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Korean Anniversary: Confidence-building Measures Still Needed

In Current Events, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, Asia, United Nations, United States, NGOs, Track II, Korean Peninsula on September 16, 2018 at 11:46 PM

By René Wadlow

Sunday, September 9 was the 70th anniversary of the creation of North Korea. As has been usual in recent years there was a very highly-structured ceremonial parade. Such mass events are used to convey policy priorities to its citizens and to the outside world. This year, the parade was less aggressively military than in the past and might be interpreted as placing an emphasis on socio-economic development.

It is never easy from the outside to decipher North Korean symbolism. It may even be difficult for North Korean citizens to understand the message. There will be later in September another summit meeting with the President of South Korea and we may see more clearer then if advances in tension reduction can be made.

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In the meantime, those of us involved in tension reduction work must keep knowing on doors to see if any will open or to put messages in bottles to see if any will reach decision-makers. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has stressed that there may be a possibility of small steps that build confidence between the two Korean States and that do not overly worry the USA and China who watch events closely and who may do more than watch. It is unlikely that any progress will be made in the foreseeable future concerning demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula or unification. Small steps are probably the ‘order of the day’. However, Track II – informal discussions which are not negotiations but a clarification of possible common interests and areas of joint action – can be helpful.

Track II efforts have not been on a scale to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, and the saber rattling of governments has done nothing to reduce tensions. “Fire and fury like the world has never seen” is probably not the vocabulary that leads to negotiations.

Time Is Running Out for Water: Ban Ki-moon

It is hard to know how seriously to take the saber rattling, but the sound is loud enough and the sabers are sharp enough that calmer spirits need to propose confidence-building measures. The AWC had proposed to the then Secretary-General of the United Nations (U. N.), Ban Ki-Moon to have a U.N.-led conference to transform the Korean War Armistice of 1953 into a Korean Peace Treaty. Such a Peace Treaty would confirm the international legitimacy of the two Korean States while not preventing at a later date a con-federation or other form of re-unification. Such a conference and Peace Treaty could play an important role in reducing regional tensions. However, such a conference would require a good deal of negotiations as all conditions would have to be agreed upon in advance. Diplomatic conferences “bless” efforts made before in private. A successful diplomatic conference rarely starts from zero.

Another avenue of confidence-building measures is what the University of Illinois psychology professor Charles Osgood called GRIT – Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction. He recommended an incremental series of conciliatory unilateral initiatives. They should be varied in nature, announced ahead of time without bargaining and continued only in response to comparable actions from the other party – a sort of “arms race in reverse”. Unilateral initiatives should, whenever possible, take advantage of mutual self-interest, mutual self-restraints and opportunities for cooperative enterprise.

As Osgood wrote, “the real problem is not the unavailability of actions that meet the criterion of mutual self-interest, but rather the psychological block against seeing them that way. The operation of psycho-logic on both sides makes it difficult for us to see anything that is good for them as being anything other than bad for ourselves. This is the familiar ‘if they are for it, we must be against it’ mechanism” (1)

Osgood directed his proposals for dealing with tension reduction so as to ease fear, foster more circumspect decisions in which many alternatives are considered, and modify the perceptual biases that fan the flames of distrust and suspicion. The most favorable feature of the GRIT approaches that it offers a means whereby one party can take the initiative in international relations rather than constantly reacting to the acts of others.

GRIT efforts were carried out concerning Korea in the early 1990s between Presidents of the USA and North Korea but rarely since. Currently, the governments of Russia and China have proposed a GRIT-type proposal of a “double freeze” – a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in return for a sharp reduction of U. S. military presence in South Korea.

A “double freeze” may be too large a shift at this stage. The AWC has proposed such steps as increased family contacts, cultural exchanges, increased food aid to the Democratic People’s Republic, a lessening of economic sanctions and an increase in trade.

There is a need to halt the automatic reaction to every provocation, and to “test the waters” for a reduction of tensions. Real negotiations may take some time to put into place, but GRIT-type unilateral measures are a possibility worth trying.

(1) Charles E. Osgood. An Alternative to War or Surrender (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1962)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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Kofi Annan (1938-2018): A way forward for the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on August 21, 2018 at 8:34 PM

By René Wadlow

 

“Over the years we have come to realize that it is not enough to send peacekeeping forces to separate warring parties. It is not enough to engage in peace-building efforts after societies have been ravaged by conflicts. It is not enough to conduct preventive diplomacy. All of this is essential work, but we want enduring results. We need, in short, a culture of peace.”

Kofi Annan.

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The homage which World Citizens can give to the memory of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), is to carry on his efforts for worldwide security and the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations with the presence of skilled mediators. As he wrote, “We must seek new common ground for our collective efforts.” World Citizens believe that UN Member States owe an obligation to each other to make good faith efforts to reach agreements consistent with the highest principles of world law. The UN was conceived to do more than to clear away the rubble of conflicts that it was unable to prevent.

Kofi Annan saw that the concept of a global society is growing piece by piece shaped by new possibilities of communication, transport, trade and finance. An effort must be made to find the aspirations of people to hold what they have in common and to express these world citizen values in ways that many can recognize and accept.

The relations between security, conflict resolution and respect for human rights have now assumed a more dynamic form than at any other time since the creation of the UN. Thus, there is a need for concerted attention and action of States and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs).

