and Peace, reported that whilst terrorism levels had jumped in Europe, it still remained the most peaceful region on the planet.
The Institute reported:
“Europe remains the most peaceful region in the world, with eight of the ten most peaceful countries coming from this region.”
But the Institute also warned that in Europe, “the sharp increase in support for populist parties in the past decade closely corresponds with deteriorations in Positive Peace.”
Their report added:
“Increased perceived levels of corruption within the political elite, rising inequality in wealth, deterioration in press freedoms and media concentration, along with diminishing Acceptance of the Rights of Others are linked to many of the issues populist parties have successfully capitalised on.
“This demonstrates how the negative trends in Positive Peace across Europe cannot be separated from the rise of populism across the continent.”
The lesson could not be clearer. The populism that’s now raging throughout the USA, the UK and across parts our continent, is the enemy of peace.
Countries need to be looking out, and not in.
It’s only by countries working and collaborating more closely together that we can achieve lasting peace, and tackle global threats such as climate change.
More than ever, the world needs the UK, and the USA, to be a part of that process, and not apart from it.
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- Video: The EU was started to create lasting peace between its members.