"New cultures of peace in a changing world"March 12th, 2011
Young people at a Youth Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization received a crash course in geo-politics and international security. Zuki Mqolomba, a 25-year-old South African from Johannesburg, reports.
I had the opportunity to attend the NATO Youth Summit in Portugal, Lisbon, held between 19 and 20 September 2010. The summit was held alongside meetings of 28 heads of states in the EU and North America to discuss NATO’s new strategic concept paper.
The NATO youth summit was honoured by the likes of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and Portugal’s Prime Minister, José Sócrates, amongst other leaders.
It aimed to solicit views from young leaders about NATO’s efforts to strengthen its military and political capabilities in dealing with 21st century challenges such as terrorism, sabotage, cyberspace attacks, missile attacks, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and energy crises.
Underpinning the new strategic concept was the need to strengthen and modernise collective defence and military operations and build co-operative security through developing global partnerships.
In my opinion, the summit confirmed the need for NATO to redefine itself. It represented a change in tactic more than anything. The new strategic concept forms part of NATOs efforts to rethink military operations, particularly those which have proved unsuccessful in light of cyber threats, proliferation of weapons, and the presence of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and West Africa.
Many have long argued that NATO’s role, post Cold War, has proven increasingly irrelevant and have called for its disbandment. Disbandment is highly unlikely to happen, particularly bearing in mind the economic and political investment of countries concerned.
As a consequence NATO has given a good defence amid clear threats – both existing and imminent – and has successfully repositioned itself at the centre of the balances of military and political power.
What was most fascinating about the summit was the extent to which investments (intellectual, financial, military and political) have been made to protect and advance regional interests. For me, it really was a crash course in geo-politics and international security at play. It’s a zero-sum game that is highly competitive, and is deeply embedded in geo-political interest politics.
Nonetheless, NATO’s efforts to retain its regional core albeit with global links is worrisome. It reflects the prevailing attitudes and old narratives that continue to create ‘others and ‘thems’, even in a world of multi-polarity. There remains passive resistance to broaden participation and to build inclusive global alliances or partnerships premised on shared values (i.e. global security for all).
My only hope is that NATO’s extended invitation to prospective global partners will displace the uneven nature of power relations traditionally characterising global partnerships.
NATO needs to reinvent itself if it is to maintain relevance, bearing in mind the changing balances of forces. If NATO is to retain its strategic place in the balance of power, naturally one would imagine a different trajectory and a slightly more sophisticated change in logic.
I truly believe that the times of hard power and bi-polarity have come to the end of their lifespan. Global challenges expand beyond geographic borders. Global governance should indeed be global and broadly representative. We build resistance and resentment when we exclude.
Herein remain the breeding grounds of extreme fundamentalism. Without changing or evening out the playing grounds, one is paying mere lip service to the things one asserts to advance and care about. This forms part of NATO’s strategy to strengthen its military and political alliances to deal with perceived threats.
For this reason, it seems appropriate that a stock-taking and reflection should be undertaken on international strategies for conflict-resolution and promoting peace and development.
As we strive to build a Commonwealth that is at peace with herself, I believe that a tri-network of Commonwealth youth would be useful in this regards, particularly in terms of waging a new offensive against international conflicts and threats.
Undoubtedly, there is a need for a pioneering generation that will engender a new culture of peace and dialogue, and disown the culture of war as has characterised the age of the 21st century. The struggles of humanity require a pioneering generation dedicated to meaningful social change.
What is encouraging is the growing anti-war and pro-inclusivity sentiments among emerging youth leaders. It might be idealistic at times, but if these paradigms shape the prevailing discourse, then the future looks bright, indeed.
Ours indeed is the age of soft power, critical analysis, forging new sets of relations and new grande narratives for a better and safer world for all!
This generation of youth indeed “dreams of the realisation of the unity of (all people), whereby its leaders join efforts to solve the problems of this world. We dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. For indeed to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.” – so said former president of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?