Kofi Annan was always sensitive to the role that NGOs could play in building a culture of peace. In 1997, he said that the UN should be “a bridge between civil society and governments.” He stressed that the role of NGOs was becoming increasingly important. The UN’s peacekeeping mandate had changed in that armed conflicts are increasingly taking place within rather than between States. Thus, peacekeeping efforts can involve electoral assistance, humanitarian aid, administrative support, and the protection of human rights.

There are at least three areas in which NGOs can cooperate effectively with the UN:

1) Fact-finding and early warning. In preventive diplomacy, NGOs, because of their familiarity with local situations are well placed to play a part in early warning by drawing the attention of governments to budding and emerging conflicts. Yet more must be done to coordinate activities to stop violence before it spreads. Coalition building can have a multiplier effect on the ability to understand the complexities of conflict before violence happens. Consultative mechanisms should be developed to enable NGOs to provide early warning information and to receive information from the UN.

2) Lines of communication. Diplomacy to keep channels of communication open between opponents is a difficult yet necessary task. Often one side will break contact which is then difficult to reestablish. Given its importance, better ways must be developed to communicate and, if desired, to pass on communications from one side to another.

3) Training. There is a need to utilize the mobilizing power of NGOs both in terms of people (networking) and resources, especially money. There is a need to develop networks among university-based specialists, NGOs and the conflicting parties themselves.

Kofi Annan was a model of calm networking and keeping lines of communication open.

We need to continue in his spirit.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Dampening the Fuse in the Wider Middle East

In Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on August 21, 2018 at 8:13 PM

By René Wadlow

 

In an article “The Fuse: A Chain of Nations in Conflict” in the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Number 2, 1980), Alan and Hanna Newcombe compared adjacent States in conflict to a fuse of a bomb which would be a wider or more violent armed conflict.

“The diffusion of war from nation to nation along the chain is facilitated by certain properties of the chain: geographic adjacency, high military preparedness, substantive conflicts between successive neighbors and a chain of two against one alliance which cause each nation to see itself surrounded by enemies.”

There is now a danger of creating such a chain of two against one alliance which would institutionalize the current divides among States in the wider Middle East. Tentatively set for October 12-13, President Trump plans to bring Arab allies to the White House to forge a military alliance against Iran. Officially known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, it is often called the “Arab NATO” – a Saudi-led effort that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan.

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Such a formal military-political alliance could be the match that sets the fuse burning. The wider Middle East is the scene of rapid socioeconomic change and political flux. Factions from this Arab-Islamic heartland are considered prime movers of terrorism, both within the heartland and reaching out to Europe and the USA. Countries from outside the heartland zone of instability, in particular the USA, Russia, and Western Europe consider this zone of Middle East important to their national interests.

Moreover, the Arab-Islamic heartland which includes Israel is by far the largest importer of major conventional weapons and associated military services. Hostility is the order of the day. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is the first rule of the conflict game.

Efforts by the United Nations (UN) to foster negotiations in good faith in the armed conflicts of Yemen, Syria, and Libya have not been successful. The withdrawal of the USA from the Iran Nuclear Accord has seriously weakened the Accord. Negotiations on Yemen are to start at the UN in Geneva in early September, but there are few signs that the parties in this conflict are willing to compromise. Negotiation among Israelis and Palestinians, at least in public, are at a dead point, and tensions are growing.

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A wider awareness of the fuse effect should lead to a wider vision of the issues. The lack of this wider vision is one of the major weakness of the policy making of States. A wider vision would stress three inter-related aspects:

– the wide geographic area and the impact of extra-regional States;

– the many regional factors that interact: the social structures, the economic production, ethnic loyalties, religious convictions, political power struggles, external influences;

– the longtime dimension which has created the institutions and the attitudes now present.

Thus, there is a need for what is likely to be a slow and difficult reweaving of the social fabric of the Arab-Islamic heartland: a social weave that will include many different ethnic groups and religious currents, a weave that will integrate people at very different stages of modernization. This weave of a new society will have to integrate Israel which is a regional power in the same way that Israel will have to integrate the Arab-Islamic culture as a legitimate component of Israeli society. The weave of a new Arab-Islamic society will contain three types of strands:

– new attitudes;

– new institutions of consultation, compromise and cooperation;

– new governmental policies based on compromise and cooperation.

The Association of World Citizens has for a good number of years proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with full recognition of all States in the region, with steps toward a Middle East Common Market, and cooperation on water issues. Such a Middle East Conference is based on the Helsinki Conference of 1973-1975.

Some seeds for a Middle East version of the Helsinki process were planted but have not yet sprouted. The 1975 Helsinki Final Act has a chapter entitled “Questions relating to security and cooperation in the Mediterranean”. The link between security in Europe and the Mediterranean has been formalized starting in 1994 with the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel. It is theoretically possible for leadership from these six states to propose an enlargement. Libya and Lebanon can also be considered Mediterranean. One could also start with a totally new process – inspired by the example of the Helsinki process but with no organic link.

Thus, it is not an “Arab NATO” which is called for but a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East that is needed.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Freedom From Fear: Still an Unmet Goal

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on July 27, 2018 at 6:13 PM

By René Wadlow

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945) in his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address to Congress presented the “Four Freedoms”, much of the world was at war: German troops were advancing in Europe as were the Japanese armies in China. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) said then, “I suppose that every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world – assailed either by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discords in nations that are still at peace … And the assailants are still on the march, threatening other nations, great and small.” Territorial conquest and resistance against occupation was the focus of attention of much of the world’s population.

