Ending War and Building a Just, Peaceful and Sustainable World

The role of the United Nations and civil society in strengthening disarmament, international peace and security

A talk given at the International Conference on


Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Prague

12-13 November 2005

Vijay Mehta info@vmpeace.org www.vmpeace.org

Ladies, Gentlemen and Distinguished Delegates,

Thanks to the Bertha Suttner society, Czech Peace Forum, Stanislav and Jana for inviting me to speak. It is a great honour to be in the beautiful city of Prague, speaking about the most remarkable women, Bertha Suttner, who 100 years ago, campaigned for a world without war and wrote books on disarmament and ending of the arms trade. Her anti-war novel "Lay Down Your Arms" made her a celebrated author in the nineteenth century. In this year of celebration of Bertha Suttner centenary of the Nobel Peace Prize it will be appropriate to appreciate her role and the role of woman working for peace all over the world, in zones of armed conflict and elsewhere and their inspiring efforts as peace makers. She was also the vice-president of the International Peace Bureau, who are currently publishing a book, ‘Welfare not warfare’. A book on ending the arms trade and the beginning of a peaceful era, an issue Bertha would have endorsed enthusiastically.

I was in Prague in March 2003, just as the war on Iraq had started. I spoke at European Peace Conference and also at a rally in the city centre. From the conference, we wrote a resolution (No. 377a 1950) called ‘Uniting for Peace’ which has been used before to stop war in Suez and defuse the Cuban missile crisis. This resolution was sent to the United Nations and to parliamentarians in the Czech Republic.

We were not able to stop the war but we were out in the streets in millions in 600 cities around the world to protest against the lies and deceits of war mongers. We made aware to the whole world that the war and the present occupation of Iraq is illegal and exposed the appalling detainee abuses and violations of human rights. The people of Iraq are bullied, attacked and killed everyday. Lawlessness and sectarian violence is on the increase and may turn into a civil war.

The ramification of the tragedy unfolding from the Iraq war are serious for the world. Bush administration has already spent over $350 billion and it is at present in great difficulty implementing domestic policies. On the global level the indifference to the Kyoto Treaty and climate change, wrecking of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), assault on the United Nations, are a few examples of reneging on its international obligations. Under the guise of war on terrorism, curbing of civil liberties, right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech is making a mockery of democracy around the world.

In the absence of an exit strategy from Iraq and in desperation of diverting the attention from domestic difficulties, the neo-conservatives in the US administration might engage in a vicious attack on Syria or Iran and plunge the whole Middle East into turmoil.

We are living in a worsening international situation and we have to examine how we can develop the vision of a peaceful and just world based on international law and equality among nations? How the United Nations and civil society can interact to eliminate wars and promote a culture of peace and a tolerant society? What are the practical guidelines, non-violent strategies of resistance and steps to advance this goal.

The UN has maintained peace and order in such diverse places as Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Cyprus and Kashmir, over 30 years in difficult circumstances. At present, 18 peacekeeping operations employing 80,000 people are working around the globe, maintaining peace and security.

This year (the sixtieth anniversary of the UN), remarkable events have happened which are a turning point in its history. The oil for food scandal, the sexual abuses perpetrated by the UN peacekeepers and the ongoing shadow of the Iraq war have all dented the reputation of the UN. At the same time, the UN has come up with outstanding strategies to manage the future of our planet. These are incorporated in the High-level panel report on Threats, Challenges and Change, and the 2005 World Summit- the document which came out after leaders of 159 nations met in the UN headquarters, in September this year. I was also in New York twice this year attending NPT review conference and the NGO/DPI annual conference and also took part in the march at Central Park in New York.

Out of the 101 recommendations of these documents, the following are important which if pursued will enhance future peace and international security in the world and safeguard the protection of human rights. These are as follows:

1) Interdependent threats and multilateral response

The high level report identified six areas as being the greatest challenges to worldwide security in the future. The areas are: continued poverty and environmental degradation, terrorism, civil war, conflict between states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and organized crime.

The report took into account that we live in an interdependent world where the threat agenda cannot be categorised into previous modes of thinking- namely, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ threats. The problems of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction cannot be adequately solved without dealing with the phenomena of the failure of states often leading to major regional instability and conflicts, and a whole range of issues which have not traditionally been considered as part of the peace and security nexus at all – poverty, environmental degradation, pandemic diseases and the spread of organised crime – to mention the most prominent.

