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The vital role that universities can play in securing peace, justice and inclusion.

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On the International Day of Peace, Professor Paul Rogers and Professor PB Anand reflect on the past two decades, current threats, and the vital role that universities can play in securing peace, justice and inclusion.

Peace and sustainability– who can be against that? However, beyond blithe statements, there is an urgent need to understand why peace eludes us. Sustainable Development Goal 16 recognises the importance of peace, justice and strong institutions. The  International Day of Peace, is an opportunity to reflect on  the study of peace and especially research into how it can relate to conflict prevention, mediation and peacebuilding. At the University of Bradford, as  one of the leading universities in the world for peace studies and international development, these issues continue to motivate staff and students towards research and action.

In the two decades since the 9/11 atrocity there has been persistent recourse to war, and the effects have been devastating.   One of the leading US centres, the Watson Institute at Brown University, has tracked the consequences and reports that since 2001 more than 900,000 people have died in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, with over 380,000 of them civilians.

The wider consequences have been dire. Close to 40 million people have been displaced, with millions of refugees fleeing across borders, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, with several countries reduced to being weak and fragile states.   The wars in Yemen and Somalia continue and the Taliban are back in control in Afghanistan.

The West has fought four failed wars, Afghanistan (2001-21) Iraq (2003-11), Libya (2011 continuing) and the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (2014-18).   Even that last war, which was supposed to have destroyed ISIS, has seen it persisting in both states while spreading in the Sahel, eastern Africa and now parts of Asia, including in Afghanistan.

At the very least we have to acknowledge the failures, especially as a new arms race develops between the United States and China, and perhaps accept the truth in the old saying “If war is the answer, then perhaps it is a stupid question”.   There is certainly a strong argument for rethinking what we mean by security, and this has never been more important in the face of the two huge global challenges that continue to unravel, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate breakdown.

On the first, there is some hope that the worst may be over for a few wealthy countries, mainly in Europe and North America, but that is very far from true in the majority world of the Global South.   The UK has just started giving people their third jab but hundreds of millions of people, especially in the low-income countries, have not even had their first.

The World Health Organisation had called for the whole world vaccinated by the end of this year, but that is now highly unlikely before mid-2023.   This means that for the best part of three years there will have been large pools of virus in circulation alongside slowly increasing numbers of people partially vaccinated.   This gives the virus huge opportunities to mutate into vaccine-resistant variants, yet far too much “vaccine nationalism” in wealthier countries is standing in the way of rapid mass global vaccination. COVID-19 has exacerbated underlying inequalities between countries as well as within countries and poses further risks to human security as the burden of caring falls predominantly on women.

The need for far greater intergovernmental cooperation is vital, not just for this but for dealing with the social and economic consequences of COVID-19, which are pushing many millions of people into deeper poverty, especially in countries that were dependent on tourism, as well as increasing gender inequalities right across societies.

That kind of responsive internationalism is even more vital in dealing with the even greater threat of climate breakdown.  We have certainly learnt a great deal in the past three decades. Climate modelling has improved immensely and the rapid developments in renewable energy, especially wind and solar power and the more general acceptance of the need to decarbonise, are really welcome.

High hopes are being pinned on COP26 in Glasgow in seven weeks’ time, but we also have to accept that what needs to be done should have started at least two decades ago, so there is much ground to make up. As the recent report of Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned, it is ‘code red’ for humanity and urgent action is needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees C. 

There is a crucial need to prioritise research and teaching on peace and international development with the hope that many other institutions will follow in Bradford’s steps.   With over 250 students from more than 56  countries, many of them  on the taught MA and MSc programmes, Bradford has much to offer, with its Rotary Peace Fellows  and Chevening Scholarship communities and the impact that generations of our alumni create being a real bonus for its work.

On the International Day of Peace, things may look bleak but that is precisely when universities are most needed.  As we get closer to the Golden Jubilee of the founding of Peace Studies at Bradford, academic research at the University continues to shine light on the difficult challenges of peace and international development. Our recent collaborative research highlights the complex challenges of securing peace in the Korean peninsula, the unanswered questions in bio-security, and challenges and opportunities for economic and social development of BRICS and Emerging Economies, these being merely a few examples. As we welcome students arriving to commence their studies in peace, conflict resolution and international development, the International Day of Peace calls on us to reflect on how much has been achieved and how much more we could do to secure peace, justice and inclusive institutions everywhere.

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