The first war on record transpired in 2700 BC, and since then things have largely followed a pattern. Countless wars have occurred, each accompanied by numerous atrocities of their own. Each side chaperoned by a sense of moral high ground and military abundance.
Fighting is everywhere. Some have argued it is a mind-set, a human condition that one can do nothing about. From that bloke down the pub that is missing a few teeth to two kids in the playground jumping on each other, it is largely a world in which there is little respite from violence.
This is indeed reflected by international relations past and present. With so many countries, and indeed leaders, striving to be the alpha male, conflict was always going to occur. It is perfectly natural, or so it seems, to desire power. Since the dawn of time imperialism has been the sole aim of many countries. One would assume this reflects the supposed inhibition of man.
But can this be changed? Can this condition be rebuffed and refined? Indeed, it seems it’s very possible. Partially helped by two world wars, and the subsequent creation of the United Nations, countries and indeed people are changing their views on the rather destructive interventionist policy.
This has been most evident recently, and confirmation of this shift in thought was provided by the vote of British Parliament to avoid intervention in Syria. I can’t say, yet, if this decision is a good or a bad thing in terms of the Syrian situation, however, it is certainly significant that a democratic, and indeed peaceful, choice of action was reached.
Indeed, the world leaders – America – have also taken a democratic stance. Obama’s decision to take the issue of intervention to Congress shows his reservations concerning interventionism. Military action, for example in Iraq and Afghanistan, has somewhat failed the US of late, causing a change of worldview for many citizens and indeed for the government as many now fear the consequences of war.
Even Russia has been reasonable. Its peace plan shows a somewhat new, diplomatic side to Russian foreign policy. After the Snowden controversy, the US and Russia have something over which they can talk and hopefully produce a resolution. The Cold War bitterness may have finally worn off, as Russia decides not to completely oppose the Americans and take the decision to the UN.
All these states’ foreign policies seem to be changing. Becoming more reasonable, and although fighting in North Africa continues, as the West leads the rest will surely follow.
I will, then, finish with an example of what forward-thinking countries should be aiming towards. Switzerland has effectively been neutral since 1515, with this being formally recognised in 1815. Switzerland is effectually the longest standing neutral country in the world. But how has this long lasting peace been maintained? The Swiss Constitution states that foreign policy is to have five objectives:
- “promote respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of the law
- Further the peaceful coexistence of nations
- Promote Swiss economic interests abroad;
- Alleviate need and poverty in the world;
- Promote preservation of natural resources.”
Indeed, this is the type of sustainable foreign policy that more countries should be trying to emulate. “Peaceful coexistence” is the end, but war is not the means. It, of course, is occasionally necessary – but only very occasionally, and only when considered just. A diplomatically, economically and environmentally sustainable state of world affairs is exactly what is needed, and hopefully events in Syria, coupled with countless wars over the past few hundred years, have – bizarrely- brought us one step closer to that.