India Foundation Ideas Conclave on ‘Agenda for Peace: What should be on the Peace Agenda?’, 28 Oct 2018
Speech Delivered by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi

Everyone wants peace but peace is illusory. There is a lot of struggle and strife in the world which comes in the way of realising peace. According to the website ‘democide’ an estimated 260 million people were killed in the 20th century due to wars, famines, democracy, disasters, and other such causes. Happiness is an associated concept. But bone cannot be happy without being at peace with one self and with the outside world.

The world is full of conflict. Avoidance of conflict and resolution of conflict must be on any agenda for peace.

Drivers of Instability

One must look for the deeper causes which disturb peace. The equilibrium between man and nature has been disturbed. Over consumption of resources has resulted in phenomenon like global warming and climate change. The manifestations of climate change are grim for mankind’s existence. Wars over scarce resources is no longer a fantasy. The conservation of environment must be on any agenda for peace.

Geopolitics remains a major source of tensions and conflict. The World Wars I and II were the manifestations of geopolitics. Failing states are a source of regional and global instability. Terrorism has emerged as a major source of conflict and tensions. It is necessary to keep tensions among nations to be kept under control.

We are seeing a major shift in power equations. New balance of power is in the making. The emerging powers hold the key to a new balance of power. Multiple power poles are emerging. New institutions are emerging. Whether these will be in equilibrium with each other is a matter of conjecture. People are conjecturing that a second cold war may have begun already.

The development dimension of the international politics cannot be ignored. There is uneven development. Inequality is on the rise. The developing countries demand climate justice. The battle against hunger and disease has not yet been won. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) are an attempt to ensue basic amenities to the billions of people who have been deprived of the even the basic necessities. Inequality and insensitivity will be the main causes of future conflicts.

In the 1990s, Samuel Huntington predicted a clash of civilisations. Many people disagreed with him but some of his predictions are coming true. Globalisation has strengthened identities and identity politics. The politics of identity has added stress to the already stressed world. Many of the conflicts of today are over linguistic, religious, sectarian, ethnic and cultural identities. These conflicts are very difficult to resolve.

The system of global governance, underpinned by the UN and its agencies as well as several multilateralism is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. The old world order is changing and a new world order is in the making. The system of global governance is under great deal of stress and has become in parts dysfunctional. Sensitive regions of the world, as for example the Middle East, are in crisis. The threat of religious jihads, radicalisation, demographic shifts, pandemics, uncontrolled urbanisation, climate change etc. is palpable. Unfulfilled aspirations of the youth can pose threat to peace. Something needs to be done now to save the world from dangerous conflagrations which can turn into all-consuming conflagrations.

Climate change, as source of instability deserves special attention. According to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 8 October 2018, “limiting global warming to 1.5° C would require "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.” 2

The main job of the UN Security Council (UNSC) is to maintain peace and order in the world. Regrettably the UNSC has been found wanting. On the issues of world peace, there is lack of unanimity in the UNSC. The UNSC is too narrow a body to reflect the aspirations of the emerging countries. It needs to be reformed. But reform of the UNSC is unlikely because of the vested interests of the UNSC members. The reform of the UN must be on peace agenda.

The academic discipline of peace and conflict studies is growing across the world. The concepts of peace, conflict, war etc. have been studied in detail. The concepts of peace building, peacemaking, peacekeeping etc. are being applied by numerous official and non-official organisations around the world. Although controversial in many ways these studies agree on the importance of human security, human rights, development, democracy, and a rule of law as important components of nurturing peace.

Since 2007, Sydney based Institute for Peace and Economics has been publishing a Global Peace Index (GPI). In 2017 it ranked 163 countries on 23 indicators. These are ongoing domestic and international conflicts, crime rates, terrorism, violent demonstrations, harmonious relations with neighboring countries, political stability, displacement of populations etc. India ranked 136 in GPI, just above the Philippines and below Chad. Bhutan ranked 14.

The main findings of the 2017 GPI were:-

  • Peacebuilding activities can be highly cost-effective, providing cost savings 16 times the cost of the intervention.
  • The global economic impact of violence was $14.3 trillion Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) in 2016, equivalent to 12.6 per cent of global GDP, or $1,953 per person.
  • In Low-Peace environments, the factors that matter the most are related to Well-Functioning Government, Low Levels of Corruption, Acceptance of the Rights of Others and Good Relations with Neighbours
  • Due to armed conflict in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), many related indicators such as deaths from internal conflict, number of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP), and organised internal conflict are at high levels.
  • Safety and Security improved due to many countries recording a lower homicide rate and lower levels of political terror.
What should be done?

