Facts, understanding and peace: reflections on receiving the Jeju 4.3 Peace prize, 2021

I can hardly express how honoured I am and how grateful to receive the Jeju 4.3 Peace Prize for 2021. It is a moment I will always treasure.

My previous post was about the massacre, torture and repression hiding under the headline, Jeju 4.3 incident. This post is a heavily edited version of the speech I gave when accepting the award.

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Jeju, 1948: long-suppressed truths about a massacre

In the history of colonialism and war, there are many atrocities, many of which stay hidden for decades and more. One such is known as the Jeju 4:3 incident, on the island of that name off the south coast of South Korea, in the years just before the Korean War. A sub-tropical island, a tourist magnet within Korea, the honeymoon island for prosperous Koreans before foreign travel became more popular, and again now during the Covid-19 pandemic. I know about it only because the Jeju Peace Foundation 4:3 has done me the extraordinary honour of awarding me the 2021 Jeju 4:3 Peace Prize. In this post, I summarise the Jeju 4:3 incident; the next one will contain my remarks upon receiving the award.

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Peace and security overview of 2020: the year when things didn’t get better or worse

Histories of 2020 will start with the Covid-19 pandemic and there will probably be a lot about the US presidential election. Both the pandemic and the election have big implications for peace and security in 2021 and further ahead. Despite Covid, on the security horizon, 2020 was different from the three preceding years: at last, things didn’t get worse. It doesn’t sound like much but given how badly global security had deteriorated, it was an important, refreshing and much needed change.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get better either. But read on.

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Compound risk, response and prevention: learning to act where problems intersect

The Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development is co-convened annually by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which I have the honour to lead, and Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year ‘s Forum was held in early May. Like the 2020 edition, it was online. The theme was Promoting Peace in the Age of Compound Risk.

The Forum was big. This post offers some summary reflections about what was discussed and what those discussions tell us about the way ahead.

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The arms control agendas of 2021: some reflections

The extension of the US-Russian New START agreement on strategic nuclear weapons was achieved through the exchange of two sets of diplomatic notes between the respective governments, on 26 January and 3 February. The process was super-straightforward. Both President Putin of Russia and Joe Biden while US President-elect made clear they would each favour extension. The day after inauguration President Biden officially confirmed the position. A few days later, it was done. This was the lowest of low-hanging fruit. Good to have gotten it out of the way (and stupid that the previous administration let it go down to the wire) but now the real work starts.

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Message for the Aswan Forum

This week is the week of the second Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development, on the theme of Shaping Africa’s New Normal: Recovering Stronger, Rebuilding Better. In a couple of months (4–7 May) we at SIPRI together with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will convene the 8th edition of the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development. Our theme will be Promoting Peace in the Age of Compound Risk. The agendas meet in interesting ways and a collaboration between the two forums is natural and already began last year. So I was very happy to be asked to record and send a message to participants at this year’s Aswan Forum, highlighting the dovetailing of the agendas and stressing the possibilities of a continuing partnership.

Extending New START

So Joe Biden, as anticipated, has moved quickly to arrange with Russia the extension of the New START bilateral nuclear arms control agreement. Signed in 2010, taking effect in 2011, and due to expire on 5 February this year, the treaty permits extension for up to five years by mutual consent.

The good people at Deutsche Welle asked me the two key questions – “Is this good news?” “Why”? And let me answer them on their 8 o’clock bulletin yesterday evening.

For a more extended discussion, Jan Eliasson and I put out our thoughts earlier this week. In brief, as I argued in my previous post, in a tough period with a complex set of issues, the approach on arms control of the new US President is welcome. He faces some demanding tasks. And the first signs are positive.

Arms control in 2021

There are so many crucial items on the global agenda that one struggles to keep up (though I do wonder whether there really are more now than there used to be or does it just feel that way?). Covid-19 and its economic consequences, the likely increase in extreme poverty and hunger, climate change and the rest of the compound environmental crisis, the attack on democracy in the world’s richest and most powerfully armed state, rising inequality, toxic geopolitics, intractable armed conflicts. And more. This does not seem to be a happy age that we are living through.

In this (rather lengthy) post, I focus on prospects for arms control in 2021. The big challenge is how to make progress against such an unpromising backdrop.

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Mapping the journey of human progress

So if you say progress is real and still possible, and it needs to change so we don’t pay the same high price for it in environmental harm and rising inequality, then there’s a question: what could it – should it – look like? 

Pondering this, I found myself turning to the obvious – at least, obvious to people in my kind of work – the UN’s Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agreed in 2015, the headline goals break down into 169 targets to achieve by 2030. 

The SDGs represent a view of human progress as it could be, towards a better world that is not just imaginable but practicable. They are the aids we need to navigate a safe route on the journey of human progress.  

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