President Walesa, Ms Tibaijuka, Minister Mohammed Al Mutawa, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
I welcome this opportunity to share my views on the importance of peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance with this distinguished audience. I would also like to commend the Oslo Centre and the Foundation for Dialogue and Peace for the role that they have played in organising this event.
It is appropriate for us to consider questions related to peace in Oslo, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite continuing conflicts in several parts of the world there is good reason to believe that mankind’s age-old search for peace is at last beginning to achieve some success. Indeed, according to Steven Pinker “we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence”.
Studies have shown that there has, over the past few millennia, been a steady decline in the percentage of people who have died as a result of conflict. During World War II there were 200 conflict-related deaths per 100 000, compared to fewer than one conflict-related death per 100 000 now.
There are a number of reasons for this significant decline:
- There have been no conflicts between major powers – perhaps because of growing realisation of the catastrophic consequences of modern war;
- More states are now democracies – and history has shown that wars between democracies are very rare;
- Higher levels of global trade and economic interdependence have also made states reluctant to incur the economic costs of conflict;
- Because of higher levels of literacy and education now, populations are more likely to understand and avoid the inevitable cost – in lives and wealth – of conflict.
Another important factor is that virtually all conflicts are now within states, between religious, linguistic and political factions – and are no longer between states. None of the four major conflicts in the world today, involving more than 10 000 fatalities in 2018 – are between countries: three of them – the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen – are conflicts between internal religious and political factions that have been internationalised. The fourth serious conflict in 2018 was the ongoing drug war in Mexico.
Despite declining fatalities, the number of conflicts within states between religious, ethnic and political factions is increasing.