Let’s Make War History

Let’s Make War History Too!

Tim Wallis, Peaceworkers UK 28/1/05

At the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, 147 world leaders committed themselves to the lofty ideal of eradicating world poverty. This in itself is hardly significant, since politicians put their names to lofty ideals all the time. But in this case, what the leaders of the world signed up to was in fact a set of specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound targets, spelling out exactly what they were committing themselves to achieving by the year 2015.

These 18 targets which constitute the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (or ‘MDGs’) provide a means of measuring the progress of every country towards the achievement of those goals. Regardless of whether these goals are actually achieved within the agreed timeframe, the fact is that the existence of these goals and their translation into a set of very detailed and specific indicators has radically transformed the global development movement and moved global poverty to the top of the political agenda.

Never before have governments been so exposed to the scrutiny of promises made to their citizens and to the rest of the world, and never before has the eradication of world poverty seemed so achievable. Civil Society Organisations around the world have galvanised their members to hold the world’s leaders to these promises. ‘Make Poverty History’ is the new slogan of this movement as we approach the 5-year review of the Millennium Goals and this will be the focus of international meetings and events throughout 2005.


What has attracted much less attention over the past 5 years is that at the very same Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders also committed themselves to the lofty ideal of eradicating the scourge of war. Although they did define this commitment in terms of eleven achievable ‘goals’, these were not formulated in anything like the detail and specificity of the Millennium Development Goals. It is no wonder then, that no equivalent pressure has been put on world leaders to deliver on their peace promises.

But the eradication of war is no less important to the people of the world than the eradication of poverty. Indeed, without achieving peace in many of the poorest countries of Africa, achieving the millennium development goals is simply an impossibility. This is now widely recognised and the urgency of ending wars and preventing new ones is firmly on the agenda of the development movement. What is needed now is to bring this urgency to the forefront of the world’s political agenda and to tie it inextricably to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. What better way to achieve this than to urge world leaders to agree a set of Millennium Peace & Security Goals to complement and supplement their existing commitment to the Development Goals?

When world leaders gather in September 2005 to review the promises they made five years ago, we must demand of them, not only a re-affirmation of their commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, on time and within budget! We must further demand of them the setting of clear, achievable and measurable targets for the eradication of human misery, death and destruction caused by war. A new set of Millennium Peace & Security Goals should be agreed and quantified such that progress towards their achievement can be clearly monitored. These Security Goals should sit side by side with the Development Goals and be seen as mutually complementary.

Without a commitment to the Security Goals, world poverty cannot be eradicated. But likewise, without a commitment to the Development Goals, the scourge of war cannot be eradicated. We need to build a new partnership between those primarily concerned with development and those primarily concerned with peace and security, so that we can work together more effectively to achieve both.

There are many other issues demanding the world’s attention, not least the urgent problem of global warming. But the primary focus of 2005 will be on global poverty, and we must make the connection with peace and security that is already there for so many of those involved in development. Never before has there been such a broad consensus about the need to seriously tackle the problem of war. We must seize this opportunity to ‘make war history’ as we go about trying to ‘make poverty history’.

Operationalising a Set of ‘Millennium Peace & Security Goals’ (or ‘MPGs’)

What 147 heads of state agreed to in Sept 2000 were 11 lofty ambitions which continue to form the basis of international thinking on global peace and security, most recently in the UN High Level Panel report on ‘Threats, Challenges and Change’ which came out in December 2004:

  1. Strengthen the rule of law
  2. Make the UN more effective
  3. Strengthen regional cooperation
  4. Implement international treaties
  5. Take action against terrorism
  6. Counter the world drug problem
  7. Fight transnational crime
  8. Minimise adverse effects of sanctions
  9. Eliminate weapons of mass destruction
  10. End illicit traffic in small arms
  11. Prohibit anti-personnel mines

The great significance of the Millennium Development Goals is that there can be no ambiguity about whether they are being achieved or not. The goals themselves can be, and have been, broken down by year and by country to monitor exactly how progress is or is not being made on a case by case basis. Can the lofty objectives above be similarly translated into specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound targets, with corresponding indicators that will enable progress towards their achievement to be closely and accurately monitored? So long as we focus on the goals themselves, rather than on the various means proposed for achieving those goals, it should be possible to be as specific, measurable and achievable as the MDGs.

The ‘measurement’ of peace and security is not as difficult as it may sound, and we have a great many baseline statistics from which to build such measurements. Although there may be academic differences in the way these are defined, we can, for instance, count the number of wars taking place at any one time. We can count the numbers of people being killed in those wars. We can count the numbers of refugees and IDPs displaced by war. We can count the number of small arms and light weapons in circulation. We can count the number of landmines still unexploded in the ground and we can count the injuries caused by these.

We can also count the numbers of countries that flout international treaties and agreements and the numbers of times they do it. We can count the numbers of weapons – from the smallest guns to the most powerful nuclear missiles – that are being stockpiled, produced, bought and sold. We can count the number of terrorist incidents and the numbers arrested for, and affected by, drugs traffic and other transnational crimes. We can even count the numbers of crimes against humanity being committed, the numbers of these being put to trial, nationally or at the ICC, and the numbers of successful convictions.

We do not need to explain exactly how a reduction in any of these numbers would be achieved, although that may well be a useful contribution for civil society organisations to make. Our objective in the first instance must be to get governments to translate the 11 security goals in the Millennium Declaration into specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound targets. That alone would be a huge step forward in terms of holding those governments to account and measuring their progress against an agreed yardstick. It must then be up to governments to find ways of meeting the targets once they have agreed to them.

Will the world’s leaders be prepared to commit themselves to halving all the numbers above by 2015? Perhaps it is more ‘realistic’ to try to cut the number of wars and the number of people affected by war by, say, 20% over the next 10 years? What the precise numbers might be that would attract universal or near universal agreement among the world’s leaders is purely a matter of political positioning and bargaining that can begin once the principle of setting some numbers is agreed. Our first task is to get that agreement of principle and then to work on public opinion and the media to push world leaders to be as ambitious as possible on this. The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict provides an opportunity both to galvanise a global movement in support of MPGs and a forum in July to push for this to be on the agenda of the Summit of world leaders in September. In the meantime, there are numerous opportunities coming up that can be used to build support for this at UK and EU levels.