The United States was not yet at war and defined its position as neutral. Many Americans hoped to be able to stay out of the war, having been disillusioned by the continuation of “power politics” in Europe and Asia after the end of the First World War despite the creation of the League of Nations.

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In 1941, FDR was in the process of changing his own focus of attention from a “New Deal” President primarily concerned with the domestic consequences of the world-wide economic depression to becoming a world leader articulating liberal values for all the world’s population, and playing a major role in the founding of the United Nations (UN). Thus, in his presentation to Congress, he stressed world themes and called upon people to lift their eyes above the current aggression and control of land to focus upon the broader themes of a positive way of life.

The “Four Freedoms” presented to Congress were the essential need and right of every citizen of the world. As FDR put it “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understanding which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants –everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.
    That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation”

Earlier in the address, FDR had outlined some of the steps needed to build the socio-economic framework for freedom from want:

  • Equality of opportunity;
  • Jobs;
  • Security;
  • The ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The employment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

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Many of those who would lead the struggle against colonialism in Asia and Africa heard in the Four Freedoms “everywhere in the world” the moral basis of their fight for equality and freedom. The address also inspired those in Latin America who felt the domination of United States economic power and who knew that political independence was only part of the story.

FDR held forth the possibility that the Four Freedoms would be attainable “in our own time and generation”. Thus, FDR calls us – especially those of us who were alive if not always politically active in 1941 – to analyze where we are today.

Freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion were relatively easy to incorporate into articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a Declaration which owes much to Eleanor Roosevelt, the first Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights during its drafting stage (1946-1948).

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Today, the UN Human Rights Council has Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and freedom of conscience which, each year, studies accusations of violations. They enter into discussions with governments so that government practice meets international standards. There are effective nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) which monitor the situation and who provide detailed information to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Likewise, there are problems concerning government limitations on freedom of expression and concern with the degree of concentration of power in a few private world communication empires, but no government today openly questions the right to freedom of expression.

Freedom from want has been difficult to translate into reality, although in the speeches of government, NGO and business representatives, there is wide agreement that poverty is a bad thing. Nevertheless, a haunting fear for many in the world – probably about one third of the world’s population – is daily survival: finding food, clean water, reasonable shelter, adequate protection against illness. Much of the work of the UN and its Specialized Agencies as well as numerous NGOs is devoted to the effort to provide “freedom from want”. Yet more needs to be done if we are to shoulder the responsibility of ridding the world of the constant fear of want.

Freedom from fear has been even more difficult to translate into daily reality, in part because fear has an individual character linked to self-alienation and its accompanying anxiety.

In FDR’s original presentation freedom from fear was directly linked to disarmament and measures against aggression. Unfortunately, there has been little “disarmament dividend” since the end of the Cold War in 1990 symbolized by the signing in November 1990 of the “Charter of Paris on the New Europe”. While there is no longer a reason to fear a war between the USA and Russia which could have led to a nuclear exchange, world politics is still largely determined by the nuclear-weapon States: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. Military budgets remain high – that of the USA reaches amounts that are difficult to justify even if one believes that arms provide “security”.

There are many armed conflicts within a State. Trans-frontier arms trade remains high and increasingly involves private as well as government buyers and sellers. The tasks which FDR set out for us in 1941 are still with us. The UN, national governments and NGOs all have a role to play in establishing the Four Freedoms at the heart of daily life. Thus, we must direct our thoughts along the lines of cooperation and creativeness.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Global Compact for Migration: A Necessary First Step

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Europe, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, World Law on July 15, 2018 at 9:17 PM

By René Wadlow

On July 12, 2018, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly agreed to the text of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration after more than a year of discussions among Member States, nongovernmental organizations, academic specialists on migration issues as well as interviews with migrants and refugees.

The discussion had gained visibility in September 2016 at the UN General Assembly which set out the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. As a result, the International Organization for Migration, created in 1951 largely to deal with displaced people after the Second World War, was more formally integrated into the UN “family”.

Antonio Guterres

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, welcomed the Global Compact, saying it reflected “the shared understanding by Governments that cross-border migration is, by its very nature, an international phenomenon and that effective management of this global reality requires international cooperation to enhance its positive impact for all. It also recognizes that every individual has the right to safety, dignity and protection.”

M-Lajcak

However, the General Assembly President, Miroslav Lajcak, also indicated the limitations of the agreement saying “It does not encourage migration, nor does it aim to stop it. It is not legally binding. It does not dictate. It will not impose. And it fully respects the sovereignty of States.” The Global Compact will be formally adopted by Member States at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on December 10-11. Thus, it is useful to see what the Compact does do and what non-governmental organizations concerned need to do between now and early December.

Citizens of the world have stressed that the global aspects of migration flows have an impact on all countries. The changing nature of the world’s economies modify migration patterns, and there is a need to plan for migration as the result of possible environmental-climate changes.

The current flow of migrants and refugees to Europe has become a high profile political issue. Many migrants come from areas caught up in armed conflict: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia. The leaders of the European Union (EU) have been divided and unsure in their responses. Local solidarity networks that offer food, shelter, and medical care are overwhelmed. Political debates over how to deal with the refugees have become heated, usually with more heat than light. The immediacy of the refugee exodus requires our attention, our compassion, and our sense of organization.

Migrants

EU officials have met frequently to discuss how to deal with the migrant-refugee flow, but a common policy has so far been impossible to establish. At a popular level, there have been expressions of fear of migrants, of possible terrorists among them, and a rejection of their cultures. These popular currents, often increased by right-wing political parties make decisions all the more difficult to take. An exaggerated sense of threat fuels anti-immigration sentiments and creases a climate of intolerance and xenophobia.

