International Peace Day

On the 21st of September…

News media has long been known to be a bit of a balancing act. The media shows us things it knows we want to see. It tailors its content to its market guided by years of finding out from its customers “what interests you?”.  But the media doesn’t just react to its readers, listeners and viewers. It plays a rather more elusive and pervasive role. The media also tells us what it thinks we we ought to know. As well as giving us what we want, it manages our expectations and tells us what we should want to read about, watch on our televisions and hear on our radios.
From looking at the front page of a newspaper we get a heady and hard to distinguish mix of what we want and what we should want.
Today is the International Day of Peace. A global day of celebration of cooperation, nonviolence, justice and equality. This event doesn’t feature on the top stories of news sites or radio shows. It isn’t a national holiday or the subject of much activity like a religious holiday might be. But all is not lost.
From looking at news sites and newspapers the top stories for planet Earth today are very much about peace.
News of the terrorist murder of Afghanistan’s peace envoy features as the top story. News of Mexico’s ongoing drug war, their state of negative peace is discussed. Stories of a typhoon in Japan threatening the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant gives the headlines an environmental edge. Hopeful news of another Gaddafi stronghold falling to the Libyan government and their acceptance at the United Nations as the official representatives of the Libyan people are reported. Finally Obama’s peace mission to the middle east concludes global top stories.
Peace is about terrorism. Peace is about drugs and law and order. Peace is about protecting our environment and sustainability. Peace is about humanitarian intervention and global governance. Peace is about diplomacy and interstate conflict. Although there is no mention of this important date in today’s headlines every story leading the news today is fundamentally about peace. Murdoch doesn’t control the news, we do and today the news was about peace. That means that we the consumers of the news are desperate for news about peace. Not only that but the media executives agree with us. They think that we ought to know about peace.
Although no one has mentioned International Peace Day the outlook isn’t bad. Happy Peace Day, keep up the good work.

The recipe for peace, the Libyans deserve it.

One of the things I try and impress upon people is that peace isn’t a default state. It isn’t the absence of violence. It isn’t a vacuum situation that just happens when people aren’t fighting. Peace takes time, it takes effort, it requires resources. It needs people to want it, desperately and to be passionate about it. What does it take for peace? What is the recipe?

Libya has lived under the rule of one of the most unpleasant dictators in history for more than 40 years. In all fairness Gaddafi has never quite been a Kim Jong-Il or Stalin but the stories emerging from Libya about his treatment of some sectors of society are gruesome. Libya deserves better.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), now recognised by the United States, Britain and France amongst others as the legitimate government of Libya, swept into Tripoli overnight to a joyous welcome from residents.

This is a moment of great possibility. As Fawaz Gerges at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics described it on the live stream of BBC news this morning “a moment pregnant with possibilities”. Libya and the NTC have an enormous task ahead of them. Democracy, human rights, peace and justice are all within reach, but it won’t be easy. We mustn’t expect things to happen over night.

So what will it take? How can we make sure that this works, that the Libyans get what they so deserve? What are the ingredients?

Libya needs reconciliation. Saif Al-Islam and Gaddafi need to be sent to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Evidence needs to be collected, the cold light of day needs to shine upon their crimes. The Libyan people need to know what happened to their brother, or mother or daughter who disappeared one day many years ago. They need to know about the money embezzled, about the dodgy deals with foreign governments and oil companies. They deserve honesty and openness.

The NTC needs absolute unity. It cannot fracture apart into warring sides. The Libyans need an interim government that represents the East as well as the West. Rumblings about dissatisfaction between the two have emerged but they need to put tribalism behind them, they’ve come too far for that. The Libyans deserve an interim government that will open a constitutional dialogue with them, that will immediately respect their universal human rights and promise speedy elections.

The Libyan police under the new authority need to be deployed to the streets as a single, national, cohesive force. They need to be monitored closely and instructed to maintain law and order and to protect United Nations and other humanitarian aid convoys. The Libyan people desperately need electricity and clean water so the police need to ensure that engineers and experts can work safely to bring them those things. The Libyans deserve law and order and justice and a police force that polices with the consent of the people.

The Libyans deserve peace, it is our intrinsic human right. As human beings we have an absolute and unquestionable right to life and liberty and a life of peace. The NTC armed forces must not resort to punishing pro Gaddafi Libyans. They deserve peace too. They may have made unwise decisions but to punish them now is to guarantee the seeds of unrest, resentment and negative peace be sown.

Of course this recipe is only a starter. It will take so much more. The oil facilities need to be rebuilt. The airports need to reopen. Aid, lots of it, needs to pour into the country. Roads need to be relaid and markets need to be stocked. This won’t be over for many, many years but this is a critical time for Libya and for global peace.

 

Masterpeace’s interview with me.

