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.
“I hope you are well.” A phrase that routinely starts each email now has special meaning. And not only in terms of physiological health but also psychological well being. And it’s not just the Covid-19 pandemic. Once you start thinking about it, where do you stop?
From toxic geopolitics to a many-sided environmental crisis (climate, biodiversity, ocean acidification, air pollution, zoonotic infection and more) to cyber vulnerability to capricious leaders who ignore facts, trash the truth and get away with it.
All eyes are on the Covid-19 pandemic and the unfolding crisis it is causing, whose full dimensions are not yet clear. Meanwhile, there’s the climate crisis. It too has multiple, unfolding impacts about whose full details we cannot yet be sure. We should not lose sight of it, of course, and not only because it is very, very important. Some of what we are are (or should be) learning from the pandemic is relevant to the climate crisis, not least the widespread deficiency in resilience that Covid-19 is revealing.
At French initiative, the UN Security Council held what is known as an Arria Formula debate on 22 April. This is a relatively informal meeting so the Council can be briefed on and discuss major issues. The meeting was virtual and I joined Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo and International Crisis Group President, Robert Malley, to provide the initial briefings, after which some 23 representatives of member states plus the representatives of the African Union and the European Union also spoke.
Here, in more formal tones than I normally use in this blog but rather less formally than my last UNSC briefing in February, is what I said.
Covid-19 has implications not only for health, well-being and prosperity but also for security and peace. The impact of the virus on war torn societies could be devastating, whether the scene is of massive physical destruction as in Syria, or the rampaging power of militias, jihadi groups and criminal gangs as in parts of the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Ramping up the humanitarian response, even though the big humanitarian headquarters are themselves part of the general lockdown, is one necessity. The UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire is a second one – though whether the call will be heeded, heaven knows. Beyond that the Covid-19 virus has revealed a worrying and widespread lack of social and political resilience. Continue reading
Somalia is showing encouraging signs of emerging from three decades of chaos and mayhem that themselves followed two decades of dictatorship and one of civil war. Problems abound still and there are over 5 million people in the country who need humanitarian assistance and well over 2 million displaced people. As well as trying to win territory back from the al-Shabab terrorists, the government and its regional and international supporters have to meet people’s basic needs, develop the economy and establish some kind of political normalcy with critically elections planned for this year.
Exerting pressure on all this and making it harder is climate change and an average of one natural disaster a year for the last 30 years ( 12 serious droughts and 18 major floods). SIPRI published a report in late 2019 – Climate-related security risks and peacebuilding in Somalia by Florian Krampe and Karolina Eklöw – and the Belgian Presidency of the UN Security Council invited me to brief the Council about the issues on 24 February as part of their session on the situation in the country.
What follows – in perhaps a somewhat more formal tone than readers of this blog are generally used to – is what I said in my briefing.
We live in troubled and troubling times. Though we can, if we look, find reasons for optimism, many indicators are pointing in the wrong direction – more armed conflicts, more military spending, more arms trading. Worse, this unfolds against a seriously concerning background of long-term trends: increasingly toxic geopolitics, the crumbling of arms control and the climate crisis. The doomsday clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved 20 seconds closer to midnight; it has never been closer.
Amid the gloom, would it not be a welcome relief for a new peace vision for the Middle East to be launched, to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and open the door to a new possibility of political and social progress in the region?
Yes it would. But…
It’s that time of year, right? In fact, that time of the decade – the cusp between one and the next. From the teens to the twenties. So it’s time for my review of the last (what went wrong) and a forward perspective over what’s coming (trends to watch). Except, no.
Recently I asked a group of eminent and wise people for reasons for optimism. There is these days a bias towards pessimism that is simultaneously understandable, debilitating and tedious. I wanted to push back and get eminent wise help in doing so.
The SIPRI Yearbook 2019 is now available on line. It registers key data in the world of peace and security in 2018 and establishes some of the basic indicators that let us track and assess the trends. It is not a comfortable picture.
You can get a quick take on it from my shorthand overview below and/or from the latest short film in our Peace Points series.
2018 was another year of uncertainty and a spreading feeling of insecurity. What could turn that round in 2019? Here are some thoughts:
There we are, another year, full of puzzlement and uncertainty. Some things moving forward (détente on the Korean peninsula, peace talks at last about Yemen), others regressing (world hunger on the rise, arms control crumbling, impacts of climate change unfolding), and other things hard to interpret. In this short film, the closing one of 2018 in SIPRI’s Peace Points series, I give my view. in the first one of 2019, I will take a look ahead at hopes for the coming year.
For 2018, I don’t really have a total on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The question that gets put at the beginning is, are we moving towards or away from midnight on the Doomsday clock? And my answer is a cross between ‘I don’t know’ and ‘Neither’ (i.e., no movement for either good or bad).
Happy (and PEACEFUL) New Year greetings to everyone!