The most gifted men and women have toiled since the beginning of civilization to end conflict and warfare without much ocular success. Fix your eyes upon the globe as it comes before you day after day. Conflict and carnage seem ubiquitous: Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Chechnya, the Philippines, Thailand, Kashmir, etc. The list seems horrifyingly endless. The United Nations has no excuse for its failure to pluck universal peace in the planet from the profoundly flawed human species.
Prosperity is as much to be coveted as peace. That is because prosperity means more than wealth and luxury. Indeed, it means the opposite. Prosperity means a spiritual and moral flourishing that celebrates the better angels of us. It means self-discipline, austerity, magnanimity, and selflessness. On that score, there is no tangible progress. UNICEF estimates 8.1 million children die annually because of the stinginess of wealthy nations.
The most promising way to prevent conflict is to eliminate its causes. The latter are well known. Violence and mayhem ensue because of mankind’s desire for domination, wealth, territory, fame, revenge, and destruction of people and things that are disliked for religious, racial, ethnic, political, cultural, or other reasons. Accordingly, the United Nations should summon the persons of international standing in the world to teach a global audience to be responsive to their facilitation to set a stage for the elimination of the root-causes of the conflict. As Donald Trump, the President-elect said on October 17, 2016 that he would be honored to mediate between India and Pakistan to address the “very, very hot tinderbox” of Kashmir. As we know that it has been universally accepted that the bone of contention of the tensions between India and Pakistan is the unresolved dispute over Kashmir.
Candor compels the conclusion, however, that the ingredients of conflict and violence will remain with mankind for the indefinite future, despite the collaborative efforts of the men of international standing to make these phenomena museum pieces in the history of civilization. Even the most heralded champion of non-violence in modern times, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., died at the hand of a gunman who had not been persuaded of the superiority of pacifism. Thus, suboptimal approaches to eradicating conflict from the face of the planet must be considered. On that score, the United Nations has much to offer.
Preventive diplomacy has proven a sparkling success in some areas but failure in many. Specialists at the United Nations routinely spot places where conflict is brewing, either between nations or within a nation’s borders. For example, the United Nations identified the possibility of renewed warfare between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and dispatched diplomats accordingly. As a consequence, a full-scale war in Africa was averted. History has taught that warfare and conflict yield death, destruction, and misery.
There are occasions, however, when preventive diplomacy fails. A backstop is necessary in such cases. And the backstop regrettably means abandoning non-violent solutions. When indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic initiated ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, pleas that he reverse course under the banner of human rights and saintliness were given a deaf ear. Milosevic persisted. Hundreds of thousands were herded into Macedonia and Albania. Tens of thousands were killed. Human rights violations stalked the land. Likewise, preventive diplomacy failed in the region of South Asia to resolve the Kashmir conflict because of the obduracy of one of the parties to the dispute – India.
Confidence building measures also hold promise of averting conflict. Many divisions between peoples and nations come about because of suspicion born of ignorance or mistrust. Confidence building gambits seek to overcome such sinister gaps by thickening contacts and information between adversaries. For instance, two nations might collaborate in preparing textbooks that avoid distortions and propaganda, which foster strife and hatreds. The Chinese and Japanese teach about World War II in dramatically conflicting ways. Kashmiri and Indian chronicles of the invasion by the Indian army in October 1947 are at sharp variance. Even the map of South Asia is in variance, depending whether it was produced by the United Nations or by the Government of India. The former shows it as a disputed territory, while as the latter as integral part of India.
An additional confidence building measure pivots on information. Instant messaging and broadband communications should link all defense and foreign ministries together. The greater the information exchange, the less probability of misunderstandings causing violence or conflict. As recently, we have seen that a telephone call between national security advisors of India and Pakistan on October 4, 2016 was instrumental in diffusing the tension between these two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Fact-finding is a further tool to mitigate or avoid conflict. Nations frequently disagree over facts vital to their bilateral relations. For example, Austria disagreed with Serbia over responsibility for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo. A fact-finding mission from an international organization might have authoritatively resolved the dispute and forestalled the monstrosity of World War I.
The United Nations enjoys several rich fact-finding opportunities. India and Pakistan sharply disagree over the reasons for the prolonged terrorism and conflict in Kashmir. A fact-finding mission as proposed by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on September 13, 2016 could investigate the cause of the conflict and pronounce fault wherever it might lie. India, Pakistan and Kashmiris might all accept the judgment. But even if a party does not, in the long run the fact-finding will create moral suasion against the party that declines to follow its conclusions.
But it seems to me that the most important fact-finding is not about geography but about political grievances. Fact-finding that would determine which political claims are legitimate and which are illegitimate could work wonders in forestalling such national calamities. I am not suggesting that the fact-finding will invariably succeed. The potential savings in human misery, however, are sufficiently compelling to make the fact-finding exercises worth the effort.
The United Nations is well equipped to orchestrate free and fair elections to end conflicts. Namibia, Mozambique, Cambodia, East Timor and Southern Sudan are splendid examples. The United Nations was prepared to conduct a free and fair plebiscite in Kashmir more than 69 years ago, but was stymied by India’s intransigence. Mountains of misery could have been averted if the United Nations had been permitted to step into the Kashmir breach. The new Secretary General-elect has the moral authority and legal obligation to create a conducive atmosphere for a free and fair election in Kashmir on both sides of the Cease-fire Line (CFL), conducted, monitored and supervised by the United Nations.
The United Nations is often criticized for its impotence, although United Nations has ameliorated some conflicts. Further, the United Nations cannot be greater than the sum of its parts. The failings of the UN are the failings of member countries to act decently and humanely as mandated by international law or morality.
In sum, the best method of conflict prevention is for member nations to take their obligations under the United Nations charter and human rights covenants seriously.