Currently, a quarter of humanity is living in places affected by violent conflict, with the world facing the highest number of violent conflicts since the Second World War. We face significant challenges, with the ongoing devastating war in Ukraine, global tensions increasing and new threats emerging in rapidly developing technologies like autonomous weapons and cyber warfare.
Global military spending is now over $2 trillion and continues to rise at an alarming rate. Despite loose commitments to disarmament, the nine nuclear-armed states continue to fortify and increase their nuclear arsenals and show no signs of stopping. The Doomsday Clock puts the world at 90 seconds to midnight – closer to nuclear catastrophe than ever before.
This is a world desperate for a new story yet running out of time to write it.
It is in this context that the UN Secretary General António Guterres has sounded the alarm, stating that humanity faces a stark and urgent choice: breakdown or breakthrough. In an attempt to realise the former, policy proposals for ‘A New Agenda for Peace’ were launched today.
The New Agenda for Peace includes lots to celebrate. The report includes the following recommendations, presented for Member States to consider:
- Prevention at the global level: addressing strategic risks and geopolitical divisions
- Preventing conflict and violence and sustaining peace
- Strengthening peace operations and addressing peace enforcement
- Novel approaches to peace and potential domains of conflict
- Strengthening international governance
The mechanisms for making diplomatic progress on arms control are broken. The Conference on Disarmament that meets for 22 weeks each year is no longer fit for purpose. The Secretary General’s call for a fourth Special Session on Disarmament is a welcome opportunity to fix the broken machinery. In June, Methodist Conference passed a resolution in support of a new Special Session and we invite other faith groups to join this call.
Equally, the New Agenda has a welcome focus on better financing for peace, addressing the causes of conflict and reducing military spending.
It also marks a shift away from the old Agenda for Peace – focusing less on institutional UN-led solutions and more on the responsibilities of Member States . Given the notable shortcomings of UN peacekeeping, particularly in the context of Ukraine, this makes sense. However, it also places a burden on Member States which they may well fail to carry.
The New Agenda for Peace talks about trust as the foundation for international cooperation, prevention as the basis for peace, and has ‘eliminate nuclear weapons’ as its first recommendation for action. The UK’s 2023 Integrated Review mentions none of these.
At the UN Security Council, the UK’s Ambassador James Kariki said: “The New Agenda for Peace is an opportunity to put prevention front and centre, to save lives and greater costs down the line”. This is welcome, yet it is not what is reflected in the policies of the UK Government. Prevention has never been front and centre, defence has. At the end of 2022, defence spending was £45.9 billion. Our entire spending on peacekeeping, including the Conflict Stability and Security Fund, was little more than £1 billion.
The priorities and actions of our Government are completely out of step with the New Agenda for Peace.
One of JPIT’s six hopes for society is ‘a world that works actively for peace’. We urge our Government to commit to taking peace and disarmament more seriously, and to tackling the root causes of conflict. The New Agenda for Peace echoes this completely.
In our hopes for election manifestos we suggest that political parties:
- Actively support the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, alongside a commitment to a UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament.
- Raise the aid budget to at least 0.7% of Gross National Income, to comply with UN targets and restore a leadership position for the UK in tackling rising global inequality.
- Increase our focus on conflict prevention by at least quadrupling the contribution to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, reversing the recent downward trend.
Convincing our Governments to adopt the recommendations in the New Agenda for Peace ultimately falls to us – as citizens, voters, Christians or other. If the New Agenda for Peace is to succeed, all countries will need to engage with it on a meaningful level. For this to happen, we need to engage with our politicians. Rhetoric is not enough: we urgently need to see domestic and international commitments that treat conflict prevention with the urgent devotion it warrants.