Therefore, the Association of World Citizens, which is in consultative status with the UN, is stressing the need for cooperative efforts carried out in good faith to meet the challenges of worldwide migration and continuing refugee flows. There is a need to look at both short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate.

We know that there are governments whose view is that “Yes, there are migrants and refugees, but we do not want them here. Our first and last line of defense is SOVEREIGNTY.” In addition to these governments, there are political parties and groups with a less legalistic line of defense. There are shades of racism and religious prejudice that go from pale to very strongly colored. We can expect these groups to be very active between now and early December to push government to indicate that the Global Compact is not a treaty, is not binding, and will not influence national decision making.

Thus, it is up to those holding World Citizen Values of equality, respect, cooperation and living in harmony with Nature to be even more active before December so that the Global Compact will serve as a framework for governmental and civil society action.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Gaza Crisis: A Cooperative Way Forward

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on May 15, 2018 at 8:38 PM

“Men take great decisions only when crisis stares them in the face.”

Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of the European Comment Market

The shooting of Palestinian protesters by the Israeli military on May 14, 2018 on the frontier between the Gaza Strip and Israel has increased persistent tensions to a crisis level. The veto by the United States (USA) of a resolution within the United Nations (UN) Security Council to create an independent investigation of the situation prevents a clearer presentation of the situation.

The protests had a double theme: A short-term and a longer-term focus. The short term focus was on the need for an immediate improvement of social and economic life by lifting the blockage of goods imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt. The long-lasting embargo has crippled, and in some cases destroyed, the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in the Gaza Strip. The economic and social situation in Gaza distorts the lives of many with high unemployment, poor health facilities, and a lack of basic supplies.

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The longer-range issue is the right of return which gave the protest its name: The Great Return March. The issue concerns the claim of Palestinians to land and homes that they left at the time of the creation of the State of Israel due to the armed conflict which followed quickly after the proclamation of the State of Israel. The possibilities of financial compensation, of the return of a number of Palestinians, of financial compensation to Jews who left Arab countries at the same time are all issues that will be raised when there are serious negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Negotiations on a broad range of issues and the creation of new, more just government structures are certainly needed. However, the strength of tensions and conflicts in the wider Middle East make it difficult to see when such over-all negotiations might start. Therefore, it may be useful to look at partial ways forward, perhaps starting with Gaza where current tensions are great.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) believes that there must be a sharp break in this pattern of violence by creating institutions of security, development, and cooperation. This association believes that longer-lasting measures must be undertaken that will allow new patterns of understanding and cooperation to be established.

In an earlier UN discussion of Gaza tensions, the AWC had proposed in a written statement to the Human Rights Council “Human Rights in Gaza: Need for a Special Focus and Specific Policy Recommendations” (A/HCR/S-12/NGO-1, October 14, 2009) that a Gaza Development Authority be created, a transnational economic effort that would bring together the skills, knowledge and finance from Gaza, Israel, the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, and Egypt to create conditions which would facilitate the entry of other partners.

Our proposal is obviously inspired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) of the US “New Deal”. The TVA was a path-making measure to overcome the deep economic depression of the 1930s in the USA and the difficulties of cooperative action across state frontiers in the federal structure of the USA.

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In May 1933, in a message to Congress, President Roosevelt suggested that an Authority should be a “corporation clothed with the power of Government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise. It should be charged with the broadest duty of planning for the proper use, conservation and development of the natural resources of the Tennessee River drainage basin and its adjoining territory for the general social and economic welfare of the Nation… If we are successful here, we can march on, step by step in the development of other great natural territorial units.” Some quickly saw the international use of the TVA. A study by the economist Herman Finer in a 1944 International Labor Office study TVA: Lessons for International Applications is an example.

Today, the deep divisions in the Israel-Palestine area require more than economic measures − although economy and raising the standards of living remain important elements. Today, there should be a structure which provides security as well as economic advancement.

Therefore, the AWC proposes the creation of an International Temporary Transition Administration for Gaza that would promote security, stabilization, economic development, and institution building. Such a Transitional Administration would be limited in time from the start, perhaps five years.

Unlike the earlier UN Trusteeship agreements which followed upon the League of Nations mandate pattern, the Gaza Transitional Authority would welcome civil society cooperation from outside the area. Such a Transitional Administration cannot be imposed. We request a UN Secretariat study on what such a Transitional Administration would require and encourage discussion among those most directly involved.

The current crisis in the Gaza area requires bold, new approaches. The wider Middle East has many conflicts which could expand. Thus, creative advances in the Gaza situation could create a change in attitudes and a willingness to create new forms of cooperative action.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

UN Focus on Forests

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Environmental protection, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on May 6, 2018 at 10:17 PM

By René Wadlow

Humanity is challenged today to be conscious of the consequences of beliefs and actions on the protection of the Planet. While there have always been some people concerned with the safeguarding of the physical world, never before have the issues of individual and collective behavior been as central to political considerations.

Thus from May 7 to May 11, the thirteenth session of the United Nations (UN) Forum on Forests (UNFF13) will be held in New York. The Forum helps to sensitize political leaders to the complexity and magnitude of the challenges facing sustainable forest management. There are two major issues that are discussed in the Forum. The first is the status of “subsistence forestry” practiced by the vast majority of rural people. The second issue is the role of government policy and practice toward private corporations, many of whom are rapidly destroying forests in their search for new resources to exploit.

