Cadel Watson, age 16, is a student at Castlemaine Secondary College, Australia. He is interested in global and Australian politics, and his main political passions are fairness and enabling people to work together to solve problems.
Revolution, extremism, and turmoil has characterized the beginning of the 21st century. Two major wars in the Middle East, the Arab Spring, 9/11, North Korea, the Islamic State, and a host of other conflicts have made peace look like an unattainable goal. However, the current global situation requires us to strive for this goal more than anything. The world faces difficult challenges like poverty, climate change, and inequality, but all can be surmounted if the international community can learn to work together. Peace is essential to our race's survival. The human race needs to realize that strife and conflict are not inevitable. We can create a stable world for everyone, and we can do it in this century.
The anti-war marches that marked the beginning of the 2000s are over. The public, once concerned about the motives behind the return to the Middle East by the great Western powers, has forgotten the anger that galvanized them to action before Afghanistan and Iraq. After the recent rise of the Islamic State ended hopes of peace in the region, 61 percent of the American public now believes that "military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria [is] in our national interest," according to an October poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. Interventionism by the West is once again supported by the population. There is no need for the practice to end outright. In fact, world powers sometimes have a moral obligation to aid and assist foreign states. But the way that these interventions are conducted needs to change. The current military and intelligence practices of the West are only inspiring opposition and hatred. Every civilian killed by a bomb in Baghdad shifts blame to the nation that dropped it. Instead of destroying extremism, the United States and NATO are helping it to grow. Fixing this requires a fundamental shift in the way that these foreign powers operate. Instead of being combative, they must be cooperative.
To practically implement this shift, the world's military forces should look at the U.S. Army's new concept of Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF). Instead of the current revolving door system of deployment, where soldiers with no experience in a geological area are expected to win the support of the local population, the RAF will be made up of units with "substantial region-specific linguistic and cultural training," writes Rosa Brooks in Foreign Policy magazine this year, "making them more effective across what the military calls the 'spectrum' of conflict.'" This idea of local integration is a game-changer in the pursuit of peace. If the intervening forces can come to be respected and liked by the inhabitants of the places they fight, the risk of accidentally creating extremists is drastically reduced. A positive side-effect of this revised structure could be greater civilian cooperation during operations and consequently a reduction in the amount of noncombatant casualties.
In concert with this change in the conduct of conventional forces, the intelligence services must adapt as well. The days of lawlessness and terror must come to an end as soon as possible. Following this year's release by the U.S. Senate of a report on the CIA's torture practices, The New York Times reported that "at least 26 detainees were wrongfully held, including an intellectually challenged man who was used as leverage to obtain information from a family member." This blatantly unjust treatment does little but further aggravate people mistrustful of the West. Torture and harsh interrogation need to give way to forms of intelligence-gathering that work with local civilians, not against them.
These revised approaches would go a long way towards helping peace blossom in the seemingly never-ending destructive cycle of the Middle East and other problem regions of the world. But for true global peace, the military is not the only thing that needs an attitude change. Xenophobia and bigotry impede progress towards mutual cooperation and understanding. The citizens of the world need to work to find the common ground between all races and celebrate the differences that define cultures. Peace and co-prosperity will then follow.
One specific instance of destructive racial hatred is the rise of anti-Islamism. This must be curtailed quickly, before it becomes embedded in the psyche of Westerners. The association of Islam with radical terrorism has created fear and mistrust towards the Muslim race. The media must become more responsible with their reporting. Too often is an act of violence attributed rashly to Islam, as evidenced by the media reaction to last month's Martin Place siege in Sydney, Australia. Speculation about the Islamic State and the religion of the hostage-taker by the news media was rife, damaging the perception of Muslims around the country. This sensationalism is exacerbating the hatred that many in the population already feel towards Islam. However, it is not just the media's fault. The general public of most Western countries is uneducated and even deluded about the religion. When elected Australian Senator Jacqui Lambie was asked to define sharia law, she couldn't. This lack of knowledge coupled with the spread of dangerous falsehoods about Islamic practices is causing ignorant and widespread hatred. An aggressive education campaign is an important step on the way to fixing this issue. All of the world's religious and cultural institutions, not just those of Islam, need to work to promote understanding of different practices and beliefs. With knowledge and understanding will come peace and acceptance.
The transition from conflict to peace will be difficult, but not insurmountable. The chaotic nature of recent years should serve as an example of the dangers of allowing cultural hatred to dominate the decision making of the planet. There are concrete and implementable ideas that nations and the international community can use to create peace throughout the world. Refining interventionism to emphasize regional cooperation will help to stamp out the extremism that normally follows foreign military assistance. An end to savage intelligence-gathering methodology and a change in tactics to focus on local cooperation will enable the weeding out of radical elements without the current counter-productive side effects. Education campaigns and a renewed effort to understand different cultures will eliminate the xenophobia that fractures the international community today and bring about co-prosperity and tolerance. It is imperative that the world acts now to create peace, and with it global cooperation, so that the collective resources of the human race can be focused on the other great issues of our time.