I have just returned from two inspiring international conferences at Oxford University and Limassol, Cyprus, held in late March 2002. They were sponsored by a number of peace research institutes from all over the world. Attended by over 100 peace scholars, their aim was to study global problems globally through dialogue among scholars from different civilizations.
The conferences concluded that to free the world from violence and injustice, we desperately need an alternative voice reflecting all traditions of civility. The two conferences thus launched a three-year research project on the struggle for democracy in the context of global and regional conflicts. These views stand in sharp contract to the polarization that is taking place between the voices of centers and peripheries of power.
Following President Bush's “Axis of Evil” speech, cautionary voices from European and Asian leaders have warned against such polarization. But it is becoming more and more clear that unless an alternative global voice can emerge to narrow the global gaps, the world is doomed to a prolonged international strife between centers and peripheries with disastrous consequences for all.
In this context, former Indonesian President Abdul Rahman Wahid has proposed the organization of a Bandung II. At the peak of Cold War hostilities, in 1955, Bandung I was organized as an international movement of non-aligned nations led by Sukarno, Tito, Nehru, Nasser, and Zhou Enlai.
In 1964, that movement led to the formation of Group 77 at the United Nations. The group now includes 133 member states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. To negotiate for promotion of trade and investment in the less developed countries, that grouping led to the establishment of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The world has radically changed since 1955. We are now left with a single superpower with commanding global military reach. Until such time that European Union, China, Russia, Japan, or India can muster singly or in alliance any comparable economic and political power, the world will be a particularly dangerous place. The kinds of checks and balances that existed during the Cold War will be conspicuous by their absence.
As Harvard's Joseph Nye has wisely pointed out (
The Economist, March 23, 2002, pp. 23-25), for its own sake as well as to protect world peace, the United States now needs to purse a policy of self-containment. However, the talk of nuking “enemies” in some U. S. circles is not reassuring.
At this historical juncture, what the world needs is not another state-centered alliance to promote particular national or regional interests. What the world desperately needs now is a transnational civil-society movement for global peace and democracy vis-à-vis the polarized world politics of state and non-state terrorism. To address the current crisis, world political and moral leaders should get together.
To name only a few, such leaders may include Kofi Anan, Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Vaclav Havel, Abdul Rahman Wahid, Mohammad Khatami, Desmond Tutu, Daisaku Ikeda, Hans Kung, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jose Ramos-Horta, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama, Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Joseph Rotblat, Elie Wiesel, and Oscar Aria (mostly Nobel Peace Laureates).
Unless such leaders can propose alternative voices and policies to the shrill voices on the extreme right or the left, the world will have no moral and political center on which to rely. As William Butler Yeats (
The Norton Anthology of Poetry, p. 520) prophesized in another age of impending disaster:
Things fall apart; the Center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University of Hawaii and director of the
Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research