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With more than half of the world’s forests already altered, degraded or converted to other land uses such as agriculture or pasture, and much of the rest subject to illegal exploitation and poor management, ecologically-sound forest management is the only way of ensuring the survival of the world’s forests. In fact, there is a great need for reforestation activities. The task of turning the tide of attention away from efforts to limit deforestation toward reforestation is a daunting one. We need to work together cooperatively to leave the Earth greener than we found it.

Nongovernmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the UN, such as the Association of World Citizens, play an important role in these Forums. However, there remains much to do to translate discussions at the UN whose aim is to develop awareness into action at the national and local level.

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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Airstrikes Alone Won’t Stop Assad – Instead, Let’s Stop Failing Syria’s Civil Society

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on April 21, 2018 at 7:32 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

In April 2017 and once again earlier this month, United States (U. S.) President Donald J. Trump brought into the Syrian conflict something that had never been in it before, upsetting even his own supporters who had bought a very different speech from him as a presidential candidate back home in America. Having campaigned for “dialogue” with the Russian Federation and urged support for the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, against the terrorist threat as posed by the Islamic State (IS), Trump ended up striking the very Assad regime he had called on the world to stand by.

Until the first U. S. strike took place on April 6, 2017, the only strikes that had taken place in the region had been against the IS, albeit with little success in bringing down the terrorist organization – a job that the Iraqi army and Syria’s own Kurds from the northern entity of Rojava ended up doing instead. But now, a seemingly invulnerable Assad was in danger too.

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Throughout the world, those who had remained silent as the Syrian President was slaughtering his own people started blasting Trump as a global thug, just for the non-lethal strikes the U. S. had conducted on chemical weapons research sites in Syria. However questionable Trump’s foreign policy may be in other respects, what in the world was it that made him less defensible than a Bashar al-Assad who has spent the last seven years inflicting unspeakable suffering to his own people?

Some were led by primary anti-imperialist thoughts, leading them to view Assad as a hero for standing up to the USA; others were simply acting on knee-jerk islamophobia, confusing Islam with fundamentalism and unduly hailing Assad as a secular progressive. The same kind of confusion that turned haters of fascism into Hitler supporters against communism.

Yet misguided pacifism should never make us forget that a handful of airstrikes, largely symbolical and non-impact in mere military terms, will never provide the basis for a long-term policy to resolve an armed conflict that has claimed so many lives and driven scores of people away from their homes.

What’s New in Syria? Civil Society

Punishing the regime with an airstrike for committing a chemical attack was hardly a departure from what had taken place so far. For seven years, a brutal, obsessively repressive Syrian government has locked the Middle East and, beyond that, the entire world in a paradigm of realism – the theory of international relations that dictates that military power is the one thing guiding the walk of life between nations.

A major shift has been made from the liberal theory of international relations, a theory under which international rules and institutions are paramount to the functioning of the international community – such as the United Nations (UN) and its Security Council, recklessly hijacked by Russia and China through the two nations’ systematic use of the veto to block any action against the Syrian tyranny.

Much more than being a solution, the airstrikes are thus a problem – just as much as Assad’s conduct, never really opposed by the international community, only “deplored” in international forums, is the original problem. Both, though, are but symptoms of the real disease.

Protesters carry opposition flags and chant slogans during an anti-government protest in the rebel-held town of Dael

As a great many commentators have observed, including Syrian dissident Yassin Al Haj Saleh in his 2016 book La Question Syrienne (1), throughout the reign of the Assad dynasty, the people of Syria have been set aside. Geopolitics alone has been behind the wheel, not least through the long-running occupation of the Syrian plateau of Golan by Israel and Syria’s hold on Lebanon which lasted from the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s to 2005 and the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt which were first to rise against their tyrants during the Arab Spring of 2011, and more like Libya under Colonel Gaddafi, until then, Syria did not have a full-fledged civil society. Nongovernmental organizations there would be neutral charities operating under the auspices of the First Lady, Asma al-Assad. Any other private sector organizations, such as trade unions, are basically spawns of, or directly controlled by, the ruling Ba’ath Party. Founding an organization without seeking state sanction meant assured prosecution and, most of the time, imprisonment. The very first instance was the Declaration of Damascus in 2004, a broad-tent platform which brought together most components of the Syrian opposition, from the Communists to the Islamists. Most of its founders and members were jailed by the authorities, and then forced to flee the country after their release.

Along with literature, as more books by Syrians have been published since 2011 than under the whole Assad dictatorship “undisturbed”, the revolution unleashed a new power among the Syrian people – civil society. Since the early days of the revolution, independent Syrian groups have appeared at a steady pace throughout the world, ranging from think tanks to relief organizations, signaling that the Syrian people would no longer keep their thoughts and hopes to themselves, no matter how harsh repression back home may be.

Repression, both by the Assad regime and, from 2014 to 2017, the then “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”, a formerly minor jihadi group which had grown to outpower even the Iraqi army and prey on, much more than the Syrian military, the Free Syrian Army of the Syrian revolution. Reared under the Assad dictatorship’s infamous prison regime, IS leaders and members would not hear one word too many in that “caliphate” they had created along the Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria.

A Syrian civil society that grew like a mushroom town has taken the entire world, and the factions to the Syrian conflict itself, by surprise. But has it been able to really play a role in shaping Syria’s future?

The UN Civil Society Support Room – Failure at the Highest Level?

