World peace appears to be an objective most youth are quick to judge as too irrational. A BuzzFeed article titled “21 Problems All Cynical People Will Understand” includes the following, “ When someone talks about how world peace is possible if we all just love each other, you have to shut your eyes from frustration.” Another comment on a debate thread on Ted.com included the following question, “Is it just me, or does anyone else cringe whenever someone talks about "world peace”? The question received comments such as “As long as personal conflict exists, there will never be world peace. Wars are built from the ground up. Fighting over scarce resources, territory, food, mate (husband/wife) is inevitable.”
Perhaps, the pessimism surrounding world peace stems from the fact that the general public, when reading the news, will always feel as though they are living in “dangerous times.” In all honesty, the present state of world affairs, as presented by the news provides substantial reason for any young person to choose to not believe in the power of peace. The unfolding humanitarian crisis in Yemen, constant conflict in Syria, and armed attacks in countries like the Central African Republic are apparent reasons to consider peace to be a fruitless ambition. However, at the same time, there is enough evidence for the pragmatic idealists (such as myself) to consider a peace-filled world as a plausible one. The Global Peace Index, which ranks the world’s countries by their level of peacefulness, provides some rationale concerning the potential for global peace. In 2015, 81 countries became more peaceful while 78 became less peaceful. At the same time, the Index noted that there were no new wars between countries and that the incidence of death from internal conflicts had decreased for most regions. Moreover, the International Day of Peace, commemorated annually on September 21, has been celebrated since 1982 by millions around the world. The day stands as a reminder of the diverse interpretations that peace holds for global citizens and its ability to be celebrated as an ideal regardless of how bleak or hopeful conditions are.
Statistics aside, the origins of the United Nations coupled with the new sustainable development agenda holds great promise for creating a world where peace is plausible. The Charter of the United Nations, first drafted in 1945, presents the underlying motivations and functionalities of the world’s largest intergovernmental organization. Specifically, Article 1 of the UN Charter outlines the core purposes of the UN and reads as follows:
To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.
The first five words of the Charter state that one of the organization’s key purposes for existence is “to maintain international peace and security.” With such a mandate forming the basis of the United Nations’ identity, it is important to re-visit the way in which we teach, learn about, and share ideas concerning peace. In order to do so, we can turn to the Sustainable Development Agenda, which boasts Goal 16 focused on peace, justice and strong institutions.
“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels."
Goal 16 tackles the idea of peace from different perspectives from the reduction of acts such as corruption, bribery and violence, the establishment of equal access to justice, to improved rule of law, to stronger institutions of global governance, to the protection of fundamental freedom, to more inclusive decision-making and participatory processes. Encompassing many ideas that comprise an ideally peaceful society, Goal 16 presents a macro-level roadmap for peace. However, Goal 16 alone is not enough. The power of the SDG agenda lies in its interdependency and the ability of each of the goals to feed into the other. In the same way, peace is a cross-cutting theme, one that can be propelled by the various SDGs from ameliorating education standards globally to increasing healthcare access to ensuring gender equality.
When it comes to youth and their involvement in making for a more peaceful world, nothing is more compelling than the 2015 ratification of UN Security Council Resolution 2250, which followed the drafting of the Amman Youth Declaration. For the first time in the history of the Security Council, on December 9th, 2015, the United Nations passed a resolution that emphasized the role of youth in maintaining peace and security. The resolution’s focus on the contributions of youth is holistic, with Clauses 2 and 11 standing as integral, representative examples.
Calls on all relevant actors, including when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to take into account, as appropriate, the participation and views of youth, recognizing that their marginalization is detrimental to building sustainable peace in all societies, including, inter alia, such specific aspects as:
(a) The needs of youth during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction;
(b) Measures that support local youth peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution, and that involve youth in the implementation mechanisms of peace agreements;
(c) Measures to empower youth in peace building and conflict resolution
3. Stresses the importance of Security Council missions taking into account youth-related considerations including, as appropriate, through consultation with local and international youth groups;
11. Stresses the importance of creating policies for youth that would positively contribute to peace building efforts, including social and economic development, supporting projects designed to grow local economies, and provide youth employment opportunities and vocational training, fostering their education, and promoting youth entrepreneurship and constructive political engagement;
Recognizing the growth of radicalization, the resolution represents an avenue for youth to counter violence, contribute to peace building and transform the face of conflict.
In addition to high-level world leaders noting the unique ability of youth to contribute to peace, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are some young people who have already invested themselves in the cause. The Big Book: Pages for Peace project is one such example of youth driven by the prospect of peace. The project started as an after-school club in 2004 and has grown to include messages from over 3500 individuals, from heads of state and government, teachers, soldiers, school children, politicians, and other leaders. By sharing messages of peace, the project has drawn applause from leaders such as UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon who called the Big Book a “fantastic commitment” and “an inspiration to the world,” proving youth as a force to be reckoned with.
The recognition that youth can engage in peace processes, especially peace building, acts as a catalyst for a peaceful world. Initiatives like the #youthwill campaign act as a conversation for youth to discuss and provide for a peaceful society. The barrier posed by cynicism may make the case for peace seem impossible for young people. However, by including youth in the conversation surrounding peace, we can offer hope for a world where peace is no longer a distant ambition.
So, why is peace impossible? I would love to hear from you, the youth, as well as others. Let’s start a conversation.