Traditionally, wars have only put the lives of soldiers at risk. They were fought between two or more military forces of sovereign states. Attacks and threats towards the civilian population were excluded and did not comprise the rules or morals of war (if such a thing exists in warfare).
According to the book “A Memory of Solferino,” written by Red Cross founder Henry Dunant, 158 years ago in the fierce battle of San Martino and Solferino on June 24, 1859, the only civil casualty was a woman who was shot accidentally when she went outside onto her balcony. Fifty years later, World War I saw the death of up to 10 million civilians, and a few years later, in World War II, the number of civilian deaths was estimated to have been more than 27 million.
The strategy of war changed, just as the weapons and causes of conflict evolved. In today’s age, civilians are targeted and attacked deliberately. Sexual violence against women is now a part of the tactics used by some armed forces, as is the recruitment of children into armies, so as to cause the enemy to submit completely.
Due to the need to adapt to the changes brought about by globalization, the development of technology and the new world order in international affairs, the world’s road to peace has become more difficult. “Thus conflicts have become more complex and the elements defining them more fragmented,” according to a 2015 United Nations report.
It is the era of globalization and a time when humanity, like never before, has the ability to move and communicate at high speed from one part of the globe to another. The economy is facing serious problems, which are reflected by high levels of unemployment, even in industrialized countries. Global warming has shown its initial effects with drinking water shortages in some countries and climatic disarray in many others. Religious fundamentalism and terrorism are on the rise, and they have caused incidents that have threatened world peace in unprecedented ways and with unprecedented means.
Threats against a peaceful world have grown, and the old methods of warfare have evolved. Today, warfare is largely fought in armed conflicts within the borders of a state (for example in Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Colombia), more so than between two or more sovereign states. The civil populace is often deliberately attacked, so as to gain advantage over the opponent.
These conflicts within a state have a tendency to be fought between a government and an opposing group, or between different groups. We are seeing the realization of what scholar Nigel Dower called “the privatization of war,” in his book “The Ethics of War and Peace.” With this term he meant the involvement of non-state or non-government groups in armed conflicts.
With the development of technology and the sophistication of (biochemical) weapons, new elements have been added to the list of threats against peace. Cyber attacks, climate change, poverty and the spread of epidemic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola, are today considered to have become threats against peace and security for many states.
In a 2004 report by the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change addressed to the U.N. Secretary General and to U.N. member states, it is highlighted that threats against a peaceful world currently know no boundaries — they are interconnected and must be addressed at global, regional and national levels. No state, regardless of its power, can be completely safe from today’s threats; at the same time we can no longer assume that every state is able or willing to assume responsibility for defending its citizens or not threatening its neighbors.
The list of threats today according to the United Nations includes: economic and social hurdles (including poverty and infectious epidemics); environmental degradation as a consequence of global warming; conflicts within states; the use of violence such as in civil wars, genocides and high-level atrocities; biochemical, radiological and nuclear weapons; terrorism and international organized crime.
According to the U.N. Secretary General, every nation and state is vulnerable in today’s world; poor or rich, weak or powerful. Terrorism has shown itself in frightening forms from east to west. Developed countries are finding it hard to find suitable measures of defense, as are less developed countries. The war in Syria is entering its sixth year with a high rate of refugees, internally displaced people, casualties, human trafficking, arms trafficking and the creation of a suitable environment for the connection and empowerment of international organized crime groups.
Terrorist attacks in France, the Ivory Coast, Belgium, Turkey — in Ankara and Istanbul — and elsewhere show that no country is sufficiently prepared to prevent these incidents. Attacks such as the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey in December, or the attack — claimed by ISIS — the previous day on the Christmas market in Berlin that left 12 people dead and 50 injured, are a testament to the growing ability of terrorist groups, and the inability of security structures of all states to counter them.
While the culture of peace is continuously facing more difficulties, the culture of expressing violence in the form of extremist groups and the growing production of arms are by now not isolated phenomena, but rather worldwide phenomena. The failure of politics to prevent war in South Sudan and Syria dominates today’s public consciousness. The divisions and the spirit of competition between states at different levels have blocked the response of international institutions even in the most urgent cases.
There is a deep, growing sense of insecurity and mistrust towards international institutions such as the U.N., regional institutions such as the EU and national institutions, regarding issues of peace and security; it comes at a time when the necessity and desire for their action seems to be greater than ever. According to a report by the United Nations, in 2015 alone the number of people that were displaced due to war reached 60 million at a global level, and the need for humanitarian aid reached 20 billion dollars.
However, while for the United Nations and more developed countries terrorism is considered to be the biggest and most severe threat to world peace, not all scholars agree.
A group of Oxford researchers identified climate change, the rivalry for possession of land resources, the marginalization of the majority of the world, as well as a growing global militarization, as more concerning and more direct threats to world peace, than terrorism. Scholars rank terrorism as a low-level threat, and one that is a consequence of the serious and growing prevalence of the aforementioned phenomena. The lack of attempts to address extreme poverty, the rivalry for resources and the militarization of extremist groups have significantly affected the growth of terrorism.
And while it is crystal clear that security issues today are interconnected and know no state boundaries, terrorism and armed conflicts cannot be treated as isolated from extreme poverty within a significant portion of the world’s population, and from the utilization of resources by a rich minority, as these are causes of the creation and development of terrorism.
Terrorism would not be as prevalent as it is today, and it would not be even more severe tomorrow, if only we treated the problem at its roots. There is a cause and effect relationship between terrorism and other problems that threaten world peace today. In order to find an efficient solution, it must be treated as such.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.