Patrick J. O Brien

2024, No World War, But a World at War, as New Conflicts Set to Escalate

Journalist Patrick O Brien in talks with the Head of the Red Cross in Lviv Ukraine during his recent visit (Image courtesy of author)
Journalist Patrick O Brien in talks with the Head of the Red Cross in Lviv Ukraine during his recent visit (Image courtesy of author)

To be an optimist about a world of peace is to run the risk of being branded ignorant, incorrigibly naïve or outright demented. And to remain an optimist, a glass half-full kind of person, after 30 years of working in journalism and at times reporting on barbaric wars crimes and terrorists attacks, it gives you an better understanding of how cruel this world can be. The headlines today are rightly dominated by the crisis in Gaza. There is good reason for that it is currently the most dangerous place in the world to be a civilian. This conflicts has shown us that war is costly, deadly and destructive. But I do remain a tenacious believer in our capacity to learn something from the past and not repeat its most awful mistakes. There is a famous expression that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it! 

At the dawn of history, the morality of  war was not questioned, it was simply a fact, like drought or disease, it was the manner which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences. And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war.  The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met. If it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense, if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence. 

History has shown us though that in addition to and complementing long-term peace building efforts, nonviolent movements have removed the most odious of leaders, from Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986 and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia in 2000, to the recent toppling of Omar Bashir in Sudan in 2019. These homegrown people-powered movements were supported and sometimes trained in non-violent actions by groups around the world and their stories read like the most remarkable movies never made. While present-day Russia is notoriously repressive, so too have been other dictatorships, and civil resistance has prevailed there. So let us not give up hope that ordinary people can overthrow the mightiest empires in their quest for greater freedom.  

I believe that there should  never be a way back to the past. But what is brutal about the situation since 24 February 2022 is that Putin broke with all the principles that earlier generations in Europe, and in Russia, had worked so hard to establish over the past 50 years to enable themselves to live together in peace despite all the differences. The Russian President has attacked this European peace order as well. And at the same time, institutions from this European age of peace, such as the EU, and particularly the OSCE, are now more important than ever. Not only for many countries of the former Soviet Union; rather, many people in Germany, too, now realise that peace in Europe did not fall from the sky.

Force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war.  Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later.  That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace. In the famous words of Kofi Anan, “Peace is never a perfect achievement.” The concept of peace building is the proactive pursuit of harmony and cooperation, where we demand equity and security for everyone. Consider the moon. It is a globe of utter peacefulness.

Most international experts agree that the world will not allow the outbreak of World War III, as its consequences will be irreparable. But at the same time, analysts predict a significant increase in the number of so-called proxy wars, when giant countries fight for their interests at the hands of small and underdeveloped countries.

With the eyes of the world on the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, an unprecedented number of potentially “catastrophic” conflicts are going under the radar, analysts have warned. The International Rescue Committee earlier this month released its emergency watchlist for 2024, documenting the 20 countries at the greatest risk of security deterioration. These countries account for around 10% of the world’s population but around 70% of its displaced persons, along with approximately 86% of global humanitarian need.

If we, as a global world as one want to reap the harvest of peace and justice in the future, we will have to sow seeds of non-violence here and now, in the present as we must always find a non violent solution to conflict.

About the Author
Patrick J O Brien is an acclaimed journalist and Director of Exante who has been working in the media for almost 25 years. Patrick who hails from Ireland is based in Malta and a contributor to some of the world’s leading financial and political magazines. Recently he returned from Ukraine where he was reporting at ground level on the escalation of war and spent time documenting the work of the Red Cross and many human right organisations
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