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Human Solidarity and Search for Security

Seville, Spain
International Seville NODO Prize for Peace, Security and Inter-Cultural Dialogue Ceremony

I am honoured to accept the International Seville NODO Prize for contributions to peace, security and inter-cultural dialogue. I thank the Seville NODO Foundation as well as the City Council of Seville for their support. The prize is particularly appropriate in a country and a region with a long history of understanding and respect for diversity, the importance of tolerance and the need for dialogue between cultures. The architecture, art and cuisine of Spain, and of this region in particular, are a product of the fusion of Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures going back more than 1,000 years. Seville was the birthplace of the famous Arab physician Avenzoar. Andalusia produced both the great Arab philosopher Averroes and the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides. The famous Mesquita in Cordoba, once the world’s second largest mosque which now houses a Roman Catholic cathedral, is rich in symbolism.

At a time when we hear talk about an inevitable "clash of civilizations," it is good to be reminded that dialogue between cultures is key and that diversity is a source of strength, not of weakness. What a dull world it would be if we all spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, ate the same food and expressed ourselves artistically in the same way. Yet, underneath the wonderful variety of cultures and civilizations, we are one human family, with the same basic values and the same desire to live in peace, freedom and dignity. We have the same hopes, fears and aspirations.

Nevertheless, when we look around the world, we see that millions of our fellow human beings are denied their most basic human right – to have food on the table, to have a roof over their heads, to have care when they are sick or in need. A recent report from the World Bank showed that some 1.4 billion people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 per day. The number of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled since 1981 to around 380 million. This remains a blot on our conscience.

The statistics from war-torn regions of our planet tell an equally grim story. One million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, while the world did little more than wring its hands. In Congo, more than five million people died as a result of conflict in the past 10 years, yet that country rarely made headlines in our news media. Tragically, that conflict has flared up again in the last few weeks, with yet more deaths and devastation. More recently, in Darfur, at least 300,000 people have died as a result of civil war while the rest of the world squabbles impotently, unable to provide the promised peacekeeping force of 26,000 troops or to find the 26 helicopters needed. This, too, shames us all.

Causes of Insecurity

The search for security is still the major concern for many people and nations. Yet at the same time, the collective sense of insecurity throughout the world is greater than at any time before. This is because the forces that drive insecurity remain persistent and pervasive. These drivers of insecurity fit into four categories, in my view:

First, poverty, and poverty-related insecurities, for the billions who lack access to reliable food supplies, safe drinking water, adequate health care, and modern energy supplies. This is the rawest form of insecurity — a reality for 40 per cent of our fellow human beings, who live on the edge of survival.

A second category is the lack of good governance, ranging from severely repressive regimes which trample on human rights to corruption. Democracy has made remarkable strides in many parts of the world, but too many tyrants remain in office and too many people are subjected to torture and other vicious human rights abuses.

A third driver of insecurity is the sense of injustice that results from the huge divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots". This sense of injustice is magnified by the perception that the sanctity of human life is not equally valued — that loss of life is somehow seen as more tragic in the developed world than in places like Darfur, Iraq or Congo and that the right to live in dignity is not universal. In 2005, the Millennium Development Goals Report estimated that more than 13 million people died in conflicts between 1994 and 2003 – more than nine million of them in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where the poorest of the poor live.

Fourth is the artificial polarization along religious or ethnic lines. This is a centuries-old phenomenon, but it continues to flare up sporadically. I am troubled by the glib use in some quarters of repugnant terms such as "Islamofascism" to suggest that most Muslims support terrorism. In reality, a minority of extremists try to cloak themselves in the mantle of a great religion and use it as a cover for their heinous crimes. Nevertheless, it is easy for people who suffer gross inequalities — many of them in the Muslim world — to be convinced that their suffering is due to religious or ethnic prejudice. This conviction can in turn make them more likely to seek refuge in distorted views of religion or ethnicity in order to channel their rage and redress their grievances.

We should always bear in mind that these drivers of insecurity are intrinsically linked. Poverty provides a fertile breeding ground for violence, extremism in all its forms, civil wars and interstate wars and ultimately – in regions where disputes are left to fester such as the Middle East and South Asia – can lead to efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Skewed Values

Humankind has made fantastic progress in science and technology in the past 100 years. Think of antibiotics and modern surgical techniques, air and space travel, or the internet and satellite communication. But, regrettably, our moral and ethical standards as a global society have not matched this progress. Our values have become skewed. In the security field, we still seem to feel the need to reach for an ever bigger club to smite our enemies – and nowadays that club takes the form of weapons of mass destruction. The sad reality is that nuclear weapons are still seen as providing power, prestige and influence – as well as an insurance policy against possible attack.

