Nobel laureates on a quest for world peace | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 22.09.2019
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Nobel laureates on a quest for world peace

Juan Manuel Santos, Lech Walesa, David Trimble, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi are analyzing the reasons for global conflict. Although they point to three issues in particular, there are others as well.

There are fewer wars in the world compared to 2017, yet more countries are involved in them. Ongoing wars have also worsened. The situation is well-documented in a number of studies grappling with the unanswerable question of why humans kill one another.

The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK) cites a drop from 20 armed conflicts in 2017 to only 16 in 2018. However, the number of "limited wars” during that same time increased from 16 to 25. The institute classifies "limited” as a conflict in which combatants refrain from using all of the tools at their disposal. Most conflicts, according to the study, are concentrated in the Arab world: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Small boy looking at ruined buildings in Taez, Yemen(Getty Images/AFP/A. Al-Basha)

The war in Yemen has given rise to a humanitarian crisis of huge dimensions

Arms trade fuels conflict

Speaking with DW at the 17th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Yucatan, Mexico, Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi says: "The reason these wars drag on is the international arms trade. It makes enormous profits from the sale of weapons, and therefore has no interest in seeing conflicts end." Ebadi points out that half of all weapons manufactured worldwide are shipped to the Middle East.

Ebadi emphasizes: "Recent conflicts in the region can be traced back to the political ambitions of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. They have much less to do with the loss of Western hegemony." She says Iran has increasingly meddled in the affairs of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where more than 90,000 civilians have been killed in an almost invisible war that has been raging for the past four years. The Iranian laureate is convinced that the number of proxy wars in the Middle East will only increase in the coming years.

Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi (picture-alliance/Zuma/El Universal )

Shirin Ebadi says proxy wars in the Middle East will increase

Africa is right behind the Arab world when it comes to armed conflict. The Central African Republic (CAR), Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger are all fighting with the Islamic terror group Boko Haram. Add to that Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan. The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, according to a database compiled by the Polynational War Memorial, has cost more than 385,000 people their lives.

Heidelberg's HIIK lists only one Latin-American country as being in a state of war: Mexico, where the state and drug cartels remain locked in armed conflict.

Climate change and the nuclear threat

Beyond armed conflict, there are other destabilizing factors at play, both old and new. Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and US activist Jody Williams agree that climate change and nuclear weapons pose the largest risks to world peace. "Leaders, who should, for example, be dedicated to protecting the Amazon rainforest, are not doing so," says a critical Santos.

Speaking with DW, the former president says, "As far as the nuclear threat goes, we have seen both progress and setbacks." Among those setbacks, Santos points to the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Jody Williams adds that greed is a further factor contributing to instability, as it gravely worsens the gaping divide between rich and poor.

Read more: Water shortages pose growing risk to global stability

Juan Manuel Santos holding Nobel certificate and medal (Getty Images/N. Waldron)

Santos says the dangers of nuclear war are increasing

Increasing geopolitical tensions   

"Over the past several years, elements of the international world order, which had contributed to political stability, have weakened. At the same time, more aggressive actors have become emboldened," says David Trimble, former first minister of the Northern Ireland regional government. Trimble points to the United Nations: "We thought it would bring world peace, but, as we can see, we are far from achieving that goal."

Nobel laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa argues, "The largest impediment on the road to peace is the weight of the past. That is, the suffering and injustice derived from social developments of the past." Walesa sees that historical burden as one of the main factors contributing to the rise of nationalism and populism in Europe.

Dresden | Pegida demonstration (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer)

Germany has also seen a rise in populism in recent years

Beyond the wars

The laureates largely agree that democracy is the best form of government to ensure peace. Still, they say that Western democracy has lost much of its luster due to internal problems, and thus has also lost its ability to consequently counter authoritarianism.

Other factors that amplify the tragedy of armed conflict can also be seen in repression carried out against a country's own citizens in places like Myanmar, or the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Although neither has been listed as reaching the level of war, together, the two countries have produced the largest number of forced displacements in recent memory.

The United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) currently lists eight armed conflicts on its website, and the number of those forced to flee their homes at 71 million. That is twice as many as 20 years ago, and equal to the population of Thailand, or Turkey.

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