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Is World Peace Possible?

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Thought Leaders Michael Walzer, Bineta Diop, Rebecca MacKinnon, Thomas Pogge, Gillian Tett, Ethan Zuckerman, Carne Ross, Jay Winter, Peter Morales, Kishore Mahbubani, and Nancy Birdsall answer whether world peace is possible. DISCUSS >>



  • I don't think we will see world peace. But I do believe in the reality of preventable wars, unnecessary and preventable wars. The real danger these days is civil war. We have not figured out a way for benevolent outsiders to intervene in a civil war. Some of the worst wars in the last 20, 30 year have been civil wars, like the one now going on in Syria.

    Michael Walzer

  • I'm very optimistic. There are signs. There's no question that nationalistic wars, which raged right through most of the twentieth century, are declining, partly because of the fear of what could happen beyond just a clash of military forces.

    E. O. Wilson

  • I think it would be very naïve to think we're going to see world peace anytime soon. I think driving for world peace without driving for some element of economic integration and harmony is naïve, unfortunately.

    Gillian Tett

  • It's very hard for me to conceive of world peace independent of justice for everybody living in the states that they are living in. Real world peace isn't just the absence of conflict between states or between groups. It's justice for those who are wronged. It's representation for those who are underrepresented. This doesn't mean that it's impossible. It just means that it's a much, much harder problem than we're generally willing to look at.

    Ethan Zuckerman

  • Yes, I think we can have world peace. I think we have it in a sense today, you know, in spite of the fact that there are wars that are taking place. We don't have the sort of system-wide war we had in previous centuries. But it's something that we should consider precious and not take for granted and constantly work to maintain.

    Victor D. Cha

  • World peace is absolutely possible. You tend to get wars when you do not trust, when you do not understand. It's not just fighting over scarce resources. It's when you come at it from different perspectives and therefore can't compromise. We are seeing a world where powerful countries increasingly have those kinds of differences. But the world need not go in that direction ad infinitum.

    Ian Bremmer

  • I think it definitely is possible. We have achieved regional peace already. Europe is one of the bloodiest pieces of geography that the globe has ever had. It is the cockpit of war after war after war, century after century, the two great global world wars. All of this is part of European history. If the Europeans, the bloodiest piece of real estate on the planet, can achieve peace, that's a sign of hope for other regions which today are very far from that.

    Michael W. Doyle

  • You could have periods of relative peace versus relative disorder, or relative violence versus periods of less relative violence. I don't believe you will have world peace as such because you cannot have that unless there is an agreement on what is the best form of human development and progress. For various geographical, religious, ethnic, and other reasons, there will never be that point of agreement.

    Robert D. Kaplan

  • I have absolutely no idea. That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep working for it. I think actually we need a much more fundamental review of how we organize our society at a microcosmic level as well as the national and the international. I think we've actually got to abandon a lot of the familiar old presumptions that we relied upon in the twentieth century. Our world is fundamentally different today.

    Carne Ross

  • I think so. We've come so far. In fact, we have lots of great data that shows that conflict has steadily reduced. That doesn't mean that for those individuals in Congo, in Syria, in many countries around the world who are still suffering conflict, that that's not terrible. But for millennia, people thought war was just an ineradicable part of the human condition. And yet, most Americans will not experience war in that way, most people across the advanced industrial world, and many, many other countries that are still developing. There is much more peace.

    Anne-Marie Slaughter

  • There's a very fundamental paradox about the achievement of world peace, and this goes as follows: three sources of political power are differentially important in different times. In a period of war, it's basically military power that counts, and economic power counts indirectly, because, of course, it's a major source of military power again. In other periods, it can be that moral power counts a great deal and military power is almost useless. That's in periods of peace.

    Thomas Pogge

  • Judaism has two concepts of peace. There's the famous one, the vision of Isaiah of the lion and the lamb lying down together. I heard of a zoo in which this actually happened, the cage with the lion and the lamb. A visitor to the zoo says to the zookeeper, "How do you manage that?" He says, "It's easy. You just need a new lamb every day."

    Jonathan Sacks

  • It is in the character of the human being to be a fighter. That's how I see it. But I think we can have a world of peace—that's my aim—without violence. We will still have conflict on issues, conflict on power sharing, conflict on many things, always conflict.

    Bineta Diop

  • The world is so much more peaceful today than 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago. I think we're really close. It's a worthy goal.

    Nancy Birdsall

  • The idea of a permanent peace was born in the 19th century. It's true at the beginning of the 20th century, after the First World War, we were thinking, "We have achieved that. It is more difficult than we were thinking, but it is a need, it's not superfluous. We need peace." And peace is not like air; we have to invent peace.

    Luis Moreno-Ocampo

  • What are the issues that have caused war and moved us away from peace, if you look back at history? I would say that they are broadly twofold. One is commodities, scarcity of resources. Number two is differences in ideological perspective. In identifying these two pillars or sources of conflict, you could argue that we can therefore find a solution that's very permanent and where everyone participates that could actually move us away from conflict and towards an ideal of world peace.

    Dambisa Moyo

  • Human nature is what it is. If we go with the Biblical mythology of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, Cain killed Abel. That meant at the very start 25 percent of the human race was homicidal. That's not very promising.

    Syd Mead

  • It's possible. I think we've seen indications of how it could come about. For all its problems, look at Western Europe today compared to Western Europe 50, 100, 200, 400 years ago. Look at other large areas that way. It's possible by continuing to develop interdependence and collaborative structures.