1- In your blog`s aim you stated that “I thrive on smashing the status quo”, how do you see the world peace status quo right now?

I think the world is at a cross roads in the history of international politics. People will look back at the first decades of the new millennium and see it as the beginning of the end of our unipolar world order. The Soviet Union aside we’ve been governed by the United States twin policies of the free market and force against those who won’t comply since the end of World War II and I can see that that is coming to an end. A ‘multipolar’ world is emerging. The United States is still by far the most powerful actor by virtue of its unparalleled military potential but its ability to convince and coerce is declining. China and India have usurped its role as the productive power, the European Union is poised to take over the role as peace builder and banker in chief. Russia is our energy power and Brazil, Australia and Canada have our natural resources. I foresee a greater need for collaboration. This is a positive thing, inter-state war is a thing of the past, countries don’t fight their allies!

 

2- What does a peace practitioner concept means?

I have a university degree in Peace Studies and I’ve come to realise that so few people understand what that is. When I tell people “what is peace?” is the question I get. It’s such an important, what does peace mean to you and me? Practicing peace can be starting a community group to bring people together, it can be the UN soldiers in any conflict zone on earth, I practice peace by writing about the world from a solution focussed point of view. Moving away from “there are problems” to “there are problems, what are we going to do about them?”. Practicing peace seeing past the view that the world is a bad place and we can’t do anything about it, it’s about asking questions and it’s about seeing that there are so many more ways to solve a problem that the ones that have already been tried.
3- What motivates you to be a peace practitioner?

I am a very practical person. That makes me want to roll up my sleeves and do things. I see injustice and I see problems and I want to find out what I can do to solve them. I studied politics when I was a teenager and I was dissatisfied by the approach. I didn’t just want to look at war or suffering or inequality, I wanted to do something about it.

4- How could cyber blogging change the on ground reality?

People have been grown accustomed to thinking that the development is happening at maximum capacity. That the world is improving at the fastest rate possible. That people’s lives are getting better and we’re fighting against disease and famine and inequality as hard as we can. This simply isn’t true. We’re barely fighting at all. How can we work towards maximum capacity? We need to lift that veil of ignorance and see the truth, that things aren’t OK and we can do more. The world still isn’t talking about peace enough. I don’t think enough people see it as a viable alternative, they have come to accept the status quo. Writing about peace, talking about it with our friends and teaching it in class rooms shows that we don’t have to live in the world we live in and that it is possible to change things.
5- As working in the UK student movement between 2008-2010, how do you picture student`s involvement in peace movements?
It’s about teaching and learning. Students need to demand to be taught about peace as an alternative to the world order we currently live in. In the University of Durban there is a module in nonviolence for students and nonviolence is built into staff development. Learning about peace is about broadening your horizons and seeing all the options available: once we have a generation of people who don’t see the status quo as acceptable I think we can expect the pace of change to accelerate.

6- How do you see the role super powers like UK can play to bring peace to the world?

Well I’m not sure how much of a super power the UK is any more sadly! I am unashamed in my view that countries can be the ‘good guys’ and they can be the ‘bad guys’. The UK has a huge development programme (relatively speaking, it could be much, much larger), it uses its military to intervene in crises on humanitarian grounds, it has enforceable human rights and has embedded the universality of human rights in its foreign policy. Britain is one of the good guys and it shouldn’t underplay that. Britain shouldn’t be afraid to act alone sometimes. British foreign policy is very focussed on collaboration with the European Union, NATO and the United States. Whilst I see that as positive Britain is strong enough to, for example, conduct a peacekeeping mission by itself. The problem is that public opinion in Britain would not support that. Public opinion needs to change.  Using our power for good is not a burden, it is a huge honour.

7- How could an educated peace practitioner like yourself help a grass-roots wide scale movement like MasterPeace?

My contribution to peace is to write about it. I write about peace because I think it will help people overcome their perception of the world as either a bad place that cannot be changed or a place where problems are just ‘solving themselves’. Masterpeace is part of the solution, showing people that peace and togetherness are an option for the world. I think that our aims are similar so I’m pleased to be writing for Masterpeace to help it achieve its goals!

How much would it cost to fix the World?

Why are aid budgets so small? This is a question that gets politically active peoples’ hearts racing in most developed countries. From what the author sees it’s usually on the side of “they aren’t too small, they’re too big”. Anyone with an opinion on foreign aid, the less sexy side of international relations, should be commended. It’s not often you get people caring about what’s going on beyond their shores that doesn’t involve our fighting men and women oversees or a sport. But commendation aside, I’m going to show people who think these budgets are too big why they’re not.

