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Mar 20, 2003

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World Needs a Culture of Peace

There is evidence that scarcities of critical resources arising from environmental degradation, especially arable land, fresh water and forests, contribute to violent conflict.
By Maurice Strong

The immediate response to the Sept. 11, 2001 events has understandably focused on the launching of a global war against terrorism, led by the United States, focused on punishing those responsible for the terrorist attacks and preventing future attacks . . . .

If there is any good which can come out of this tragedy, it would surely be that it shocked us into realizing the profound gaps in understanding, knowledge and mutual trust which exists between peoples of different cultures, races and religions.

The grievances, the enmities and the prejudices which underlie these complex issues are almost always deeply rooted and not susceptible to quick or easy solutions. The first priority must always be to prevent them from erupting into violence and to contain them from spreading. But experience tells us that such conflicts invariably persist if the underlying conditions are not addressed. This takes time, patience and concerted measures to bridge the differences that divide people, to identify areas of common interest and to cooperate in addressing these. The conditions conducive to permanent peace must have their foundations in what the United Nations has called a culture of peace.

One of the important elements in its program is environmental security which, I submit, is inextricably related to the processes of globalization through which the sustainability of our civilization is being largely determined.

The environmental movement has made a fundamentally important contribution to the intellectual basis for public policy in helping us to understand the systemic nature of the issues through which human activity is shaping the human future. Evolution of the environment and sustainable development movements has been accompanied and illuminated by impressive advances in the science of ecology.

Sustainable development, which calls for a positive syntheses between the economic, environmental and social dimensions of the development process, is a central component of this complex of issues . . . . The relationship between sustainable development and sustainable peace and security is now receiving greater attention. The most obvious, of course, are the impacts of conflict on development and on the environment. Conflicts, most of them internal, that have afflicted so many countries in the developing world, particularly in Africa, have crippled their own economic and social development and exacted a heavy cost in human and economic terms as well as in environmental terms. In my own work in Africa during the great famine of 1984 to 1986, I saw how conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan exacerbated severely the effects of the drought, converting it into famine which took the lives of so many and imposed suffering on literally millions of people.

There is growing evidence that scarcities of critical resources arising from environmental degradation, especially arable land, freshwater and forests, contribute to violent conflict in many parts of the world . . . . They also give rise to pressures for migration, both within countries and to neighboring and other countries.

The principal example of resource-related conflict in recent times is undoubtedly the war against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait where clearly the motivator for the U.S. and its allies was the protection of the vital oil supplies of the Gulf region. And one can postulate that the U.S. is seeking to effect a regime change in Iraq to enable it to establish a strong presence and centre of influence in this region on which it and other countries of the industrialized world depend so heavily for their oil supply.

At the global level there are emerging challenges to peace and security which are rooted in and are directly related to environmental and natural resource issues. The most ominous of these is the risk of climate change . . . . There is an almost unprecedented consensus amongst leading scientists that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity are contributing to changes in the filtering mechanism of the atmosphere on which the earth's climate depends. Thus it will not surprise you that I am pleased and relieved that the federal government has approved Canada's ratification of the Kyoto protocol of the climate change convention.


Canada's role in the world and its influence in the international community, beyond what its population or economic strength would normally give it, is based on our strong commitment to multilateralism and our leadership within the multilateral community. Our ratification of Kyoto affirms that commitment and at the same time has helped to redeem Canada's lagging reputation as a leader in international environmental cooperation.

The global commons, some 70 per cent of the Earth's surface beyond national jurisdictions, is likely to give rise to an increasing number of competing interests over exploitation and management of marine resources. The continent of Antarctica, now effectively controlled by the Antarctic Treaty Powers for purposes of scientific research, is a source of impending tension as the treaty powers seek to convert their treaty rights into full sovereignty while other nations insist on international control of the Antarctic as a commons area. This tension will surely escalate when exploitation of its natural resources becomes a more imminent priority.
Of course, the largest commons of all is the atmosphere and outer space, the value of which has been immensely enhanced by the multiplicity of uses to which it is now being put - particularly in accommodating the rapidly growing numbers of satellites that orbit the Earth. However, U.S. plans for the militarization of space are highlighting the potential for differences on this issue, even with its traditional allies. The militarization of space as a means to achieve security against missile attacks could well lead to a new and dangerous generation of space-related conflicts.

As the world community becomes more and more aware of the importance of environmental security, it is predictable that nations will also become more sensitive to the damage inflicted on them by the actions of others, for example, the trans-boundary impacts of pollution.

As the world's only super-power, and its super polluter, the U.S. role is crucial. Despite its recent retreat from multilateral cooperation, I am confident that the U.S. will act responsibly on this issue as it has in respect of most other issues affecting world peace, security and prosperity since Second World War.

Refurbishing and strengthening the system of international cooperation and the multilateral institutions, of which the UN is the centerpiece, on which their functioning depends, must now be given high priority. For this to happen, international cooperation and multilateralism must again become a priority for the U.S. as its indispensable leader.

Of course, the effectiveness of the multilateral system requires more than just utilizing it only on those occasions where it serves a particular national purpose. It requires consistent adherence to its principles and to the agreements reached multilaterally even when they do not accord entirely with the national interests or priorities of individual governments. The U. S. is the architect of the current multilateral system and its principal source of support. We must hope that it will decide that it is in its own larger national interest to again become the principal guardian of the integrity and effectiveness of their system.

Maurice Strong is the first winner of the Jack P. Blaney award that recognizes individuals who, through dialogue, have made outstanding contributions to world affairs. The award honors Blaney, the university's president from 1997-2000. Strong was unable to accept the award in person as he was in North Korea as a special United Nations envoy. These are excerpts from his address. The full version can be found at Blaney Award.













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