Tag Archives: peace

Let’s talk about peace

15 Mar

Let’s talk about peace

For obvious reasons, there is a lot of war commentary around. Much of it is a bit too interested in military matters for my liking and seems disinterested in wider political and cultural issues that are needed to stop the war on Ukraine and further wars. Stopping the horrific attacks on civilians in Ukraine is necessary and urgent. But can we go further? Can we also ask questions about how it was possible for this war to start in the first place and how we might prevent further wars like this one beginning in the future?

There is – of course – a ready-made negotiating space in place in the shape of the United Nations. But, of course, leading states have worked hard to make sure that the United Nation’s multilateral approach is always subservient to the unilateral solo-runs by those same leading states. That most of us need a few moments to remember the name of the UN Secretary General tells us all we need to know about the current status of the UN.

We seem to be in a 1930s moment: war and militarism raging in Europe and elsewhere; commodity price are experiencing shock after shock; the cost of living crisis is real and fuelled by globalised capital; an ugly populist nationalism is on the rise in many states (including the UK and US); and resurgent states are brazenly upsetting the “international order”. That international order was always precarious and the nostalgia for a “rules-based international order” contains more than a few comforting myths about just how good it was. It was better than nothing but deeply flawed and based on fundamental economic and racial inequalities.

One major difference between the 1930s and the current era is the lack of thinking about peace. The period after WWI saw a number of public intellectuals, many of them personally traumatised by the War, think seriously about peace and an international system that could ensure peace. It is easy to criticise much of this thinking as naïve, too insulated in fashionable literary sets, and removed from the “realities” of the “real business” of statehood. But one thing that was very present in the peace thinking of the 1920s and 1930s was creativity. Initiatives like the Peace Union Pledge, or the thinking behind the League of Nations, required imagination and modes of thinking that were different from the orthodoxy (an orthodoxy that was based on a balance of power and occasional war to “rebalance” the system). What the pioneers of the 1920s and 1930s were doing was thinking about a peace system rather than a war system. Looking around now, it is difficult to hear the public intellectuals who are thinking about a peace system. Those thinkers are there, of course, it just seems that in the midst of war no one wants to talk about peace.

It is particularly worrying to see NATO being touted as the answer to Europe’s problems (there are of prominent voices pushing for Finland and Sweden to hastily join NATO). It needs to be said with clarity that NATO is a nuclear armed military alliance. It is not in the business of peace. It normalises militarism and nuclear weapons (arms manufacturers love it). But the nature of military alliances is that those who feel threatened by the alliance make their own alliance and tool up. It is a classic security dilemma or vicious circle of armament and re-armament. An emphasis on NATO will not lead to peace in Europe. At most it will lead to a militarised Europe subservient to the United States and a hyper nervous Russia and China (anyone relaxing at this thought?).

So is it possible to think of a peace system rather than a war system? Is it possible to think of routeways to de-escalation and mediation? Is it possible to think of systems that do not reinforce the logic of war? In the current situation that is a tall order. The necessity to stop the assault on Ukraine clouds out most other thoughts.

If we were to sit down and think about an international peace architecture, would it look radically different from the United Nations? Any new system would need to be as universal as possible, to set down acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, to have mechanisms for mediation and intervention, to have humanitarian capabilities, and to have its own powers of initiative. So a new system would look a lot like the current one. But, fundamentally, it would need to prioritise peace over ceasefires and humanitarianism. This would mean moving beyond the veto powers held by the “winners” of WWII, recognising that Africa and South America exist, and that many of us transnational lives that have very ambiguous relationships with states. An international peace architecture that reflected realities would be tolerant of the multiple ways that we identify – with families, clans, social and cultural movements, professional associations, sexual orientation, and spirituality etc. It would move far beyond the current state-centric stitch up.

All of this might sound dreadfully naïve, but then those pioneers of humanitarianism, mediation and multilateralism were derided as dreadfully naïve. They started out from a recognition of the horrors of war (many of them experienced it first hand) but needed imagination and creativity to think a-new. Do the men we see in suits in the news have that imagination?


Ireland is already united – it’s just that a lot of people haven’t noticed.

2 Jan

The prospect of a united Ireland has moved up the political agenda in the midst of Brexit uncertainty, but Ireland already has been united – to all intents and purposes – for many years. This united Ireland is one forged in the everyday activities of millions of people on the island. It is a united Ireland of travel patterns, family relationships, businesses, sport and culture that work around (or more precisely – across) the border. It is a united Ireland that is embodied, enacted and lived.

This notion of a united Ireland is based on a sociological understanding of politics and society that sees politics (and most aspects of life) as a verb – something to be enacted through everyday living rather than a noun – something that is declared by constitutions and political leaders.* The actual behaviour of many people on the island of Ireland is one that traverses the political and economic border and renders it an anachronism. Examples of this abound: people working in Belfast but living in Dublin (less than two hours journey time in the car), over a million passengers per year from Northern Ireland using Dublin airport, the thousands of northerners who attend stadium concerts in Dublin every year, and the all-island sports of rugby, GAA and many others that see people cross the border every weekend. Added to this are the thousands of businesses that trade on both sides of the border, the huge number of northerners with second homes in Donegal (in the Republic of Ireland), and the countless shopping trips that criss-cross the border on a daily basis.