Every one of these threats requires a universal response if it is to be effectively dealt. Only a broad, common agenda provides any hope of mustering such a universal response, a multilateral approach is a key ingredient to solving these global challenges.

To this end, there is an urgent necessity to complete the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to tackle development. Furthermore, the report stresses the need to substantially increase financial resources to fuel development programmes and to counter AIDS and other pandemic diseases.

As the report makes clear, development and security are inextricably linked. A more secure world is only possible if poor countries are given a real chance to develop. Extreme poverty and infectious diseases threaten many people directly, but they also provide a fertile breeding-ground for other threats, including civil conflict. Even people in rich countries will be more secure if their Governments help poor countries to defeat poverty and disease by meeting the Millennium Development Goals. If completed, it will half global poverty by 2015. Consequently, the international community should not only view ‘soft’ threats as part of the development agenda but also be an important component of the peace and security agenda.

2) Future wars, Guidelines for Intervention and Responsibility to Protect

The interventions in Kosovo and Iraq highlight the illegitimacy of the use of force where no mandate was authorised by the Security Council for going to war. The report concludes that Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognises the use of force for self-defense, should be ‘neither rewritten nor interpreted.’ It does, however, endorse the emerging norm that there is a ‘responsibility to protect’ where sovereign governments fail to protect their citizens in the event of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and wide-scale human rights violations. In such instances, the Security Council may authorise military intervention as a last resort if the decision has been taken collectively.

When considering whether to authorize or endorse the use of military force, the Security Council should always address — whatever other considerations it may take into account — at least the following five basic criteria of legitimacy:

(a) Seriousness of threat . Is the threatened harm to State or human security of a kind, and sufficiently clear and serious, to justify prima facie the use of military force? In the case of internal threats, does it involve genocide 58 A/59/565 and other large -scale killing, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of international humanitarian law, actual or imminently apprehended?

(b) Proper purpose. Is it clear that the primary purpos e of the proposed military action is to halt or avert the threat in question, whatever other purposes or motives may be involved?

(c) Last resort . Has every non-military option for meeting the threat in question been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing that other measures will not succeed?

(d) Proportional means. Are the scale, duration and intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat in question?

(e) Balance of consequences. Is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the threat in question, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction?

3) Peacebuilding Commission

To stop the risk of countries sliding into chaos, State collapse and becoming a haven for terrorists, a Peace-building Commission is recommended to take a proactive approach in preventing future instability. In particular, it seeks to work with national governments to assist the transition from conflict to post-conflict peace-building and reconciliation. More advanced systems of prevention are needed to assist developing countries to halt terrorists finding shelter in weak states.

Its members will include the Security Council, Economic and Social Council, World Bank and IMF representatives and other regional organisations (European Union, African Union). It hopes to start its work by 31st December 2005.

4) Human Rights Council

Human Rights Council agreed in principle. The leaders said that "to further strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery, we resolve to create a human rights council". This is going to replace the United Nations human rights commission, which the US and Europeans object to because serial human rights abusers such as Libya and Sudan served on it.

There were certain disappointments of the World Summit:

  1. Reforms of the UN Security Council were put off.

  2. No progress on disarmament. A full page devoted to non-proliferation and curbing weapons, from nuclear to conventional, was dropped entirely from the final draft. It was nothing less then a disgrace.

  3. Failure to agree on a definition and comprehensive strategy to counter terrorism.

We should strive in forming the Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission. If run properly, it should go a along way in reducing wars and building societies out of the ruin of wars. Amid the overall frustration of the summit these were a few historic achievements.

Enhancing peace and security

For peace keeping to be effective and successful the UN and civil society need to adopt the following recommendations:

  1. Improving the current state of the world requires the US to recognize that we live in an interdependent world – our threats and challenges are also interdependent. Therefore, we need a multilateral approach which seeks to work cooperatively and use the UN system to resolve disputes rather then seek unilateral solutions.

  2. To offset the global threat of terrorism, we need to examine the causes of violence which are global extremism of any creed or guise and work to eliminate them.

  3. States need to reaffirm and work towards the three pillars of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy). After the dismal failure of NPT review conference in May 2005 we need to revitalise the machinery of disarmament. Proliferation of arms of all kinds- whether they be weapons of mass destruction or small arms- inherently constitutes a threat to peace.

  4. The international community need to link the agenda of development, environment and disarmament together. We can not have security amidst starvation and we cannot build peace without alleviating poverty and we cannot have either without a better environment. Only a peaceful society can work its way up to creating the institutions ripe for development and free itself from injustices and human rights abuses.

