I hope my levity does not make it seem as if I am dismissing the human reality of the horrors we have witnessed in 2022 or downplaying the seriousness of the events and their implications. But it is the way I express my assessment of the year in a brief interview filmed and disseminated as part of SIPRI’s Peace Points series.
It has been a year of war, crisis, the impact of climate change, growing hunger in poorer countries, and increased cost of living everywhere – rich and poor countries alike. And it came on the back of three years of pandemic for most of the world and a fourth year for China.
There is no point in sugaring the pill. The upshot is that this has been a bad year for peace and security . The only way we can figure out how to deal with all of that is to face it head-on with eyes open. Here’s the film.
The bright spot is that more people are paying attention. That’s the starting point for something better.
2022: the year of insecurity – Ukraine, Taiwan, Ethiopia, happening against a background, as my last blog post set out, of record military spending, with refugee numbers already at a record high. It is tempting to think that this means we need to junk woolly thoughts about human security and suchlike and get back to old-style basics, in which security lies in a strong defence, in power, to be blunt, and more of it than any adversary has. It’s what is called realism in the study of international relations and the realist temptation today seems strong.
It is the direction in which the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the confrontation between China and the USA over Taiwan seem to be pushing us. A return to realism, hardening up NATO against Russia, though it’s worth acknowledging that the demand to get Western policy ‘back to realism’ is a long-standing idea . But why ever and whenever, it’s all about recognising that, if you get into trouble, only the exertion of power will get you out and that’s how it’s been for thousands of years.
Mm-hmm, except that 2022 is also the year of climate change: drought in China and Europe, floods in Pakistan, both in the Horn of Africa, unfolding in a context of several other aspects of serious environmental deterioration, as my last blog post also set out.
And since this means that the mix of challenges on today’s security horizon is not only complex and worrisome but also unprecedented, it suggests there is a need to think hard about what we mean by security – the security of whom or what, and against what – and, indeed, to be ready to rethink.
Well, yes, of course it is. All that is needed to start the process is that Russia, which started the war with its invasion, decides not to continue and pulls back.
That’s all that’s needed to start a peace process. But much more will be needed to sustain it and generate a real peace in Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine. Much more and many years and the process will always be fragile.
On 3 January, the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA, the P5) jointly stated that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. So say we all, I hope. But what does it mean for the P5 to say this, and to say it now?
The 2018 edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), a top level meeting on peace and security issues, was held on 16-18 February. Among the participants were “more than 30 heads of state and government and over 100 cabinet ministers from across the globe”. There was not much sense of actual security to be found. Continue reading →
And so to Beijing, as I might write in the diary I don’t keep, for the Seventh Xiangshan Forum, a big day-and-a-half conference on international security affairs. It is the third such event I have been to this year – first Munich, then Moscow and now Beijing. In some ways quite similar yet also very different, what can be gleaned from each? Continue reading →
Scanning forward across the conflict horizon reveals looming risks after two decades of growing peace. Connecting people and connecting issues, drawing on what we have learned over the past 20 years or so of peacebuilding, can renew the growth of peace. Continue reading →