    Peter Morales

  • I actually think that world peace is not just possible, it's highly likely in the years to come, because there is absolutely no reason today to go to war with one another because you can succeed and become a thriving, prosperous country—in fact, you are more likely to succeed in becoming a thriving, prosperous country—if you avoid wars.

    Kishore Mahbubani

  • Traditional warfare does seem to be on the decline, but deaths from injustice are actually quite significant in the twenty-first century. I think we, unfortunately, live in an age of a power log distribution, where you see fewer instances of violence, fewer cockfights on the street and dogfights and that kind of casual sadism, but each time there is an instance, the number of deaths and the amount of brutality are far higher.

    Rebecca MacKinnon

  • When you look at the Balkans or you look at the other places, you can see that there is a direct relationship between war and democracy. I think the more democracies we achieve, the less is likely that you have wars, because when you look at the percentage of the wars, the wars generally don't start between democracy and democracy, because there are such powerful mechanisms to put an effort in the government to stop wars.

    Srdja Popovic

  • War, like sin, is inevitable, but it need not dominate the world. I think the notion of a regime in which war is an exception, rather than a rule, in the conduct of the business of states and their citizens is an objective that I would call utopian. That is a great objective, to make war into a marginal, serious, though not dominant, element in the way in which states conduct their business and the citizens of the world look to the future.

    Jay Winter

  • I think having world participation in a way that's respectful and empowering of every individual—that's maybe even better than just world peace. I think it's a great starting place. Let's get there, for sure.

    Jessica Jackley

  • All wars have in common very irrational beliefs. They have in common the nationalistic, the ethnic, the religious—all kinds of irrational ways humans have invented to hate each other. I think as reason progresses, more education, these kinds of causes for war should wither away.

    Enrique Penalosa

  • I believe it's extraordinarily important that we continue to strive for peace. one of the things that I am interested in is the way in which women's groups now are insisting on having their voices heard—in Africa, for example—and getting countries to have plans of action to implement Security Council Resolution 1325, which requires that women are involved in peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding.

    Mary Robinson

  • I think the management of conflict is a daily task—conflict within peoples, within families, within communities, and then within broader communities of people who have different cultural aspirations, different religious affiliations. To think that we would eradicate the tensions that come from the sense of belonging to communities, to different cultural groups, I think is extremely unrealistic. The question is to build the tools and the institutions for the peaceful management of conflict, not some idea that conflict altogether would disappear.

    Louise Arbour

  • I don't care about the fact of whether it's possible or not. I'm not driven by results. I'm driven by ideals and I think that this should remain something that is our ideal.

    Tariq Ramadan

  • Would a world wholly at peace be acceptable if there was an unacceptable amount of poverty and inequality? Peace of itself maybe isn't enough.

    David Cannadine

  • At any given time, I believe there will always be armed conflict in one or more location. On the other hand, some conflicts can be avoided or reduced in scope. This is probably the best that can be hoped for and it is worth the effort.

    David Shinn

  • The world is at peace in a way. There are no world wars anymore. I just hope that we can contain the conflicts that we still have in the world, sectarian conflicts and territorial conflicts that affect the world today. I hope that we can contain them in such a way that it doesn't affect too many people's lives. That's the only realistic hope that we can have right now.

    Fazle Hasan Abed

  • Much depends on what one means by world peace. If we think back to Carnegie and his concerns before World War I, he was mostly thinking about great-power war, the kind of disaster that occurred in 1914 with World War I. I think that type of war is less likely, but it's not impossible. Thinking of world peace as a major conflagration among great powers with extraordinary widespread destruction, I think we can avoid that.

    Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

  • In a world of globalization where more and more has to be done in a world community, we need to be thinking, what can we do with the United Nations to make it a more effective transmitter of ethics, among other things?

    Brent Scowcroft

  • We've come to a position where a major war between European countries is pretty well unimaginable. Now, that's a step forward. I'm not saying that Europe is a paradise or utopia by any means, but we have, in the aftermath of two shocking and appalling wars in the twentieth century, we have somehow found ways of maintaining some kind of equilibrium.

    Rowan Williams

  • Because resources are scarce and finite, we will be running into a stage where countries may actually go to some conflict over scarce resources. I worry about the lack of water and whether there would be wars over water or conflict over water, if not a full-scale war.

    Chan Heng Chee

  • Conflict arises because of scarcity: There isn't enough food; there isn't enough space. There are conflicts of values. It's hard to imagine a world without scarcity or without conflicts of values, in which case there's likely to be something to fight about.

    Lawrence Freedman

  • We have moved away from nuclear annihilation, mutually assured destruction. Whatever may be the battles going on in the world now, these are reasonably small and manageable in comparison to total annihilation of the United States and the Soviet Union that we faced, whether we understood it or not.

    Richard Lugar

  • Comprehensive world peace may never be achieved. But the history of the European Union of the last 60 years shows that peace is possible if everybody cooperates.

    Hans Küng

  • We have to understand what peace means to the people. Like myself, I work in the field with every single girl, with the suffering girls. I am always teaching my girls to have peace in their minds, even if they have been through many things.

    Somaly Mam

  • We don't live in a world of peace. Could we? I assume we could. It's an assumption. Those people who think that the way to get there is not instantaneous, total disarmament but gradual reduction in the level of armament in the world, are surely right.

    Kwame Anthony Appiah

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