The focus of this article is not to serve as a commentary on political and war events around the world or specifically in Eastern Europe, there are many of those. The goal is how to draw lessons to apply democracy in our daily lives, at work, at school, in the family, and so forth. There are much fewer of these types of websites or articles around the world.
Table of Contents
If you are more of an action-oriented person, you can read some action steps to take.
The elephant in the room.
War. Ukraine. It is hard to ignore the elephant in the room. It bears to note that it is impossible to practice democracy in the middle of an armed conflict that might spill over to other parts of Eastern Europe (and potentially the world). Geopolitics, international relations, and the state of the world do matter immensely for the state of our democracies and the stability of existing democratic institutions. In a state of war, countries suspend any semblance of democracy in any (most) institutions and concentrate power and resources in their military commanders and assets and bolstering their military forces.
World War III and Democracy.
Around the time of writing this article (March 2022), it was International Women’s Day. In light of this celebration, I would like to highlight the importance of democratic values and democratic principles in advancing democratic governance and maintaining a state of peace. I would like to focus on the role of women in ensuring the stability of democratic governments and potentially changing the course of foreign policy.
In this article, I will share some ideas on how “democratizing” the negotiations process and also the governing of our countries can lead to more stable outcomes and quicker resolution of this (Ukrainian) conflict, but also of other armed conflicts. The key precondition is that wisdom, not ego, prevail in decision-making among the warring parties. I know that this is a tall order to match. By those more realist, my previous sentence may be construed as “naive” or “unrealistic”, but the proposals that I lay out or not something that can be achieved over night. The proposals are not a silver bullet, but they are worth trying in the short and long-term.
The progress of democracy around the world has stalled. It has been in decline (as indicated by Freedom House’s report). The war in Ukraine, as some politicians warn, if not managed carefully, could escalate into a World War III. An eventual World War III would certainly endanger the progress of democracy for years, if not decades, to come. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that if human civilization exists after a hypothetical World War III, there will be tendencies towards democratizing life and politics. Even if the eventual World War III (which I hope never materializes) proves to be the most destructive war in the history of humanity, I believe that democracy will continue to be developed, with its ups and downs. It may even go into a deep sleep, but I believe it will re-surge.
Let’s remember the definition of democracy.
In this article, please remember our definition of democracy. Democracy is a system that empowers individuals and communities without harming others or the environment. This will be the guiding theme that will underpin all arguments and ideas raised in continuation.
Let’s focus on “human” security rather than “national” security.
Before continuing, I would like to share my aspirations and notes for us as a human civilization.
As a civilization, we have progressed little given that political and other disagreements between countries, nations, and entities are solved by sanctions, embargoes, special military operations, invasions, bombings, wars and other forms of violence or crimes against humanity.
We should collaborate in advancing people’s quality of healthcare, education, well-being, and human rights. The world needs to prepare itself better for the effects of climate change. The entire world will face fundamental changes caused by the effects of climate change. Some parts of the world may “benefit” for the rising seas, the melting of the Arctic, while other countries and regions may “lose out.”
I think that the measure of human security should be a question of social justice. It should provide an answer to the question: “Are the changes and policies good for the common people?” If the common people benefit from the changes and human beings around the world benefit from the changes in material and non-material ways, then we can say that the government or the international community has done a job well done.
To foster world peace, countries and nations should reserve competition in international affairs for sports or cultural events. Countries should “compete” in how much they contributed to improving the quality of healthcare, education, and well-being of the people of the world. As the Macedonian revolutionary, Gotse Delcev, (1872–1903) said:
Ideally, there should be a world free of national borders. After all, all nations and borders are arbitrary. We are all human beings, children of Mother Earth. I understand that this is a civilizational aspiration. For some, it may be “utopian,” but there are institutions, initiatives and international political systems and institutions that were formed to precisely promote this vision.
Although, they are imperfect, it is important to recognize the vision and the work of the the United Nations, World Health Organization, the rise of international law (severely undermined by major players in recent years), the promotion of free trade (undermined by economic sanctions).
We need to think beyond “national” security and think more about “human” security.
On February 22, 2022, the Kenyan Ambassador to the United Nations addressed the UN’s General Assembly who spoke about the need to focus on human well being and look to the future, rather than the “past of the nations.” You can hear the brief speech here.
Western Europe has been burdened by its history of violent conflicts. The Second World War, propelled the world, and Europe to further integrate and brings former adversaries, Germany and France under the same economic and political union. The rise of the European Union has brought the longest era of political stability and international peace on the European continent since the end of World War II. The destruction the war left caused Europe to move on from the idea of balance of power between sovereign states and sought to forge a union that promotes individual liberty, political rights, rule of law, economic growth and economic development. For as long as the developed European countries have focused on human security and human development, public support has remained high and many refugees and immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa have sought to find a better life somewhere in the Western countries of Europe.
However, the war in Ukraine is posing a risk to be the cause of a fundamental change in the way domestic politics are done in Europe (and the rest of the world) as well as for the world order.
I think it the long-term, we need to think what is good for the common person rather than what is good for the country. We need to think what is good for the world economy and all the human beings and other living species in this world, not just what is good for one’s own country.
In following the gruesome events in Ukraine, it is important to remember that other people around the world are facing wars too. Social media and the “free press” may make us believe that the conflict is only raging in Eastern Europe. The mainstream media “helps” the readers “forget” or minimize the suffering of the “other.” Other (non-European, non-Western) conflicts and human suffering are under-reported such as the suffering of innocent civilians and refugees because of various “military operations” or civil wars in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and other countries and regions. The media (and politicians) who unequally report on the suffering of refugees help perpetuate racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. For more details, check out Daily Show’s coverage Ukraine War Is Exposing Racial Disparities in Refugee Treatment.