What should be done to promote the agenda for peace? As new threats arise, new thinking is needed. One needs to move away from the Cartesian, black and white thinking on which today’s prosperity is based. One can turn to wisdom of civilisations which have lasted thousands of years and which promote tolerance.

It is necessary to look at the peace issues from different perspectives. Hindu and Buddhist thinkers say that deviation from morality, truth and integrity are the main causes of conflict in the world. It is necessary to follow a dharma, a code of morality in politics. Politics has become too self-centered. In the search for individualism, the social support networks which provided assurance to the individual in the journey of his life have been weakened or destroyed. The world is being looked too much from the perspective of individual rights than from his duties towards family, society, nation and the world. A proper balance between the rights and duties of an individual has to be found.

In 2015, Prime Ministers Modi and Abe launched a Hindu-Buddhist dialogue on conflict avoidance and environmental consciousness. Four meetings have been held in the series. The idea was to explore what these religions, perceived widely to be religions promoting peace and tolerance, can help in peace conflict avoidance. The series of meetings held in the last few years have thrown up a number of ideas which can help bring peace to the troubled world. We enumerate, Hindu civilisation is among the oldest in the world. Its basic traits are:-

  • Oneness. This helps inculcate tolerance of diversity; harmony in diversity; and mutual respect. Honest dialogue is the way to deal with diversity. openessto others’s ideas is o=nherent in aa no bhadra kritva…
  • Truth. Recognition that truth is one, path to truth are many; ekam satya, bahuda vdanti.
  • World is a family; Vasudiava Kuntombakam; this helps understand the interconnectedness of all human beings and the interconnected of humans with other manifestations of nature.
  • Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, let there be happiness for all; this is necessary because in the happiness of all lies one’s own happiness; one cannot be happy in isolation.
  • Dharma. Dharma is not be translated as religion. That is a mistake. Dharma is the code of conduct which lays down the mutual obligations of individual and society in the mutual benefit of both.
  • Karma. Hindu philosophy believes that human ageing id divine and not a sinner. The divinity can be manifested through proper action. One cannot escape the consequences of i=one’s action. So there is inherent restraint for indulging in bad behaviour.

Buddhism has also a lot of wisdom which can help ushering a better world. The avoidance of extreme greed and anger and following a middle path, showing karuna to fellow beings, inculcating the spirit of mercy and daya are considered to be the ways for a better world.

None of this is rocket science. But inclusive ideas are very difficult to translate into practice. The western ideas have led to massive technological and material growth but also massive inequalities and destruction of the environment. The uncontrolled pursuit of materialism has led to present day crisis which is manifest in climate change, inequality, the crisis of commons etc.


Defining peace can itself be a controversial. Charting out an agenda for peace can be even more so. However, there would be some agreement that providing good governance, pursuing sustainable development, maintaining harmony among communities and among nations, finding a balance between individual and society, freedoms with reasonable restrictions, would help foster peace. These elements would form the elements of an agenda for peace. A rethink of western models of growth and development is required. The Asian religions and philosophies have many ideas which need to be understood. Some of these can be incorporated into an agenda for peace.

India, with its old civilisational experience and wealth of wisdom can help shape the global agenda for peace. One may quote from Will Durant on The Case for India (1931)3:-

“India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings.” And,

“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all….

As India enters next phase of its development, it would need peaceful atmosphere too pursue its objectives. This will require maintaining good relations with neighbours and harmony within the country. At the same time India cannot be oblivious to its numerous national security challenges. To remain well prepared to meet these challenges is imperative for India’s growth. A strong and stable India is necessary for maintaining peace.

  1. An Agenda for Peace, is a report written for the United Nations by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1992. It introduced the concept of “post-conflict peacebuilding.” The concept of post-conflict peacebuilding has been especially important in the academic discipline of peace and conflict studies. The UN Security Council convened in 1992 in a first-time meeting of heads of state. In their statement, the heads-of-state recognised that, “The absence of war and military conflicts amongst States does not in itself ensure international peace and security. The non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security.”
  2., accessed on 27.10.2018

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