This article was first published in Peace Insight
Lebanese peacebuilder Sawssan Abou-Zahr acknowledges that with all this turmoil around us it is hard to be optimistic. It is all the more remarkable therefore that she found a book that left her hopeful. In her review of "The Business Plan for Peace: Building a World Without War" by Dr Scilla Elworthy, the founder of Peace Direct, she reviews the roadmap the book puts forward for peace.
As a peacebuilder in the Middle East, this is a very challenging time, as the region reaches boiling point. The Iranian nuclear deal was arrogantly abandoned by the American president; the situation in Syria has been seriously escalating toward an uncontrolled proxy war between Israel and Iran; and Palestinians were shot down on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba in the biggest confrontation with Israel since 2014.
With all this turmoil around us it is hard to be optimistic. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that I found a book that left me smiling and hopeful.
"The Business Plan for Peace: Building a World Without War" was written by Scilla Elworthy, the founder of Peace Direct. The book, according to her, is "for those who feel powerless in the
face of what they see in the news, for those who want to step out of helplessness and find out how they can apply their personal skills to do something about the challenges facing us". It offers a roadmap to building peace with ourselves and with others, though it is intended for a bigger picture, one of peace among nations and within them.
Elworthy, a preacher of peace, comes from a "military family", at the other end of the spectrum. She learned to shoot a gun at the early age of eleven. Throughout her career in peacebuilding, she has met survivors of war from Bosnia to Japan; was inspired by individual efforts to rescue children from militias in Congo; by the influence of women in ending electoral violence in Zimbabwe; and in preventing Jihadis from becoming suicide bombers in Pakistan.
Citing an example from the city of Najaf in Iraq in 2013, she reminds us that "humiliation is a key driver of violence, respect is the strongest antidote to humiliation", and "trust is a source of power, because integrity has an energy all of its own".
Elworthy's plan is not a mathematic equation; it instead relies on the bonds of humanity to make peace at local, national and international levels. However, she does detail the costs of its 25 steps and is realistic in acknowledging that wars are well rooted in the drives of the global economy.
The Business of War
Global military expenditure rose in 2016 to $1,686 billion, "that is $1,686,000,000,000". According to the United Nations, it would cost $340 billion yearly to provide education to every child worldwide; and $28.4 billion for basic water and sanitation services by 2030. “There would be an ample amount of $1,317.6 billion left over per year, to address all the other Sustainable Development Goals, and still allow nations to defend themselves."
The industry of war has a network of perpetrators, including arms manufacturers, smugglers, human traffickers, money launderers and drug dealers.
Rapists are also agents of war. Elworthy notes that "the result of rape as a weapon of war extends beyond post-conflict chaos because the children born have no idea who their father is; moreover, the anguish for a woman who has given birth to a child whose father is the "enemy" can only be imagined".
Allow me to share what I witnessed in Libya in May 2012. In Zawiya, a northwestern city, pictures of shouhada' (martyrs) were filling a wall. It was an all-male memorial and I wondered why women were not honored likewise. The answer was shocking; almost every female martyr was raped by Kaddafi's mercenaries. Those who endured the horrible sexual crime were found bleeding, half naked and bald headed as a rapists' stigma. In a conservative tribal society, families felt ashamed of their daughters instead of taking pride in their martyrdom.
However, women manage to overcome the hardest situations and have a huge impact as peace builders. They are an essential pillar of Elworthy's plan as "research and statistics prove a peace agreement is 35 % more likely to last at least fifteen years if women participate in its creation".
The Business Plan for Peace
Acknowledging that major threats nowadays "cannot be dealt with weaponry: namely global warming, migration, the rich-poor gap and cyber-attacks", the author offers a roadmap that makes peace profitable and attractive, by developing an overall strategy for the prevention of armed conflicts, coordinated with dialogue and early intervention. This plan is not a fantasy. It is a must; when according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, there are 75 places worldwide where tensions could break out into war.
So, what is the plan? The Business Plan for Peace is an accumulation of individual plans over a decade, and cost estimations are based on professionals' experiences and approximations.
It all starts at the local level
At least 1,400 effective, locally led peacebuilding organizations could be supported annually for ten years, at the cost of $140,000,000. Next, six regional platforms should be established to administer funding to similar initiatives at $6,300,000.
Breaking the cycle of violence comes third and this is achieved through encouraging local systems to provide physical, political and psychological security. This system relies on early intervention where anger cannot be allowed to lead to bitterness, revenge and atrocities. Success should involve training women and mediators, setting truth and reconciliation commissions, and freeing child soldiers. The estimated cost is $10,000,000. Addressing the long-term effects of trauma follows and the six regional platforms would receive $50,000 annually to address this. This cost is $3,000,000 over a decade.
The first four steps relate to building safety at the local levels, amounting to $159,300,000. The next steps are systems to be put in place on the national or regional levels.
A national and regional perspective for peace
Infrastructures for Peace are needed at a national level and following the leads of South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, ten others could be established with the cost of training and maintenance being only $120,000,000.
Enabling qualified women to fill policy-making roles on peace and security is a must. It is possible to support 30
women in 30 conflict affected counties for only $450,000. This is the smallest sum in the plan and surely investing in women's abilities is most rewarding and cost effective. Women are also engaged in organizations that need support, especially in regions at risk of violent extremism. Funding them in 30 countries over ten years would require $150,000,000.
Truth and reconciliation commissions are to be set in four countries at $24,000,000. The author suggests Northern Ireland and Colombia to prevent a repeat of these countries’ cycles of violence. I would add Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, although establishing a more secure peace would be an important step forward in these countries.