Arguably, Syrian civil society groups have been no major players in the battle of wills between those nations defending the Assad regime and those confronting it – albeit in a lukewarm, versatile manner, like France since Emmanuel Macron became President.

One man who, for all his political failures, cannot be blamed for not trying is Staffan de Mistura, the Italian-Swedish diplomat who has been since 2014 the United Nations (UN) and Arab League Envoy for Syria. In January 2016, de Mistura created a Civil Society Support Room (CSSR) meant as a tool for the participation of civil society groups in the Geneva rounds of peace talks over Syria, composed of groups invited to take part on a rotating basis. Funded by the foreign ministries of Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the European Union, the CSSR is managed jointly by Swisspeace and the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution (NOREF).

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Staffan de Mistura

Located near de Mistura’s own office at the Palais des Nations, the CSSR mainly reflects his inventor’s belief that there is no military solution to the armed conflict, only a negotiated, diplomatic outcome. Accordingly, the Special Envoy has cared to bring together groups from both the new Syrian civil society, most of them based abroad, and the regime’s own supporters within Syria proper.

While having proved an outstanding achievement in terms of Track II diplomacy, possibly offering a framework to be followed in other instances of civil unrest, the CSSR also has its shortcomings, some of which have even turned out to call into question the credibility and viability of the mechanism itself. As researchers Sara Hellmüller and Marie-Joëlle Zahar note in a report published by the International Peace Institute (2) – Hellmüller also being on the CSSR management team – a seemingly unsolvable lack of “tangible outcomes”, as they put it, means three life-threatening challenges for the CSSR.

First, as time goes by and nothing changes, participating groups are led to doubt the usefulness of their presence, when not questioned by their own constituents about it. Second, although de Mistura has constantly undertaken to maintain a “balance” within the CSSR, inviting groups from both the revolutionary and pro-regime civil societies, those revolutionary organizations based outside Syria often have issues with visas from the host governments or “personal security concerns” (3). Third, besides the successful diplomatic exercise and symbolical achievement of bringing civil society together, participating groups seldom agree on what issues should be dealt with, whether everyday concerns or longer-term prospects for Syria, and even when they do, opportunities to interact with de Mistura’s own office often turn out to offer little interest, if any at all.

Similarly, a Women’s Advisory Board created simultaneously with the CSSR has drawn suspicion from revolutionary groups for including ranking female supporters of the Assad regime, viewed as mere mouthpieces for the very government whose harsh repression of dissent has sparked the war.

In both committees, one problem makes it a lot harder for revolutionary groups based within Syria: Some group representatives who managed to travel to Geneva learned upon arrival, or while taking part in meetings, that their home area had been bombed or otherwise attacked by regime forces, killing or injuring some of their loved ones there.

Faced with as many difficulties, some groups invited to join the CSSR ended up throwing in the towel. On November 28, 2017, ten Syrian organizations led by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR), all invited on November 21 to join the CSSR on November 28-30, plainly rejected de Mistura’s invitation. The ten groups, among them the Violations Documentation Center founded by lawyer Razan Zaitouneh who was abducted in 2013 and has been unheard of since, blamed de Mistura for not bringing their concerns to the UN Security Council as they expected him to, criticized an overly loose and vague meeting agenda, blasted the overly short time between the invitation’s issuance and the actual meeting which left no time for prior preparation, and basically sent off the inviting staff for being unable to answer specific questions due to lack of knowledge on the issue. (4)

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and at the end stands the CSSR as a good idea turned into an honorable failure.

The Key to a Viable Future in Syria

There lies the danger – depriving Syria of a viable, free civil society is the biggest threat that one might impose on the already devastated country, with little prospects of rebuilding as long as the Assad regime will be in place, ruling over a vanquished people but itself reduced to a mere pawn of its Iranian and Russian allies.

Isolated series of airstrikes cannot bring an end to the war, let alone provide a political agenda for a free, peaceful Syria. Even the Syrian revolution does not want outside intervention; what it wants is the means and ability to fight it out with the Assad dictatorship. Only two kinds of armed forces in Syria have resorted to specially-recruited foreign fighters thus far: groups with religious claims, not only jihadi groups but also Christian armed groups, and the Marxist-inspired northwestern Kurdish entity of Rojava. Free Syrians do not want a Third Gulf War between the West and a Mideast country, but a chance to oust Assad on their own, as nearly happened in 2012 and 2015, and build a better future for themselves in their own land. If anybody can enable them to do so, civil society can.

Then what can and should be done? In their protest to Staffan de Mistura, SN4HR and the nine other organizations listed five recommendations, logically inspired by the shortcomings they had cited to turn down de Mistura’s invitation:

“1. Prior involvement of civil society organizations in identifying the topics for the meeting in consultation with the office of the special envoy.

2. The contribution of the organizations in developing frameworks and discussion points for the meeting.

3. The assignment of people who are specialized in the topic of meeting in the process of sending invitations and communication with the Syrian organizations.

4. The full inclusion of the results of the Civil Society Support Room meetings in the periodic briefings of the Special Envoy to the Security Council.

5. Concluding the work of the Civil Society Support Room with a press conference that communicates to the Syrians and the world the results of the Civil Society Support Room meeting.”

These principles could be wisely extended to any forum, whether national, regional or international, where Syrian civil society groups ever get a chance to speak or otherwise express their views. But, since “Charity begins at home”, strengthening Syrian civil society must happen first and foremost in Syria proper, however unrealistic that might seem in view of the Assad regime’s increasingly merciless repression of resistance.

Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli, a longtime activist against the Assad dynasty who has lived in, and campaigned from, France for a number of years, does not say otherwise. “In Syria, civil society was totally controlled by the Mukhabarat, the state intelligence agency. All associations, trade unions, and other civil society groups came under constant scrutiny. There was never a real public debate. True free expression from civil society within Syria came started only in mid-2012, and as more and more areas were liberated from state control in 2013, it grew even stronger. Security was the main concern for these groups.”

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Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli

Thus, says Darkazanli, first things first. “What Syrian civil society needs is better funding, which makes it possible to develop more viable and reliable agendas and to better train activists within the various groups. Ultimately, an efficient mechanism of control and financial traceability are needed, too.”

But, as Darkazanli himself points out and the CSSR’s saddest records show, no civil society can hope to properly function when heavy shelling ruins all its efforts and realizations. So, concludes Darkazanli, “As a prerequisite, there must be a secured territory, where people can feel safe and accordingly build and serve the community free from fear!”

Airstrikes may bring some deterrent, but they can never replace a body of civil society created by a people who were, after almost fifty years of dynastic tyranny, finally learning to be free. Looking closer at the way that Donald J. Trump and Emmanuel Macron treat their own civil societies at home, neither of them is truly qualified to teach any lessons to a foreign country, however tyrannical its government might be. Then, “exporting democracy” through armed intervention does not have an impressive record in neighboring Iraq, or in Libya where chaos prevails with no end in sight.

As a people erased from existence by their government for nearly half a century, Syrians have a willingness to act for a different, better future. Despite strategic differences, sometimes more than that, between two or more of these groups, they have created a civil society that may be in exile but is up and running. All they need is true support and empowerment to provide opportunities for a better future, a prospect that truly scares the Assad dynasty a lot more than all the airstrikes that the armed forces of the three Western Permanent Members of the UN Security Council can carry out will ever do.

(1) Yassin al Haj Saleh, La Question syrienneActes Sud, 2016.

(2) Sara Hellmüller and Marie-Joëlle Zahar, Against the Odds: Civil Society in the Intra-Syrian Talks, International Peace Institute, March 2018.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Statement by Syrian human rights organizations on the invitation to the Civil Society Support Room in Geneva, November 28, 2017, Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Syria: “Is this how you want international affairs to be conducted now?”

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 18, 2018 at 8:40 PM

By René Wadlow

In the emergency United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting called by Russia on April 14, 2018, the Russian Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, asked of the representatives of the USA, France and the UK “Is this how you want international affairs to be conducted now?” He was referring to the coordinated air strikes of the USA, France and the UK aimed at targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons programs.

The use of violence as an instrument of world politics is not a new idea as the Ambassador may know if he reflects on Russian history. But Russian history may also remind him that it was a diplomat of the Czar who suggested the first Hague Peace Conference and its efforts to limit the means used in war. The 1925 Geneva Protocol is a direct outgrowth of the “Hague spirit.”

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Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.

A suspected chemical-weapon attack on April 7, 2018 on rebel-held Douma, a city of some 130,000 near Damascus, had killed at least 50 people and sickened hundreds more. The attack may have been of weaponized chlorine and nerve agents possibly sarin. The Assad government has been accused of using chemical weapons before – charges which the government has denied saying that chemical arms were used by rebel factions such as Jaysh al Islam.

A major issue is that the use of chemical weapons, probably sarin or a sarin-like substance is in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare of which Syria is a party, among the 135 governments which have signed. The attack was also a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction which came into force in 1997. The Convention created The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria signed the Convention in 2013 as part of a compromise decision to have its chemical-weapon stock destroyed.

The use of poison gas strikes deep, partly subconscious, reactions not provoked in the same way as seeing someone shot by a machine gun. The classic Greeks and Romans had a prohibition against the use of poison in war, especially poisoning water wells because everyone needs to drink. Likewise poison gas is abhorred because everyone needs to breath.

There is a real danger that the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the oldest norms of humanitarian international law will be undermined and the use of chemical weapons “normalized”. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is already investigating the use of chemical weapons in seven other locations in Syria and new inspectors arrived in Syria on April 13.

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A protest by Syrian revolution activists and supporters in Paris on March 30.

Chemical weapons have been used in armed conflicts in the Middle East before. Although Egypt had signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, Egyptian forces used chemical weapons widely in their support of the republican forces in the Yemen Civil War (1962-1967) with very few international outcries. As a result of the lack of any sanctions against Egypt, Syria requested Egyptian technical assistance in developing its own chemical weapons capabilities shortly after 1967 – well before the al-Assad dynasty came to power.

Humanitarian international law is largely based on self-imposed restraints. Humanitarian international law creates an obligation to maintain the protection of all non-combatants caught in the midst of violent conflicts as set out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. Moreover, there is an urgent need to focus special attention on the plight of children. They are the least responsible for the conflict and yet are most vulnerable. They need special protection. The norms to protect children in armed conflicts are set out clearly in the Additional Protocols which has 25 articles specifically pertaining to children. The norms are also clearly stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally ratified international treaty. The Convention calls for the protection of the child’s right to life, education, health and other fundamental needs. These provisions apply equally in times of armed conflict and in times of peace.

As with the use of weapons prohibited by international treaty: chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions, the protection of children must be embodied in local values and practice. The classic Chinese philosopher Mencius, in maintaining that humans were basically good, used the example of a child about to fall into a well who would be saved by anyone regardless of status or education.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has called for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of humanitarian, international law. There needs to be a world-wide effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to re-affirm humanitarian values and the international treaties which make them governmental obligations.

