No country can grow or develop in all aspects without peaceful coexistence among its population and within borders. Both peace and security, which are critical to every society, have direct impacts on creating a competitive and equitable economic development. However, maintaining them isn’t easy. Thus, the United Nations was established in 1945 not only to maintain international peace and security but also to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
Global Conflict Continues to Rise
Building peace and adequate security involve a wide range of efforts to address the root causes of violence as well as ensure that people have freedom from war and conflicts. Governments need to guarantee their citizens freedom from fear and violence, ensure that resources and services are made equally available to people, and emphasize respect for rule of law as a cornerstone to sustainable development. They need to create and maintain an effective multilateral system based on inclusiveness, equity, justice, and regional cooperation.
However, achieving all of these is a daunting task. The UN, for instance, has to address how many countries spend their budget on the military. In 2010, world military expenditures reached about $1.5 trillion and have continued to rise every year. The need for a culture of peace and significant arms reduction worldwide has never been greater. Thus, the UN had to push for the goals of multilateral disarmament and arms limitation. This aims to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, destroy chemical weapons, and strengthen the prohibition against biological weapons.
Steve Killelea, head of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), said that the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have been the main drivers in the decline of global peace. In IEP’s Global Peace Index (GPI), the researchers found out that peacefulness in 92 countries decreased in 2017, with improvements in only 71 nations. The Middle East and North Africa were the least peaceful of all the countries alongside Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia. "There is an ongoing deterioration in global peace. It's gradual and it's been going on for the last decade,” Killelea said.
Despite the progress in many countries, the report revealed that the intensity of the conflicts has increased. Killelea said that the death toll on the world’s battlefields has increased by 246%, while the death toll from terrorism has increased by 203% over the past decade. Unfortunately, these have economic consequences for countries. According to DW.com, a German public international broadcaster, the IEP analyzed data from think tanks, research institutes, governments, and universities. The researchers calculated that violence cost the global economy $14.8 trillion in 201, which was nearly $2,000 (€1,650) per person.
If the least peaceful countries were as stable as the most peaceful, it would add an extra $2,000 per head to their economies. "For every 1% improvement in positive peace, GDP per capita income goes up by 1.8%," Killelea said.
Pandemic Threat to Global Peace and Stability
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the world’s existing inequalities and injustices. While many of us stay in the comfort of our homes to protect ourselves from being infected by the virus, millions of people have no safe place to stay. Recent reports reveal rising unemployment, food insecurity, disparities in the healthcare system, and incompetence of many governments. A lack of an effective response could quickly escalate into political unrest, violence, and conflict, scientists said.
Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has recently called the pandemic the “fight of a generation” and a threat to world peace and security. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, Guterres warned the UN security council that this crisis had the potential to increase social unrest and violence, which would greatly undermine the world’s ability to fight the disease. He also discussed how the pandemic has affected the organization’s peacekeeping, humanitarian, and political work.
“The engagement of the Security Council will be critical to mitigating the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. We all recall the crucial role the council played in marshaling the international community’s response to the security implications of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the Ebola outbreak,” Guterres said.
The risks of violence have already increased in the most vulnerable countries and cities. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, armed groups, terrorists and organized criminals are already exploiting the pandemic.
Data from ACLED, an online site that contains information on the specific dates and locations of conflict events, revealed that demonstrations have increased in many countries across the Middle East after a sharp decline at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In India, militant groups continue to target security personnel. The government fears that domestic rebel groups may use the opportunity to bolster their positions. The pandemic could also impact elections and referenda, igniting political tensions. This might lead to or worsen human rights challenges.
Political unrest in many countries isn’t surprising because a pandemic threatens to further erode trust in public institutions, particularly if citizens perceive that their authorities mishandled the response or are not transparent on the scope of the crisis. Situations might get even worse with the economic fallout from the pandemic, which could further stress fragile societies and less developed nations.
“This could lead to an escalation of violence and possibly devastating miscalculations, which could further entrench ongoing wars and complicate efforts to fight the pandemic,” Guterres said.
Last March, Guterres issued a call for an immediate global cease-fire to help focus efforts on fighting the virus. “From South America to Africa and from the Middle East to Asia, we have seen conflict parties take some initial steps to end violence and fight the pandemic,” he said.
Experts suggested that there needs to be an urgent and clear signal from global institutions and major powers that security and safety are key priorities. De-escalating tensions between the US and China is one thing. Other international institutions must also contribute to de-escalating geopolitical tensions and set out strategies to ensure peace and security on the ground. At the same time, countries must support the most vulnerable populations and ensure they receive essential health services, maintain food supplies, and keep utilities operating.