Based on the Lebanese experience where the civil war ended without a period of transitional justice in an internationally brokered agreement that legalised impunity, I fear the implementation of this example in neighboring Syria would only produce fragile on-paper end of war, not peace.
The UN and NATO ought to set standards for member nations to establish Conflict Prevention Funds at $10,000,000. This should lead to cuts in governmental support for arms trading and the development and diversification of green technology strategies. Ten universities would set the roadmap, assisted by media coverage at a cost of $15,000,000. Alongside this would go a campaign to shift money away from arms production and persuade sovereign funds to invest in renewable energy at a cost of $90,000,000.
These drastic changes require multi-stakeholders dialogue every two years at $5,000,000 over ten years.
“Peace Buildings” come next. Note the plural. These are hubs to host meetings and develop strategies. Elworthy suggests them in Libya, Sudan, Ukraine, Central African Republic, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria at a cost of $250,000,000.
At this point, the nine-step-system to prevent conflict at national/regional levels have been covered and require $664,450,000, the book now scales up to the international level.
It is crucial to set up the UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) at $10,000,000. This is a project already fully planned that will ensure that genocide will never occur again.
Elworthy highlights the role of mediators all over her plan. Thus, in addition to the UNEPS, a team of five regional independent mediators should be established representing different cultures, ethnicities and belief systems. The cost of their training and work over a decade is $31,000,000.
A 2.5 % cut on current arms sales would be invested in addressing the roots of conflict. $36,000,000 is needed for lobbying and publicity campaigns towards these aims
Societies can defuse violent responses in the form of terrorism through positive welcoming of migrants and refugees.
A practical way for this is the funding of five films on this theme in five countries for $1,250,000. This leads to depriving terrorism of publicity in the media. The cost of five full campaigns in five countries is $25,000,000.
As a further measure, the top ten countries of the Global Peace Index that have discovered the benefits of peaceful societies, should invest $20,000,000 in the ten least peaceful to continually improve the index.
Elworthy puts youth employment in the Middle East next in her well-organised plan. Millions of frustrated unemployed youth require training to work in rural areas producing food supplies and obtaining reliable sources of drinkable water. In addition, 6,000 self-sufficient projects would be supported over ten years, all at the cost of $800,000,000. As poor economic conditions and dictatorships have led to uprisings followed by chaos and the radicalisation of marginalised youth, I highly endorse this suggestion.
That being said, the Sunni-Shiite divide, rightfully labelled as one driver for war, needs to be addressed. Here I feel the author's view is a bit simplistic. The sectarian conflict is not triggered because "two countries compete for the leadership of Islam; Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran". In fact, the current political struggle is but the latest manifestation of a schism dating back to prophet's Muhammad death and disputes over legitimacy among his companions.
And while the historical roots of the sectarian divide are longstanding, throughout history the more normal situation is coexistence between Sunni and Shiite communities. In fact, where there have been divides, these have often been deliberately fostered for political reasons, as has happened in Syria, where there has been a ‘sectarianisation’ of what started as peaceful uprising for democracy. This has in turn exacerbated Sunni-Shiite divides far beyond Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia, including places such as my country Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and even elsewhere in Asia and Caucasus.
But if I think the historical analysis is somewhat light in this section, I still find the prescriptions useful. I do agree that "it may now be possible to support sufficient numbers of clerics on both sides to work together for shared Muslim values, rather than fighting to be right over differing rituals." Given the growing mistrust, "it will be beneficial if civil society takes initiatives for dialogue" that include business people and women. A global campaign of this nature would be $9,000,000.
Early Warning Systems, either by grassroots intelligence and internet coordination, or complex radar technologies supervised by trained mediators, come next. The money needed for this is $5,400,000 over ten years.
Finally, let us copy Bhutan's example of Gross National Happiness where sustainable development takes a holistic approach towards the non-economic aspects of well-being. Elworthy calls Bhutan to host leaders of countries yearly, for a decade, to witness the advantages of its GNH. Such events need $100,000,000.
The individual power
This is a sum everyone could afford, yet our individual roles do not end here. The author encourages us to support non-violence in schools and similar grassroots initiatives. Moreover, the book is a wake-up call to build peace within. Elworthy is honest in criticizing herself and drawing lessons from her failures and weaknesses. She provides tips for effective communication and exercises for listening and dealing with the inner critic.
The pages offer stories of hope and powerful quotes from inspirational figures such as Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. They are our role models. Naming Aung San Suu Kyi among them is however disappointing. Although the book was prepared before the Rohingya crisis, the Nobel Prize winner’s failure to use her moral and political authority to condemn ethical cleansing of fellow citizens should have led an omission of her from this work on peace.
The author encourages us to support non-violence in schools and similar grassroots initiatives.
As expected, Syria is the most mentioned country in the book. Elworthy refers to it in stressing the importance of early intervention that could have prevented a "local conflict" from triggering "ancient regional fissures". Would the deployment of mediators have made a difference in 2011? What if the Assad regime had negotiated at an early stage with civil activists?
In her own words, "peace is more than the absence of war. Peace means living together with, and even celebrating our differences - be they cultural, religious, ethnic, racial or gender based. A culture of peace rests on a strong foundation of respect for justice, dignity, human rights".
It might be hard to envision this in Syria, as well as in Libya, Yemen, or Palestine (almost ignored by the book), yet it is a cause worth believing in; a moral and political fight for peace based on a clear business plan. Let us all read it and work together to implement it.