Is Obama advancing world peace?
Overall, world peace is on a downslide. The Global Peace Index 2013 covering 162 independent countries has dropped by five per cent over the last six years. This innovative index is published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, founded by Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea.
At the same time, the Syrian and Afghan conflicts are becoming worse. The White House concluded this week that President Bashar Assad has crossed President Barack Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against his own people. Anti-Assad rebels now hope Obama will send them heavy weapons, including anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
The Afghanistan war is also worsening, ahead of US withdrawal next year. Roadside bombs killed five Afghan police and injured seven today while local UN observers estimate that internal violence now matches the worst in 12 years.
The Syrian conflict will intensify greatly if rebels get heavy weapons. They want to unravel Assad’s recent battlefield gains in the strategic town of Qusair, made with help from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. They also want to seize fully Aleppo and parts of Damascus, which might prompt Iran and Russia to upgrade their military aid to Assad. That would turn the conflict into a clear proxy war between Russia and the US and its unruly allies.
Moscow fired the first anti-White House salvo today saying weapons deliveries could scuttle an international peace conference on Syria, being put together for next month by the United Nations, US and Russia following Secretary John Kerry’s relentless lobbying.
Almost simultaneously, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi cut off diplomatic relations with Damascus today because he wants Hezbollah, a Shia militia, to withdraw so that Sunni rebels can properly defeat Assad’s Shia supporters. His decision makes clear that America’s Arab allies are promoting a sectarian proxy war having little to do with democracy or human rights. So delivery of heavy weapons could turn Obama into a fuel of conflict rather than peace builder.
Conflict and terrorism seem without end and the US is not getting much for its expenditure of blood and treasure. The GPI report notes that the US is by far the world’s biggest spender on containing violence, including military spending and internal security, with $1.7 trillion, followed by China with $354 billion, Russia with $207 billion and India with $186 billion.
Yet the US gets few security gains, according to some analysts at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). They suggest that terrorists seek out Americans because the US is also a participant in conflicts that cause deterioration both in global peace and its own security.
In a speech on 23 May, President Obama indicated he wants to reset counter terrorism policies, including the use of killer drones. That would avoid exacerbating conflicts and add to the benefits of withdrawal from Afghanistan and caution in Syria.
The economic dividends could be massive and return the American economy and jobs to glory days. For the first time for any agency, the GPI report clarifies the benefits of winding down conflicts and promoting the positive aspects of peace beyond an end to fighting.
It estimates that the 162 countries surveyed spent $9.46 trillion in 2012 or 11% of Gross World Product on measures to contain violence. “Were the world to reduce its expenditure on violence by approximately 50% it could repay the debt of the developing world ($4,076bn), provide enough money for the European stability mechanism ($900bn) and fund the additional amount required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals ($60bn),” the report says.
This is astounding. Debt elimination would put almost all developing countries on paths to growth, the European stability mechanism could restore growth to Europe, and the Millennium Development Goals will dramatically reduce poverty.
Another fascinating GPI innovation is the Positive Peace Index (PPI), which “measures the strength of the attitudes, institutions, and structures of 126 nations to determine their capacity to create and sustain a peaceful environment”.
PPI improved by 1.7% between 2005 and 2010, partly because of fairer distribution of resources, improved human capital, freer information flows, slightly less corruption and better governance.
However, the challenges to positive peace are huge. For instance, Egypt walked out of talks on the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) last month, jeopardizing the Treaty’s Review Conference of 2015. So far, other Arab countries have not followed suit but their agenda is clear. They want dismantlement of Israel’s nuclear arsenal as part of a Mid-East nuclear-free zone, a demand that no US administration will accept.
By being the first Arab nation to walk out of the NPT talks, Morsi, a Sunni Islamist, might be opening his options to acquire the prestige of a nuclear weapon ahead of historical competitors Saudi Arabia and Turkey. That could happen if the region is destabilized by long internal conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and possibly Iran following Israeli bombardment of its nuclear sites.
Obama, who got the Nobel Peace Prize mainly for promising to make concrete progress towards a nuclear weapons-free world, has much to do. Otherwise, the global peace index could be a dismal read five years from now.