A look at the decade's peace and security agenda

For centuries, the main problem of the international community, which is based on the sovereignty of states and non-interference, has been the management of armed violence by means of various formulas - some more highly regulated than others - for controlling armed conflicts. The agenda has gradually become more complicated and diversified.


This issue of Peace in Progress takes an overall look at this agenda and focuses on the paradox of this second decade of the century - the third after the end of the Cold War. In a context in which high intensity armed conflicts have reduced considerably (by between 50% and 70% in comparison with the cold war), in a context with greater interest and resources allocated to humanitarian crises and complex emergencies, in a new geopolitical situation and in the middle of a financial and economic crisis, it is apparent that military expenditure has been increasing sharply (at the heart of the system, in the USA, but also in many Southern countries, and emerging powers, such as Brazil). Furthermore, some long-standing conflicts, which have existed for decades, such as the one in Cyprus, are continuing at a time when their resolution and/or transformation them is easier than it used to be. Is this just force of habit?

Despite the changes for the better and the hope of further improvements, there are still two long-standing problems which are very different in their nature and scope - nuclear weapons and the extension of international criminal law. The conferences reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which will be held in May and June (and which will be covered in the next two issues of this magazine) provide a glimpse of hope for further changes for the better, as identified by Camus in 1948 (in an article we reproduce here): "in favour of a genuine international organisation in which the great powers will have no more rights than medium-sized or small nations".

To put it another way, the old problems of the security agenda remain with us, and retain their central role, and are highlighted by the secular nature of the international community, and the lack of a central authority above state level, which is legitimate and accepted by all actors. We therefore need new instruments, like those arising from the struggle for new disarmament or arms control treaties in which we are involved, or new types of internal and partial mediation.

All in all, we are reminded that coexistence of new and old problems on the modern agenda, makes a consideration of the tools needed to resolve them essential. As Camus would say: yes, peace is the only battle, but we must think of various different paths and instruments to achieve peace. Or perhaps to put it better, peaces.