The First World War was supposed to be the ‘war to end war’. One hundred years ago, millions were dying in one of the deadliest conflicts in history. Of course, 1918 did not bring the end of warfare. With the rapid advancement of technology, spread of questionable religious beliefs and growing inequalities, the world has witnessed even more bloody conflicts in the 21st century in Syria, Libya and Yemen. One must acknowledge that people and countries place self-interests first, and would result to whatever means to fight for their rights or gain dominance. Thus, as long as this continues to be the zeitgeist of the present epoch, I provisionally opine that international peace and stability is unattainable in this highly interconnected world of today.
Prima facie, one may naively presume that with more international cooperation, wars would ease. However, I believe that regardless of the fact that an interconnected world today translates into more cooperation to stop wars, the fact that some conflicts are driven by religious beliefs makes it all the more harder for international peace to be attained. For example, Islamic extremists believe that the Koran calls them to fight to establish a global Islamic regime and that they would be duly rewarded if they die fighting for such a cause – testament to the recent spate of violence ignited by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, that have been carrying out terrorists attacks all over the world, in France, parts of the Middle East and Africa, and Australia. The spread of such ideologies is further exacerbated by the Internet, a characteristic of the world today. The Internet has allowed for people all over the world to view terrorist-content and be radicalised, thus potentially increasing the number of terrorists worldwide, and consequently rendering the notion of international peace today and unattainable one.
Furthermore, countries always strive to show their dominance to the world and tend to employ violence to satire their selfish interests. In this Darwinian world that we live in today, all countries face a constant struggle to survive and will indiscriminately threaten others to pacify national interests. Territorial disputes are the best manifestation of conflicts due to self-interests. These disputes are still prevalent today, among two or more countries in a bid to preserve their sovereignty. A prominent example would be that of the South China Sea. China is relentlessly claiming territories in the sea that belong to neighbouring counties like The Philippines, by self-proclaiming that areas within the nine-dash line belong to China. China has placed surface-to-air missiles in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. As the South China Sea is a vital passage for trade between the US and Asia, this conflict has also resulted in the US expressing its discontentment by sending warships to the sea. To draw lessons from this episode, one can see how they very interconnectedness of the world today, coupled with the inward thinking by big countries like China have a drastic impact on international peace as many other countries get involved as well.
The quest for international peace and stability today is also a futile once because inequalities still prevail all over the world, and marginalised groups often take to violence to fight for their rights, or are in fact victims of violence why the majority. The truth of the matter is that, when countries came to a consensus on human rights, there was much ambiguity, and thus, we currently live in a world where international peace is practically impossible because governments themselves do not exactly know what rights to grant to their people, and as a result, there are factions who feel that they are deprived of their rights. For instance, in The Philippines, the harsh disparity between the haves and have-nots has led to extremists insurgents movements, ranging from the New People’s Army to Abu Sayyaf, a radical Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda. Guatemala has an ultra-rich minority that lives lavishly, but about 54% of Guatemalans live in poverty in 2011. In 2012, Guatemala, the second most unequal country in the world, had a homocide rate of 39.9 per 100,000 people. The sheer scale of inequalities in the world, from the racial discrimination in the US to the sexual discrimination in Nigeria to the vast income disparity plaguing both nascent and developed nations, conflicts are inevitable. Hence, international peace and stability is not totally attainable today.
However, the natural corollary to the aforementioned arguments would be for apologists to contend that while international peace is largely unattainable today, there is a hint of hope. This could be attributed to the fact that international cooperation has been happening at unprecedented levels, and hence countries might turn to negotiations instead of violence to settle disputes. Furthermore, the establishment of regional bodies could mean that countries will be less motivated to use force and instead settle their conflicts peacefully so that they can enjoy perennial benefits from that regional body. For instance, the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) provides a blink of hope that countries would use non-military methods to solve crises. During the Arab Spring in 2011, NATO enforced the arms embargo against Libya. They also forced a no-fly zone over Libya except those for humanitarian aid purposes to avoid air attacks from Libyan authorities perpetrated on civilians inside the country. Given NATO’s large influence in the global arena, it would be possible for international conflicts to be resolved peacefully. In the realm of regional bodies, the European Union (EU) plays a pivotal role in preventing conflicts by facilitating dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Vis-a-vis the above examples, the notion of international peace may seem like a plausible one. However, one must also understand that these regional bodies are only effective insofar as the countries are wiling to accept aid and understand the significance of preserving peace in that region.
Nonetheless, one could still assert that with the rise in surveillance technology today, it would be easier for governments to spy on clandestine groups who are planning a war, thus making international peace possible. For instance, electronic surveillance led to the downfall of Osama Bin Laden. US intelligence agencies were able to tack his courier, Al-Kuwaiti, back to his house in Abbottabad. The Patriot Act in the US also makes it legal for the government to access electronic accounts such as email accounts of suspected terrorists. However, to presume that this could lead to the complete establishment of world peace would be highly ignorant, because terrorist groups, for example, have bases all over the world and it would be technically impossible for technology such as drones to track down these terrorists.
To sum it all up, the notion of international peace is a multi-faceted one. There have been numerous developments over the 21st century that proved hope for a better tomorrow. However, an indubitable fact of humanity is that we are all actually myopic individuals who only want to satisfy our own needs. Furthermore, there are still countries living in dystopia, where violence is rife. Their governments have too many issues on the plate to resolve, and so there are still factions in those societies who feel that they are deprived of rights and thus turn to violence. In 2011, Steven Pinker argued in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that wars were growing less common and violent. However, is it naive to believe that war may one day become a thing of the past?