We are living through one of the greatest revolutions in the history of the world – the technological and telecommunications revolution. As a result, the world is a much smaller place and people are much closer together. And this makes our challenge even greater to ensure that this century will be one in which we no longer have wars or conflicts. Given the smaller world, war in any part of it can have a serious effect on us all, wherever we live. The present situation in the Middle East is a clear example of this. For that reason, we need a clear philosophy of peace that we can send to areas of conflict and have put into practice.
All conflict is about the same thing: difference, whether in religion, nationality or race. The answer is to make clear that difference is an accident of birth. None of us chose to be born into any nationality, religion or race, and so difference should never be the source of hatred and conflict. Instead, it should be a source of respect. Respect for difference is the real principle of peace.
Secondly, it is necessary to point out that where there are areas of conflict, it is people who are divided, not territory. Without people, any territory, in Ireland or in the Middle East, is just a jungle. Violence has no role to play in resolving the problem. It only deepens divisions and makes the problem more difficult to solve. The only way to solve such problems is to reach agreement and the only means of doing so is direct dialogue.
The agenda for the dialogue should obviously cover the areas of disagreement, and naturally should take place in a totally peaceful atmosphere with agreement as the objective. In addition, it should be made clear in advance that when agreement is reached, the final decision should be with the people on the different sides: in other words, a referendum on the agreement on all sides. That approach would strengthen the peace process enormously and create strong support for it. Indeed, it is this approach that has been very successful in Northern Ireland.
Leaders in areas of conflict should do as we did in Northern Ireland and study the principles at the heart of the European Union. The EU is the best example of conflict resolution in the history of the world. The first half of the century we have just left was the worst in the history of the world – two world wars and more than 100 million human beings slaughtered. Who, in the ruins of that calamity, could have forecast that in the second half of the century those same peoples would be together in a united Europe? Yet it happened, and how that was done should be studied by peoples in all areas of conflict in the world. We did so in Northern Ireland and the three principles at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which set the basis of today’s peace, are the same three principles at the heart of the EU.
The first principle is total respect for difference. There should be no victory for any side. The second is the creation of institutions that respect difference. In Europe we have a Council of Ministers, a European Commission and a European Parliament, all drawn from all countries. In Northern Ireland, we have an Assembly elected by proportional representation, so that all sections of the people are fully represented and an Executive elected by the Assembly, also by proportional representation, so that all parties are in government.
The third principle, which is the most important, is that the representatives of the peoples of Europe work together in their common interests, largely socio-economic, spilling sweat rather than blood. As a result, the barriers of centuries of distrust have been broken down. The new Europe evolved and continues to evolve. That is what is happening now in Northern Ireland. The representatives of all sections of our people are working together on our common interests, again largely socio-economic. We look forward to the barriers of centuries of distrust breaking down and the new Ireland evolving, based on agreement and respect for difference.
What I am saying very simply is that people in areas of conflict should study these principles very carefully. We hope others can profit from our experience, and stand ready to provide assistance where it would be useful.
©OECD Observer No 231/232 May 2002