12. Dezember 2014

So this is Christmas… On the difficulty of speaking about peace in policy circles

Sitting around a table with experts from both sides of the Atlantic discussing ideas for a common US-EU strategy in the Mediterranean, I realized that much of what had been said about goals could in fact be subsumed under the concept of “peace”.

We had talked about the need for stabilization in Libya and the Levant, yet emphasized that it should not be confused with the support for stagnant and repressive regimes. We had mentioned that what was needed in Tunisia and elsewhere was economic development along with greater socio-economic equality. We had pointed to the need for providing humanitarian assistance and protection in conflict zones while simultaneously working toward just, political solutions to the conflicts. We had discussed the interests in having a secure zone for trade and energy exploitation. We had debated the security threat that foreign fighters pose both to the region and to Europe and North America. Finally, we had mentioned that what was needed more than anything for an effective and sustainable strategy in the Mediterranean was a vision that was shared not only by the US and the EU but also by the countries South and East of the Mediterranean.

I suggested peace. Did it not encompass our interests in security and stability without leaving the human, socio-economic and justice dimension out? Was it not a helpful way to avoid being trapped in the authoritarian argument that we have to choose between supporting either stability or democracy? Was it not a common goal that most governments and citizens from Washington to Brussels to Rabat to Beirut could agree on? Of course we would then have to break it down to concrete policy debates and openly confront conflicting interests: If peace is our shared goal for the region, how should our migration, trade, energy, and security policies look like? Aiming at peace would be the benchmark for trade agreements, gas deals, weapon exports, investments, counter-terrorism programs, diplomatic relations, border control and immigration policies, foreign aid, and any other policy concerning the region.

What I got in response were a couple of benevolent smiles before the debate immediately turned back to the “hard” issues. Peace was once again considered naïve, utopian, and overall irrelevant for a debate on strategy. In a couple of weeks, we might sing “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth” or have John Lennon ask us “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” In Turku, the yearly Christmas Peace will be announced, and we will enjoy the holidays at the end of a particularly bloody year, thinking if only the entire year could be this peaceful. “If you want it,” Lennon sang, “war is over.” Certainly, peace in the Mediterranean region has to be a collective effort. But what is our hope, if peace, even as an abstract vision, gets nothing more than a smile in policy circles?