  5. Education should be enhanced for a culture of peace, nonviolence and reconciliation. By eliminating root causes of war we can lead to lasting peace. The world today spends billions preparing for war. Should we not spend a billion or two preparing for peace. We should campaign for the reduction of defense budgets and demilitarisation. The savings thus obtained should be applied to fund the economic aid and conflict resolution.
  6. Every school should have a copy of the UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Hague Agenda for Peace.
  7. We should have statues of peace heroes instead of military heroes. Staues of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other peace makers should be erected in parks, town halls and

  8. Peace is not just absence of war. It is in fact a phenomenon that encompasses good governance, economic development, social justice, environmental protection, disarmament, respect for human rights and democratic process.

  9. The civil society and NGOs, with UN should form a thriving global alliance for mobilising public opinion and political will which are critical elements in promotion of peace. UN with the help of civil society should work for co-existence and prevention among warring factions for peaceful settlements.


The United Nations and civil society should re-double their efforts to resolve a number of long-running, still festering disputes, in Palestine, Kashmir and North Korea.

A new enthusiasm should be directed towards disarmament, and that efforts be made to reduce the supply of nuclear weapons. There needs to be improvements to the enforcement capacity of the Security Council and better public health defenses to combat the threat of biological weapons.

The future of the UN lies in it as a major contributor of people and ideas. UN should mobilise international civil society and global public opinion to carry forward a vision for a just and fairer world. Its strength is evident from the fact that when the United Nations passes a resolution, it is seen as speaking for humanity as a whole, thus giving it unique legitimacy and support for an action to be taken by a country.


Let me say ladies and gentlemen, that today Iraq, Syria, North Korea and Iran are being bullied and targeted in preparation for future attacks by one of the most aggressive US administration in history. Our target is not US citizens, but the authoritarian tendencies of the only militarily powerful superpower.

Friends, I am going to outline an approach for going forward for facing the uncertain future, a collective and multilateral, peaceful and non-violent approach to address the modern challenges of terrorism, security and development.

a) We stand for the truth and not be taken by the lies and deceits paddled by the governments, corporations and the establishment. Find out the truth, stand for the truth, fight for the truth.

b) We strive for total disarmament (Ending wars, arms trade including WMDs).

Two very important things happened in 2005. One was the dismal failure of the Review of the Nuclear-non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in New York. No progress was made on the three pillars of disarmament (non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of energy). Secondly, not a single word was written about disarmament during the world leaders summit 2005 in September where 159 leaders met. It was nothing less then a disgrace. We have to employ all our resources for a world without wars and weapons and cut down the spending on arms which is running presently over one trillion dollars a year.

c) We co-operate in forming Peace-Building Commission, Human Rights Council and the Provision of Responsibility to Protect.

These three institutions are a historic achievement, which came out from the outcome document of the 2005 world summit in New York. We as a civil society have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build these institutions for peacebuilding, protection against human rights abuses and ensuring that no genocide or crimes against humanity ever occur again.

d) We pledge to lift Africa and other countries out of absolute poverty. The completion of the Millennium Development Goals and eliminating future wars are essential for building a peaceful world.

It seems some of Bertha Suttner’s agenda has spilled in to the 21st century and we are dealing with the same dilemmas of wars, a global arms race and nuclear terror. However, if we pursue the recommendations, we will seize the opportunity to create a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Bertha will be please with us for carrying forward her legacy.

Let me finish by quoting the words of Kofi Annan in a recent address in St Paul’s Cathedral (London):

We have a once-in-a-generation chance to bring about historic, fundamental change. But it will depend on the will of Governments, and on the commitment of groups and individual such as you.

Please keep making you voices heard loud and clear enough to lift the sky. And keep raising your voices after that, to hold Governments to their promises, and to help translate these promises into action.

Let history not say about our age that we were those who were rich in means but poor in will.

Thank you very much for listening.


This paper can be accessed at www.vmpeace.org

1) Recommendations of the UN High-level Panel Report on Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons disarmament. http://www.un.org/secureworld/report.pdf

2) 2005 World Summit Outcome (pp.69-105). http://www.un.org/summit2005/documents.html

This paper can also be accessed at www.vmpeace.org

1) Recommendations of the UN High-level Panel Report on Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons disarmament. http://www.un.org/secureworld/report.pdf

2) 2005 World Summit Outcome (pp.69-105) See

www.un.org/summit2005/documents.html Peace and Collective Security

The article will also appear in the next issue of World Disarm newsletter.