Instead of opening our minds and hearts to our less fortunate fellow human beings in the developing world, we in the fortunate part of the world have too often turned inward, erecting barriers to keep others at a distance and thinking in terms of "us vs them". We clearly have the means to eliminate poverty, hunger and disease with negligible impact on our standard of living, but seem to lack both the empathy and the will to do so. Total annual global spending of $100 billion on development aid is dwarfed by the amount spent on weapons, currently running at $1.3 trillion per year, not to mention by the $4 trillion wiped off the value of Wall Street shares in the past 12 months. Just imagine what that money could have achieved if it had been spent on changing the lives of our fellow human beings who are left behind.

In the international security field, we seem to have forgotten the need for dialogue and negotiation, especially with those with whom we disagree. If we look back little more than 20 years, to the height of the Cold War, we see American presidents and Soviet leaders concluding arms control agreements with a view to making the world a safer place, despite their profound mutual distrust. Since then, by contrast, we have seen efforts to solve problems through the use of force, or by isolating countries or regions. What is worse is that nuclear weapon states and their allies continue to seek shelter under a nuclear "umbrella" while preaching to the rest of the world that nuclear weapons are dangerous. Attempts to isolate a country or a region are counter-productive because they invariably empower extremists and make problems worse. As the British historian Arnold Toynbee once said: "War is the price paid for failed diplomacy."

Lessons of History

As I said, our values have become skewed. But we must not despair. History has many lessons to teach us about overcoming hatred and division and working together for the common good. Take Europe. After centuries of conflict and two devastating world wars, far-sighted statesmen began a process of reconciliation that led to the creation of the European Union. War between ancient adversaries such as France and Germany is now unthinkable. In Northern Ireland, 30 years of bloodshed have come to an end and former enemies are now sharing power in a democratically elected government.

So what should be done to ensure that the values of peace, security and inter-cultural dialogue, to which this International Seville NODO Prize is dedicated, become more than mere platitudes?

We need to remember that we are one human family. Today, insecurity anywhere in the world can very quickly lead to insecurity everywhere. The organization which I have the honour to lead, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has a mandate which I like to sum up as human security. Our twin goals are to try to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to ensure that the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology – for power generation, medicine or agriculture, for example – are made available to developing countries. A simultaneous focus on security and development is the approach needed to deal with many of our problems.

We need to seriously address chronic conflicts in Darfur, Congo, Kashmir, Korea and between Israelis and Palestinians. The United States and Iran must sit down at a negotiating table and commit themselves to resolving the issues that divide them, however long it may take. Resolving political conflicts is a prerequisite for the economic development needed to lift the "bottom billion" of this world out of poverty. The current global financial crisis may yet have a silver lining if it forces all of us to remember, in humility, that we really do live in an interdependent world and that no major problem can be resolved without international cooperation – whether it is poverty, HIV-AIDS, climate change or arms control. That means we need to strengthen our international institutions. We need to pay more attention to social and not just economic development. In particular, we need an equitable security system which takes account of the security of all nations and in which no country feels the need to depend on nuclear weapons.

The goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons may look unattainable today. But why not make a start by slashing the number of nuclear warheads in the world from the present 27,000? Ninety-five percent of these warheads are held by two countries, the United States and the Russian Federation. Some military experts believe security would not be compromised if each had just 1,000 warheads, which is still more than enough to obliterate most of humanity. This would demonstrate their commitment to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons to which they pledged themselves by signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty more than three decades ago and give them the moral authority to preach non-proliferation to others. Likewise, the nuclear weapon states could immediately make the world a safer place by lowering the state of alert of their nuclear weapons to make it less likely that missiles are launched by accident or miscalculation.

This is not just pious rhetoric. I firmly believe that the goal of a more just and equitable world is achievable if we simply change our mindset and work for a world based on equity, fairness and justice for all. We must accept that all men and women in this world are our brothers and sisters and commit ourselves to doing the hard work necessary to bring about lasting change. A world in which every human being lives in dignity and freedom is a world at peace with itself.


Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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