Putting principles into practice
Page 36 

Photo by CAIN

Achieving peace from conflict depends on building respect and working together to forge agreement and new institutions. It can be done.

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

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016