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New documentary probes war and peace in the 21st century
Some 50 million people have died in the various wars of the past half century – that’s as many as in the two world wars. Many millions more have died from the side effects of war: landmines, starvation, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Where are the real roots of conflict – in culture, ethnicity, or economics?
Do poverty, deprivation and development failures trigger or aggravate violent conflicts?
Why are almost all civil wars in the world today being fought in the poorer countries?
An international documentary recently acquired by TVE Asia Pacific for regional distribution asks these and other penetrating questions -- and travels to four continents in search of answers.
Nations Zero (46 mins) was filmed in four countries that have recently experienced civil conflict: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Rwanda and Afghanistan. It was executive produced by Robert Lamb for One Planet Pictures, UK
Overwhelmingly, we find in Nations Zero, the victims of modern conflict are civilians, not soldiers. And they are victims of more than weapons, displacement and disease. They are victims of the damage that civil conflict does to a country's economy.
So, as the UN has recently recognised with the founding of the Peace-building Commission, peace does not come with the signing of a piece of paper; it comes when there is an investment in sustainable development.
The film opens with his remark: “Maybe human nature is to disagree with each other, we don’t necessarily love each other, but the phenomenon of large scale organized violent killing - that is relatively rare. It doesn’t happen in most societies and it is confined to this rather small group of countries at the bottom of the world economic system.”
Collier argues that elites use brutality to keep control over the resources – diamonds, drugs, hardwoods -- the rich world has an insatiable appetite for. To this rich minority, it's in their best interest to keep their countries backward, recruiting child soldiers, indoctrinating young men with suicide cults…It makes escaping from poverty and ignorance even more difficult.
These are no longer local or national issues limited to certain parts of the world. They spill-over quickly to spread and affect the entire globalised world.
“To most people most of the time in the developed economies, these wars go virtually unnoticed, because they appear not to affect them,” the film notes. “But terrorism is leading to a re-think. Extremism, illicit drugs, the sex trade and illegal immigration are all associated with wars that all the military muscle in the world cannot contain.”
So how is the world to deal with conflict in the 21st century?
Professor Collier pours scorn on those who argue that war is inevitable. Collier points out that nine out of ten conflicts are fought in poor nations even though religious and racial tensions can be just as severe in rich countries. To him, winning the peace means investing heavily in economic development.
And if rich nations don’t make that investment, argues a World Bank director Steen Jorgensen, we can expect more conflicts, lasting longer.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Earth Institute at Columbia University, agrees. He says that it's not ethnic and religious tensions that were the cause of civil war but economic stagnation.
According to him, “If countries are to break the conflict trap, they must first break the poverty trap, which in turn is a cause of conflict”.
But he cautions: “Conflict and poverty are mutually interacting and causation runs in each direction, conflict causes poverty, poverty causes conflict and, and one can get stuck in a vicious circle or in a trap of a poverty-conflict trap. So, in each of this settings I think it's wrong to think of poverty as the only cause of conflict or conflict as the only cause of poverty but they’re each definitely affecting the other.”
Yasushi Akashi, a top Japanese diplomat, peace negotiator and former UN official, is worried that individuals and societies don’t read the early warning signs of conflict.
He says: “Human beings do not have much foresight, much wisdom to do something before something happens. Politicians do not want to act until events become real tragedies.”
As Nations Zero ends, Jeffrey Sachs stresses that the world’s rich nations hold the key to peace and prosperity for all. “If the rich world follows through ends 0.7 percent of its national product – 70 cents out of a 100 dollars -- in development aid, we can end extreme poverty on the planet by the year 2025.”
This reference is to a pledge world leaders made at the Monterrey Financing for Development Conference in 2002, “to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7%” of their national income in international aid. In today’s dollars, that would amount to almost US$200 billion each year.
In 2005, total aid from the 22 richest countries to the world’s developing countries was US$106 billion -- a shortfall of US$119 billion dollars according to the Columbia University’s Earth Institute. On average, the world’s richest countries provided just 0.33% of their GNP in official development assistance (ODA).
Online resources for: Nations Zero: War and Peace in the 21st Century
Note: Nations Zero executive producer Robert Lamb is a co-founder and member of the Board of TVE Asia Pacific. We thank dev.tv for making this film available for Asia-wide distribution