Those waiting for formal united Ireland – one enshrined by a constitution and recognised by the United Nations – may have some time to wait. Brexit uncertainty has made the prospect of a vote for a formal creation of a united Ireland more realistic, but it is hard to see a united Ireland coming about without opposition from Northern Ireland’s unionist population. And the Brexit-supporting English political elite would probably re-discover the value of the Union if it was really in jeopardy. The blue-prints of project fear, which worked so well during the Scottish independence referendum, would be dusted off and the massed ranks of the pro-Union media and the English Establishment (it really does exist) would be energised.

The beauty of the de facto united Ireland is that trenchant unionists can avoid it. They don’t have to travel south if they don’t want to. They can fashion lives that are British, unionist and have little to do with the Republic of Ireland. It is still possible (indeed all too easy) to lead lives that are segregated from political and religious others; 90 percent of children still attend either all Catholic or all Protestant schools. Social housing is still overwhelmingly segregated according to religion – as is the private sector. The cultural hegemony of a British unionist identity has taken a battering as Irish (or Catholic nationalist) identities have grown in confidence (and gained economic power). Yet, it is still possible to be proudly British and avoid the de facto united Ireland.

To some extent this united Ireland has been enabled macro-political developments – most importantly the removal of the hard security border in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. And there have been some formal cross-border cooperation in the health and energy sectors. But, to a large extent, this united Ireland has occurred in spite of macro-political developments: people have just got on with their lives. People want to see Bruce Springsteen playing in Dublin so they cross the border; they want cheaper booze in Tesco in Newry so they cross the border; they want to spend their summer holidays in Donegal so they cross the border. This ‘getting on with it’ is the default activity of most people where circumstances allow. Despite the Troubles, people still had to hold down jobs, get the kids to school and engage in elder care. The border was a massive inconvenience during the dark days of the Troubles, but many people ignored it as best they could. The same is true today.

Brexit has simultaneously complicated and clarified things. The complication comes from the fact that no one – and certainly not the British government – can tell the impact of the withdrawal from the European Union on everyday lives. The clarification comes – if it were ever needed – in making it clear that the vast majority of people in England know nothing about, and care even less about, Northern Ireland, Ireland and border life. Indeed, British Home Secretary Priti Patel’s comments on food shortages in Ireland in the event of a crash out Brexit make clear the extent to which a couldn’t care less attitude sits comfortably at the apex of government. In the face of such attitudes, and in the face of similar attitudes over the decades, people have just got on with living an all-Ireland life as best they can. This has accelerated in recent years as people have become richer, safer, more mobile, and gotten used to free movement across Europe. This united Ireland is here to stay – and very probably will become more entrenched – regardless of the ‘un-care’ from Downing Street.

*This notion of everyday politics lies at the heart of the Everyday Peace Indicators research programme (everydaypeaceindicators.org)

Two visions of Gaza in 100 years time

19 Dec

Gaza 2114 Version 1

The last Palestinian in Gaza was killed today in a planned pre-emptive operation. The 87 year old woman was living in a shack behind Gaza’s largest settlement, ‘Sunnyside Villas’. An Israeli Defence Forces spokesperson said, ‘The indicative metrics showed that the terrorist infiltrator was planning an outrage so a judicial assassination bot took pre-emptive measures. It was also known that she was planning to break the curfew. All Palestinians know that they are only allowed out of doors between 3 and 4 AM’.

Israel, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council following the collapse of Russia, took the opportunity to tell the world body that ‘Israel is now free from terrorists’. The news was welcomed by US President Sarah Palin IV of the Republican Tea Patriot Party. ‘Terrorists know that there is no hiding place and I congratulate Israel on reaching ISO standard 19315 in becoming terrorist free. A new era of peace and prosperity beckons.’

The eradication of Palestinians from Gaza marks the endpoint of a long-term Israeli goal. The Palestinian population had been seriously depleted following the war of 2099 in which Israel deployed tactical nuclear weapons after a small child was seen acting suspiciously. Since then, a strict no child policy, robust security measures, and enforced deportations have meant that the Palestinian population has rapidly dwindled.

Reaction in Arab capitals was muted. The League of Princes and Sultans, the body that speaks on behalf of the ruling monarchies throughout the Middle East, said ‘We are watching developments with interest.’ An unnamed source close to the Royal Family in Riyadh was quoted as saying ‘Thank God. The Palestinians were a pain in the neck. The Israeli strategy against the Palestinians has inspired our strategy against the Shia underclass across the Middle East.’


Gaza 2114 Version 2

The closing ceremony of the 2014 Gaza Olympic Games was regarded as one of the best ever seen. Not only were a number of world records broken on the athletics track, but the Games were also seen as a triumph of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians who now share the Middle Eastern state of Hummusland.

Following decades of conflict between the state of Israel, Palestinians and neighbouring Arab States, Hummusland has only been in existence for 25 years. It was formed following a string of popular uprisings across Arab states in which populations swept away corrupt western-backed monarchies. These newly democratic states then pressured the only non-democracy left in the region, Israel, into a transition away from apartheid.

Hummusland has had its ups and downs, but with support from the world’s economic powerhouse – the African Union – it has been able to rebuild its destroyed infrastructure. More importantly, the one-state political solution seems to be working. Rigorously enforced equality laws have meant that cases of gender, sectarian and racial discrimination are respected.

Hummusland’s joint Presidents (one Israeli and the other Palestinian) officiated at the Games closing ceremony. They put out the Olympic flame, which will be lit in four years time as it goes to the next host city Pyongyang. But away from politics, these Olympics will be most remembered for Archibald Mac Ginty’s 100m sprint in 8.27 seconds.