Limiting the use of chemical weapons or other banned weapons such as land mines and cluster munitions is only part of what is required. There needs to be negotiations in good faith to put an end to the armed conflict. The AWC has called for good-faith negotiations among all the parties from the start of what was at first non-violent demonstrations in March 2011. Neither the Government nor the opposition were willing to set an agenda or a timetable for good-faith negotiations. The Government held out vague promises for reform but without giving details and without open discussion among those concerned. As the fighting has escalated, the possibility of good-faith negotiations has increasingly faded despite efforts by the UN mediators to facilitate such negotiations.

The situation has become increasingly complex as new actors play increasingly active roles. The entry of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies into the city of Afrin after two months of fighting in the area of this largely Kurdish-populated city on the frontier with Turkey. It is impossible to know if this is a limited show-of-force or the first steps of a broader anti-Kurdish policy in northern Syria.

There is a growing awareness that there is a dangerous stalemate and that there is no military “solution”. It is often at this “stalemate” stage of a conflict that parties turn to a negotiated compromise. (1) The dangers of a wider conflict with more States involved are real. Thus the situation requires careful concerted action both on the part of governments and nongovernmental organizations.

Note
1) See Louis Kriesberg and Stuart Thorson (Eds) Yiming, The De-Escalation of International Conflicts (Syracuse University Press, 1991)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

International Decade of Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 10, 2018 at 7:50 AM

By René Wadlow

On March 22, World Water Day, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed “The International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028. The Decade seeks to forge new partnerships and to strengthen capacity to manage fresh water supplies and sustainable use. Ecologically-sound water use is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, N°6 “Ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” The aim of the Water Decade is to raise the profile of water in the global agenda of governments and nongovernmental organizations.

There have already been two UN-sponsored Water Decades: 1981-1990, and a second decade called UN Water for Life Decade, 2005-2015. Water and sanitation have been set out as human rights and the UN Human Rights Council has a Special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, most recently Mr. Leo Heller. However, real difficulties remain. Some 660 million people still draw water from an unimproved source. Urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change all put pressure on water supply and use.

We will look briefly at an aspect of the world-wide water challenge: desertification and at some of the steps which the UN along with non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN are taking to meet this challenge creatively.

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UN efforts began in 1977 with the United Nations Conference on Desertification held in Nairobi. The desertification conference was convened by the UN General Assembly in the midst of a series of catastrophic droughts in the Sudan-Sahelian region of Africa. The conference was designed to be the centerpiece of a massive world-wide attack to arrest the spread of deserts or desert-like conditions not only in Africa south of the Sahara but wherever such conditions encroached on the livelihood of those who lived in the desert or in its destructive path. The history of the conference is vividly recalled by James Wallis in his book Land, Men and Sand (New York: Macmillan, 1980)

At the conference, there was a call for the mobilization of human and financial resources to hold and then push back the advancing desert. “Attack” may have been the wrong word and “mobilization” too military a metaphor for the very inadequate measures taken after the conference in the Sudan-Sahelian area. Today, there are still real possibilities of famine in West and East Africa on the edges of the desert. Niger and Mali and parts of Senegal and Chad in the Sahel belt are facing the consequences of serious drought as are parts of northern Kenya and Somalia.

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The most dramatic case is that of Darfur, Sudan which partakes of the Sahel drought but which also faces a war in which conflicts between pastoralists and settled agriculturalists have become politicized. It is estimated that over 300,000 people have been killed since the start of the war in late 2003. Some two and a half million people have been uprooted. The agricultural infrastructure of homes, barns and well have been deliberately destroyed. It will be difficult and costly to repair this destruction. The Darfur conflict highlights the need for a broader approach to the analysis and interpretation of active and potential armed conflicts in the Sahel region. This analysis needs to take into consideration the impact of environmental scarcity and climate variation in complex situations.

What are the causes of the desertification process? The destruction of land that was once productive does not stem from mysterious and remorseless forces of nature but from the action of humans. Desertification is a social phenomenon. Humans are both the despoiler and the victim of the process. Increasingly, populations are eking out a livelihood on a dwindling resource, hemmed in by encroaching plantations and sedentary agriculturalists, by towns and roads.

Desertification is a plague that upsets the traditional balance between people, their habitat, and the socio-economic system by which they live. Because desertification disturbs a region’s natural resource base, it promotes insecurity. Insecurity leads to strife. If allowed to degenerate, strife results in inter-clan feuding, cross-border raiding and military confrontation.

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Only with a lessening of insecurity can pastoralists and cultivators living in or near deserts turn their attention to adapting traditional systems of compromise between the two. There can be no reversion to purely traditional systems. For insecurity to abate, a lengthy process of conciliation must begin and forms of conflict resolution must be strengthened. People must be encouraged to understand that diversity is a crucial element of ecologically-sound development. Judicious resource management breeds security and an improved quality of life for everyone. We can see what efforts can be made to encourage reforestation and to slow the unwanted advances of deserts.

Desertification needs to be seen in a broad way. If we see desertification only as aridity, we may miss areas of impact such as in the humid tropics. We need to consider the special problems of water-logging, salinity and alkalinity of irrigation systems that destroy land each year. We need to identify major clusters of problems, bringing the best minds to bear on them so as to have a scientific and social base on which common political will can be found and from which action will follow.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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