Wanted: World Peace! But How Do We Get There?

Our planet’s current wars — in Ukraine, in Myanmar, in Sudan, in the Middle East, and in several other places — dominate the news and cry out for the world’s attention.

We see a seemingly endless analysis of these heartbreaking wars, but one big question has remained unasked and unanswered: What happens after the violence stops? 

Since the turn of the millennium, humanity may have noticeably lost sight of the topic of world peace. Lately, few analysts talk about it seriously. Despite the many military conflicts around the world, have we perhaps not taken this noble goal seriously enough? 

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Some even say that there has been “over 70 years of peace” in Europe, as if nothing had happened in the Balkans 30 years ago and Ukraine had not been attacked before February 24, 2022. Did we perhaps falsely lull ourselves into thinking we had already secured peace?

What will it actually take to put the important issue of world peace back on the table in a serious way and remove the taint of discussing it as some kind of hopeless dream?

Let’s compare this situation to the human body. We don’t feel well as soon as even the smallest body part hurts. Each organ has its own special task to keep the organism as a whole in balance. This comparison can also be applied to our global society, and the Baha’i teachings speak directly to the subject. In his 1875 book The Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu’l-Baha wrote about this essential topic when he said that the realization of global justice and impartiality means:

… to consider the welfare of the community as one’s own. It means, in brief, to regard humanity as a single individual, and one’s own self as a member of that corporeal form, and to know of a certainty that if pain or injury afflicts any member of that body, it must inevitably result in suffering for all the rest.

Looking at individual nations or blocs of states in isolation from one another, therefore, seems unhelpful — like considering only the body part in isolation from the entire body. On the other hand, recognizing and restoring our diverse relationships with one another would be expedient and sustainable in the long term. How can this be achieved? Another comparison with the human body also helps here. Every living organism is made up of many different elements. Throughout the body, in a decentralized way, these elements perform a wide variety of tasks independently but in coordination with each other. However, if necessary, our central nervous system and brain take over the coordination of the individual components. 

Applied to our global society, approximately 195 sovereign nations have their own laws, norms, and cultures that correspond to those various bodily elements. What is missing, however, are globally recognized values, principles, and institutions that can take over the overarching coordination of the world as a whole.

The greatest progress in global governance came after the Second World War with the founding of the United Nations. A 1995 position paper from the Baha’i International Community explains this:

As an international organization, the United Nations has demonstrated humanity’s capacity for united action in health, agriculture, education, environmental protection, and the welfare of children. It has affirmed our collective moral will to build a better future, evinced in the widespread adoption of international human rights Covenants. It has revealed the human race’s deep-seated compassion, evidenced by the devotion of financial and human resources to the assistance of people in distress. And in the all-important realms of peace-building, peace-making and peace-keeping, the United Nations has blazed a bold path toward a future without war. Yet the overall goals set out in the Charter of the United Nations have proved elusive. Despite the high hopes of its founders, the establishment of the United Nations some fifty years ago [on October 24, 1945] did not usher in an era of peace and prosperity for all.

The needs of our time, therefore, exceed the capabilities of existing structures for global governance and corresponding institutions — especially the current structure of the United Nations, which has evolved little in 77 years. 

The Baha’i International Community has proposed a concrete next step:

Since sovereignty currently resides with the nation-state, the task of determining the exact architecture of the emerging international order is an obligation that rests with heads of state and with governments. We urge leaders at all levels to take a deliberate role in supporting a convocation of world leaders before the turn of this century to consider how the international order might be redefined and restructured to meet the challenges facing the world. As some have suggested, this gathering might be called the World Summit on Global Governance.

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Naturally, the first task in the near future will be to come to terms with the terrible current wars, regardless of which continent they rage. There is so much postwar policy and practicality to deal with, such as the world’s refugee crises, the healing of horrific physical and psychological injuries, hunger, the enforcement and coordination of economic sanctions that will hopefully help to end the wars, with all the consequences for global supply chains and energy supplies that implies — and much more. Then, of course, we’ll need to pay attention to the reconstruction of what has been destroyed. Last but not least, there must also be some kind of reconciliation of interests between the countries involved to prevent future conflicts. As the Baha’i teachings have long recommended, we need to convene a summit of the world’s leaders to find a path to a permanent peace:

It is incumbent upon the Sovereigns of the world — may God assist them — unitedly to hold fast unto this Peace, which is the chief instrument for the protection of all mankind. It is Our hope that they will arise to achieve what will be conducive to the well-being of man. It is their duty to convene an all-inclusive assembly, which either they themselves or their ministers will attend, and to enforce whatever measures are required to establish unity and concord amongst men. They must put away the weapons of war, and turn to the instruments of universal reconstruction. Should one king rise up against another, all the other kings must arise to deter him. Arms and armaments will, then, be no more needed beyond that which is necessary to insure the internal security of their respective countries. If they attain unto this all-surpassing blessing, the people of each nation will pursue, with tranquillity and contentment, their own occupations, and the groanings and lamentations of most men would be silenced.

We know that building a sustainable and resilient global peace requires considerably greater efforts than just those envisaged in the military sphere. As fundamental and important as they are, armies and weapons ultimately only serve as a short-term deterrent. 

In contrast, a unified vision from the leaders of all countries in the world would lay the foundation for building a permanently peaceful world civilization. The proposal to convene a global summit, first issued by Baha’u’llah in the 19th century, has therefore lost none of its actuality and relevance — on the contrary, it seems more necessary today than ever before!

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the German language Baha’i site: Perspektivenwechsel.

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