Videography: Jean-Pierre Larroque, Interviewed By: Andrea Jovanovic

Is the idea of peace in the 21st century an idealistic vision or an achievable goal?

OEF recently asked that question to notable thinkers who research trends in violent conflict and other key drivers affecting global stability. Their responses are captured in the series, "Peace in the 21st Century." In this video, Joshua Goldstein talks about the progress we've made in managing conflict and the importance of strengthening institutions such as the UN to continue to deal with international conflict.

Joshua Goldstein:

A lot of people think that the idea of a peaceful world is just distant and maybe even impossible.  You know, we'll never get there.  War is just always with us.  But, if you look at what's happened to war over just the course of my lifetime, it's been dramatic that we have fewer wars, smaller wars, and we have better tools for dealing with conflicts without resort to war.  We've made a lot of progress already. 

I'm not one to say, you know, “my plan for world peace, everybody is going to be in harmony with each other and all our problems will disappear.”  But I am one to say we've made a lot of progress in managing conflicts, learning how to reduce the size and number and location, the spread of wars.  If we keep that going, if we learn what's working and we keep it going, we could reduce that close to zero.  Maybe we'll never have a 100% peaceful world, but we could get to 95, 98, that would be great.

We need to strengthen our institutions.  We need to strengthen our institutions for dealing with international conflict.  They're very fragile and young in the perspective of history.  Especially the United Nations.  It's so much better than the League of Nations which was better than nothing. But, we're slowly developing these institutions and the UN needs a lot more money, a lot more resources.  It's got a lot of problems that we live with: inefficient, all the talking past each other that goes on in the General Assembly, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts, the peacekeepers, the UN peacekeepers out in the field trying to hold a cease fire together…they're doing fantastic work around the world.

If you really look at what they need or what's making them succeed or fail, it turns out having adequate resources is the big thing.  For instance, there's two peace keeping missions, one in Democratic Republic of Congo and one in the Sierra Leone in the last decade that had about the same size, force – 20,000 people – but one country is 10 times larger than the other.  In effect, the mission in Sierra Leone was 10 times the resources per person as the Congo.  The Congo mission was really problematic and had a lot of problems and failures.  The Sierra Leone mission was a stunning success.  Of course, what do we all pay attention to? The Congo, where the problems are, because our attention is drawn to problems. 

But if we use examples like Sierra Leone, how to do it – how to make it stick, how to bring society from a fragile, tenuous cease fire to some more stability, democracy, economic development – more resources is what we need for that. 

The average American household – just think about Americans - the average household pays about $600 every month for our military and the things associated with the military.  We pay like $2 per month for UN peacekeeping.  If we took that $2 dollars and turned it to $4, just as an example, it would make a huge difference to millions of people around the world because these peacekeepers who today maybe don't have boots and don't have bullets and don't have paper to write their reports on…if they could have those things, they could be a lot more successful.  We know the stuff that works.  But, we need to give the resources to it.

I think the UN is pretty central.  It's the only one that we have, you know. We only have one UN.  I think the success will come from a lot of different organizations and individuals.  Peace movements, diplomats, companies, a lot of different influences that go into making peace work. 

One of the big things that we really need is economic development. Poverty is a big predictor of war.  It's probably the single biggest thing that sets up a country for civil war is if they're very poor.  We know a lot also about how to work on poverty and we've made a lot of progress, especially in Africa.  The maternal health, the child health indicators, all those vaccination programs are making a huge difference.  We need a lot more of that.  As the income levels rise and countries get more stable then we'll have less danger of wars. 

21st century is the century of peace.  It's not a dream.