In 2010 Walmart had a gross revenue of $422bn, roughly the same as Norway’s total gross domestic product for the same year. I’d like to reiterate that, Walmart, the US retailer made as much money as Norway, the Scandinavian country, did in 2010. Not only that but Walmart out-earned the other 156 countries, out of a possible 192 recognised states, below Norway.

Norwegian parity with the world’s biggest company by revenue is purely coincidental but it adds a flow to my argument. Norway is the world’s 2nd most charitable country in terms of its aid budget (as a total of it’s GDP) giving out 1.06% of it’s total revenue in aid, as a whole number that’s $4.09bn. So if Walmart decided it wanted to spend just over a percent of its revenue on charity it could match the world’s 2nd most generous country’s contribution. If it wanted to.

These numbers seem small when we look at total contributions. The United States tops the ballot at nearly $30bn a year in 2010. 2nd, 3rd and 4th are France, Germany and the UK adding up to about $35bn. The top 10 most charitable countries giving away a total of roughly $100bn every year.

Now we’ve got some context on what is typically given, both in percentages of total GDP, absolute cash numbers and relative to other countries and big companies, let’s get down to business of comparing it to the other things we spend money on.

During the Global Financial Crises of the last few years the European Union spent $4 trillion bailing out its banks, the United States spent a cool $2.3 trillion. That’s $6.2 trillion on propping up financial institutions.

Who else is making this sort of money? The top 10 biggest oil companies’ gross revenue in 2010 was $2.5 trillion. The oil companies partners in crime, the automotive industry’s top 10 biggest earners in turn racked up $1.2 trillion in revenue in 2010. The global arms trade generates $1.5 trillion a year. The vast majority of that is countries selling each other guns and bombs. Are we starting to get the picture?

The solutions to these problems isn’t going to be a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all global template. But in the spirit of comparisons we’ve been so committed to over the last 500 words or so. Here’s what we could have bought with, for example, a 5% one off tax on the revenues of the top 10 biggest companies in each field.

Taxing the top 10 oil companies a 5% one off fee would generated us $125bn, 25% more than the total aid contributions of the top 10 wealthiest countries combined who typically donate less than 1%. This $125bn could also have paid for 5 hydroelectric plants at the same size and capacity as the Three Gorges Dam, the second largest hydroelectric plant in the world.
Taxing the top 10 automotive companies a 5% one off fee would have generated us $60bn, which could match the revenue of 6 public transport systems on the scale of Transport for London which carries a billion people a year.

Putting a 1% tax on the $4 trillion European bank bailout would generate enough money to pay for the realisation of all of the Millennium Development Goals,

Putting a 1% tax on the $2.3 trillion US bank bailout would generate enough money to pay for universal anti-retroviral treatment of people in low and middle income countries.

Aid budgets aren’t small, they aren’t small at all. They’re microscopic. They’re barely visible with the fiscal eye. It isn’t like we don’t have the cash to pay for things to be better, we clearly have it or the reasonable means to raise it. We just choose not to.

What can you do for international law? Just talk about it.

National laws are a tangible expression of the limits of behaviour that society is willing to tolerate. Anything beyond these limits is prohibited, subject to state sanction and ostracism from society. The same applies across borders to the international arena. International law exists to prohibit acts that are so heinous, so offensive to our collective human consciousness that they cannot be tolerated.

International society has demanded after events that have shocked and frightened us that institutions be set up to punish and seek out those who offend us, those who go beyond the limits that human kind has designated. These limits are more relaxed, less clear or strident than those at a national level. International society has a propensity to agree on very little yet when it does, it does so emphatically. We’ve agreed that it is unacceptable to commit genocide, for example.

Ratko Mladic is an international criminal whose crimes define international law. From ethnic cleansing to deportation and persecution he exists as a caricature of all that our international society deems unacceptable. Furthermore, he continues to offend our collective will by flouting the rules and procedures of the institutions we created to defend and enforce international law. Most notably, his refusal to cooperate with the judges in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Under no circumstances must we forget he is there standing trial for crimes against humanity. When he murdered Bosniaks in the 90s it wasn’t just a crime against his victims it was a crime against our collective human consciousness. We can’t forget that it is as a result of our international view that genocide is unacceptable that he is there. We are part of this process. As an international society we can’t allow his disrespect for our collective agreement (considering how little we all agree on, this is even more important) to go unnoticed. If he is simply forgotten then he has won, he’s proved that humanity isn’t so offended by his actions after all. If his crimes are translated into opaque legalese few can understand or his trial bogged down by appeals and lack lustre evidence from governments (I am looking at the Serb government when I say that) then what can we expect from our fragile system?

We have to keep talking about international law. We have to keep writing about human rights and about those who have yet to be brought to justice by our system. Our legislators need to keep asking probing questions of our governments, our judges need to keep laying precedent upon precedent in support of our unified revulsion for crimes against humanity.

