Last week, I was in Warsaw attending the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. A number of Nobel Laureates were in attendance, and Sharon Stone got an award for her humanitarian efforts and peace activism.
I gave a talk at a workshop organized by Jacek Kurczewski, a professor at the University of Warsaw, on Nonviolence, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding. Here were a few of my key takeaways from the whole event (academic insights first, of course).
- James Gibson made a compelling argument that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is essentially a success. Based on more than 3,000 interviews and surveys among black, white, and South Africans of Indian origin, he says that the TRC has created more mutual trust that has allowed people to reconcile with the past. Although he argues that it’s hard to expect that these successes can be transferred to other cases because of the peculiarities of the South African case, this was a refreshingly optimistic take on the reconciliation process in a country where we’ve seen a lot of cynicism lately.
- Jennifer Lewellyn argues that we ought to look at peacekeeping and peacebuilding as an inherently relational exercise.
- Severine Autesserre argues that local peacebuilding is far superior to top-down approaches to peacebuilding, and that such efforts ought to get more resources and support than more traditional missions.
- John Braithwaite argues that peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and postwar transition works better when civil society is engaged and creates networks or nodes of power that can effectively “check” concentrations of power within more formal and traditional institutions.
- Sonja Lokar argues that when women’s civil society groups are actively engaged in peace processes and settlements and continue to remain engaged in advocacy efforts regarding women’s equity issues, they are much more likely to gain higher representation in formal political institutions (including parliament). If they don’t they will be left behind entirely. And she argues that women’s representation in government will ultimately lead the country to be less likely to relapse into civil war—a claim that has some empirical support elsewhere.
- Among the most impressive of the Nobel Laureates was Shan Cretin, the Secretary General of the American Friends Service Committee, who called out the Summit organizers for failing to involve more people from typically underrepresented groups as well as the Global South.
- The presentation that made the most lasting impact on me was Ira Helfand’s presentation on the continued threat of nuclear war (or a nuclear accident). Dr. Helfand is was representing the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization. Their recent study found that even a very small-scale nuclear war (involving less than .5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) between India and Pakistan would have catastrophic environmental effects that would ultimately wipe out about 1 billion people around the world—or 1/6 of the human race). Such a war could be exceedingly small and even accidental but would destroy civilization as we know it. Yikes.
- Lech Walesa wants all politicians to have microchips so that the public can monitor their every move. (For real).
- F.W. de Klerk is a self-proclaimed optimist and thinks that today’s troubles in South Africa are temporary.
- None of the Laureates was willing to criticize the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to Barack Obama in 2009—despite moderator Ghida Fakhry’s repeated attempts to get them to do so.
- Mohammed Yunus is awesome.