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Achieving a Culture of Peace

Notes for Presentation at Jeju Forum Final Plenary Session with Governor Oh Young-hun, 2 June 2023

What does it mean for a community country, or a region, or the world, to have a ‘culture of peace’?

  • It means understanding the horror and misery, and destruction of life opportunities, of war between states, civil conflict, and genocide and other crimes against humanity, and being committed to doing everything possible to avoid it. It means a government and community mindset at the opposite end of spectrum to bellicisme, seeing war and deadly conflict as somehow cleansing, purifying, noble.
  • It means understanding, in particular, that any use of nuclear weapons – the most indiscriminately inhumane ever invented – would be an existential threat to life on this planet as we know it.
  • It means policymakers, with the support of the broader community, having an instinct for cooperation rather than confrontation, for reconciliation rather than revenge, for addressing the underlying causes of conflict – including, internally, profound inequality, and ethnic, religious and political discrimination and injustice
  • It means, internationally, policymakers committed to cooperative security: focused on finding security primarily with others, not against them; on confidence-building strategies; on building habits of dialogue, consultation and cooperation between nations
  • It does not mean going unarmed or defenceless against possible aggression – but does mean seeing security as multidimensional, with many economic and social components as well as military ones

What are the major enemies of or obstacles to developing a culture of peace, within and between nations?

  • Nationalism: Pride in one’s nation a strong and understandable impulse, but overdone nationalist chest-beating has often led in the past to international disaster. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine partly a manifestation of that; US exceptionalism/belief in right to global primacy in perpetuity fraught with future risk.
  • History: Strongly agree that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But sometimes past historical grievances become so comprehensively & unshakeably embedded in the national or community psyche they can become an obstacle to peace: sometimes you just have to move on – and a real test of leadership to manage this.
  • Politics: Competitive domestic chest-beating can be an enemy of peace – US domestic politics has raised temperature on China to unnecessary and dangerous levels. And Jeju has had experience of ideologically-driven governments denying the historical truth of atrocities, and suppressing for decades the possibility of peace-affirming reconciliation.
  • Psychology: There is a mass of psychological research indicating that humans not very good at conflict-avoiding and peace-nurturing empathy. The pain we receive almost invariably seems worse than that which we inflict; we exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, not factoring in what makes them see the world as they do, while assuming that others grasp the constraints that influence our own behaviour; and in evaluating the chances of peace, we tend to downplay concessions on the intuition that they must be worth less simply because the other side has offered them.
  • Pessimism. While optimists (like me) believe in and try to nurture the instinct of cooperation in the hope, and expectation, that decent human values will ultimately prevail, pessimists see conflict of one kind or another as more or less inevitable, and adopt a highly wary and competitive approach to the conduct of international relations. And the ranks of policymakers always seem to have more pessimists.

Who are the actors that matter most in achieving a culture of peace? National governments? Provincial governments? Other sub-state actors like NGOs, the media, commercial entities, think-tanks and academics, committed individuals?

  • All of the above: national political leadership probably most critical in setting the tone, but sub-state actors are all potentially important players.
  • Governor Oh Young Hun will speak with authority on role of provincial governments like Jeju in promoting a culture of peace – power of example with local best practice/putting peace on map with the Jeju Forum and 4.3 Peace Prize.
  • My own experience confirms that, not only in national government as Foreign Minister (involved in preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacebuilding), but also as an international NGO head as President of International Crisis Group (analysis & advocacy), and as an initiator or member of norm-setting international commissions like the Carnegie Commission on Prevention of Deadly Conflict, the Canberra Commission on Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, and the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (R2P/mass atrocity crimes)
  • All of these, and many other sub-state actors – including organisations focused on inter-community reconciliation – have had some impact.

What kind of strategies are most effective in promoting a culture of peace?

  • Education. Everything starts with some understanding of history: why peace matters, how fragile it is, how easily things can go wrong. And why human rights matter: why we should respect our common humanity. None of this can start too early. But it’s not just schools and universities that have this role and responsibility – organizations like the Jeju Foundation and Forum, in the ROK and worldwide, can be important vehicles for promoting discussion and debate, telling success stories and identifying role models for peace.
  • Prevention. The problem with devoting major resources to prevention, rather than just reaction – particularly for politicians – is that when prevention succeeds, nothing happens, and nobody notices. But it’s crucial; far more cost-effective than after the event strategies. Arms control strategies - of the kind now dead or dying in the nuclear weapons space – are critical for conflict risk reduction.
  • Norm-setting. Creating a culture of peace is above all about reinforcing the positive mindsets, and changing mindsets where necessary, of both political leaders and publics. Crucial to maintain, e.g., the normative taboo on the use of nuclear weapons; and to change minds by building consensus, after the catastrophes of Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, that mass atrocity crimes within sovereign states were everybody’s business, not nobody’s, and that the real issue was not the ‘right to intervene’ but the ‘responsibility to protect’
  • Post-Conflict Peace building. Best predictor of future conflict is past conflict – the countries and regions most likely to lapse are those who have been there before. So critical to address underlying sources of conflict, including unequal access to natural resources, overt discrimination against minorities, and other human rights violations.
  • Restorative Justice. Getting balance right between peace and justice – in a way that creates the opportunity for genuinely sustainable peace and doesn’t embed grievances – is one of the trickiest of all things to get right. But it matters. As does formal acknowledgement of fault of the kind that finally happened – after too many decades of denial and suppression by the national government - in Jeju. Had Japan followed the example of German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s kniefall at the Warsaw ghetto site in 1970 – in relation for example to the Nanjing massacre – then tensions with China may have been much less acute than they have been; Korea-Japan relations similarly…

Concluding Thoughts?

  • Never underestimate the crucial importance, however dispiriting the current peace environment may seem, of maintaining optimism. My own mantra has long been that optimism is self-reinforcing in the same way that pessimism is self-defeating. Achieving anything of lasting value in public life is difficult enough, but it is almost impossible to do so without believing that what seems to be out of reach really is achievable. If we want to change the world for the better, we must start by believing that change is possible.
  • But while optimism, like pessimism, is self-reinforcing, it is not necessarily self- fulfilling. We do not get to change the world simply by believing in its possibility: we have to work for it. And the Jeju Provincial Government has shown us the way by doing just that.