Teachers need to talk about it with their pupils. You need to talk about it with your friends and family. Bring it up at your workplace and get a debate started. We can’t let people like Mladic win. We’re all part of this and if it’s allowed to fall out of the public eye or interest then those with the power to do more to catch war criminals and bring them to justice will have no pressure to continue and increase their efforts.

‘Follow our model of development’ – The IMF, World Bank and the double standards of aid.

The news of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF, and the speculation around his successor has shone a spot light on the organisation for the first time in a number of years. Who will take over? Lagarde? A history making non-European? This spotlight has illuminated something else: so few people are aware of the IMF, what it does or why it was created. I’m writing this post to discuss broadly the purpose of the Bretton Woods institutions (those created by the Bretton Woods agreements at the end of World War Two) take a look at what they do for the world and warn of the double standards inherent in so many aid agreements.

The last time(s) people have been generally made aware of the World Bank or IMF have been a sex scandal and the riots triggered by their presence in a city. From Doha to Genoa to Seattle, whenever the World Bank comes into town people set fire to buildings and the tear gas comes out. This seems unusual considering none of these events have actually been held for the Bretton Woods institutions, they were held for the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and IMF just came to participate. What this shows us is that there is a huge deficit in the public understanding of international financial organisations but that they are seen as symbols of globalisation, the greed of Washington and the capitalist system and as having responsibility generally for so many of the world’s problems.

For all the bad press the World Bank and the IMF get they are still powerful forces for good. The Bretton Woods institutions were founded to redevelop the world after World War Two but also to prevent the catastrophic economic meltdown that some argued precipitated the War – the Great Depression. As part of global governance building they were created to eliminate poverty, regulate the international economy and prevent the unpredictable shocks that encourage protectionism and other factors that contributed to the War – fear and resentment come from want, economic uncertainty generates economic nationalism which in turn feeds xenophobia.
However particularly the World Bank soon found itself with little do when the Marshall Plan swiftly overtook them rebuilding Europe.

They turned their sights on new endeavours, the newly independent countries of former empires with generous loans (with tiny or even negative rates of interest) for infrastructure, investment and development projects. The ability to fund these came from the wealthy donor countries that steered the institutions.

But exceptional generosity came with strings attached. This is known as conditionality or more broadly as ‘structural adjustment programmes’. These countries were to reform (and often radically downsize) their public sectors, liberalise their economies in a relentless drive towards the freer market and reduce barriers to foreign investment. The argument was simple (and I would argue sound), that capitalism is a very effective way at making people richer.

 

However vicious circles emerged: loans were given, targets were set and the Bretton Woods institutions would disappear for five years before returning to discover not much had changed. Where the school teachers had been fired in structural adjustment programmes they had gone on to work in a nascent telecommunications company set up with infrastructure investment, as a result of reducing foreign investment barriers a telecoms company in the Global North had immediately bought the company and downsized it’s overheads to make it more profitable, the teachers were out of work once again and unable to rely on state benefits which had been reduced as part of the trimming of the state. We’re back to square one except people are poorer and the state can’t or won’t help.

Another example: a wealthy country acting on behalf of the IMF offers a bilateral loan to a developing country, then notes the relative lack of attack helicopters in its armed forces, low and behold the wealthy country has a few spare to sell for the money it just loaned to the developing country. Convenient right?

This militarist relationship between the developed and the developing manifests in a more subtle but pernicious way as a model of development. A wealthy (often former colonial) country will offer a bilateral loan to their former imperial subjects and in return they must embrace capitalism and the free market. The aid conditions revolve around ‘follow our model of development and we will give you money’ (this was particularly problematic during the Cold War when two opposing models competed for attention like divorcing parents buying their children’s love) so when the donor came back in five years to find a slightly more marketised economy, liberalised trade laws but also a vast and unnecessary army…

Why did they act shocked? The developing country was simply following the model of development that was set for it. A donor saying to recipient ‘do as we say not as we do’ smacks of double standards and would simply be a return to imperialism. So whilst I do not condone the use of aid for military spending can you blame them?

The IMF and World Bank have come a long way from these days but the problems described above have yet to be relegated to the history books. Countries now participate in the development of the poverty reduction strategies that act in concert with structural adjustment programmes but ‘liberalise and marketise’ are still the dish of the day.

To conclude I think it’s useful to point out some statistics on what the Bretton Woods institutions have done for the world. They have vast potential for good, I honestly believe they think they are doing the right thing and want to make the world a more prosperous and stable place. Just to note: ongoing World Bank development projects exist in 105 countries with a subset of 16,000 locations spending $169,000,000,000. The IMF has a total pledged resource of $600,000,000,000 to help struggling governments. The Bretton Woods institutions may be evangelising the capitalist system but I’d rather have a sermon and a meal than no meal at all.