For human security to be achieved at the global scale, we need to remember the answer to the question: “Are these policies good for the common person?” “Is the war good for a poor child in Ukraine, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Germany, the United States, Russia?”
Actions & Ideas for peace.
The ideas for peace below are specific for the situation in Ukraine and Russia, but they can be adopted and applied to other contexts as well.
Equal representation of women in all key decision-making positions in society (state, business, civil society, and academia)
- Where are the women? I believe that 40-60% of people in key decision-making positions in the government and businesses (especially in the energy and defense industries) should be women in all countries. I say 40% to 60% because it will be difficult to achieve the perfectly balanced 50% ratio. Based on pictures I’ve seen the negotiation teams from both Russia and Ukraine, there were no women. It was 100% men.
- Some of you will point out some “iron ladies” like Margaret Thatcher, Madeline Albright and so forth. They were only the exceptions in a sea of men. These women were in senior positions in only one of the many governmental institutions. However, the suggestion in the previous bullet point specifically states that women should be 40-60% in key decision-making in the government and business (i.e., all organizations that matter in society).
- In the short-term, countries should aim to involve qualified women to be part of peace-negotiations teams. They should especially be involved in the negotiations prior to a war or a risk of a war.
- The long-term position should be to foster women’s leadership in key positions across state institutions and private organizations. Currently, most European countries, including Ukraine and Russia are failing to do this.
- In light of International Women’s Day it is important to celebrate this day, but not just by buying roses and chocolates, but rather by investing in women and training them for leadership positions across the board in society. I believe that qualified, trained, and wise women should occupy 40%-60% of key-decision making positions in society. Qualified, trained, and wise men should occupy the remaining key-decision making positions in society. I think that our world and the international institutions and structures would have looked very different if more women were involved in shaping the international world order post-WWII. I believe many more wars would have been avoided if more women were involved. Equality and equity in key decision-making institutions in society will help strengthen the health of our democracies.
- I think that the women’s perspective on the war has not been taken into account.
Engage The Youth To Ensure Lasting Peace (Model UN Clubs)
- Where is the youth? Russian and Ukrainian model United Nations (UN) members (read: the youth and future leaders of both countries) should discuss and negotiate the terms of peace. They can meet online and discuss and debate and present their views for peace. The official negotiations teams should take the considerations of youth seriously. They could even involve them in the negotiations process. This is the perfect way to prime youth for positions of leadership, crisis is an opportunity for growth and development of future leaders.
- This could also be expanded to include representatives of Model UN members from other countries important to resolving this conflict, like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and China.
- Today’s youth will be tomorrow’s leaders. We need to foster a culture of dialogue and cooperation. If history is our guide, isolating a nation and a people was something that was done to Germany after WWI and this led to WWII. The approach that Europe and the United States took in the post-WWII period was to invest in Germany through the Marshall Plan and raise it from the ashes, not collectively punish it like the allies did after WWI, which created the preconditions for the rise of authoritarian regimes in Europe led by leaders like Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany and Mussolini in Italy.
Let’s not to stigmatize whole groups of people
- I would urge readers to distinguish between the people and the government. I don’t think it’s fair to stigmatize a group of people based on where they come from, like stigmatizing a 15-year-old ballet dancer for the acts of its government or banning tennis players from playing in the Wimbledon just because their life’s lottery led them to be born in what is today positioned to be a pariah state. This also constitutes a form of bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice.
My proposal for peace (between Russia and Ukraine) for the “real-world”
Unfortunately, we live in a world governed by different rules and values than the ones described above, hence I will also propose a recommendation for peace for the “real-world.” Given that there are influential political and military leaders who think in “nation-state” terms and national security, rather than human security terms, my recommendation for a political decision on lasting peace between Ukraine and Russia is that both countries are invited to and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is a military alliance, at the same time. It may be a tough pill to swallow at the moment, but please bear with the argument.
Bringing former adversaries into an alliance is not unprecedented in history in general, and specifically NATO’s history. The EU was born out of a vision for lasting peace in Europe and it brought France and Germany in one union. NATO has also brought former historic adversaries under its wings. The list below shows “historic adversaries” that are now part of the same alliance. (In parenthesis are the years when each country joined NATO).
- France (1949) and [West] Germany (1955)
- Greece (1952) and Turkey (1952) [NATO allies but with strong disagreements over Cyprus]
- German Reunification (1990)
Regarding the membership in the European Union (EU), each country and the EU can choose/decide whether to join the EU or not. Key is that both countries join NATO (or maybe some new European or even better, a Global/World security alliance that would bring all countries and nations together) for lasting peace.
NATO membership for both Ukraine and Russia would mean that they would not need to see each other as a “threat” to national security and Ukraine will achieve its aspirations to be part of NATO, while Russia will have guarantees against security threats from NATO.
I would reiterate that we should focus on “human” rather than “national” security.
The proposed solution (Russia and Ukraine to join NATO) above is just an intermediary step for people who think like, as Professor John Mearsheimer calls them, “nineteenth century men.” For the people of the “twenty first century,” those who think that wars should be reserved in museums and history books, human security should be a key factor in deciding how to settle conflicts between nation, countries and corporations.
In conclusion, I think that as humanity we should work to help and empower each other rather than work against each other. I hope wisdom rather than egos will prevail in the negotiations. There should be no NATO or any form of alliances so that one group of people protects itself from another. We should not be pointing guns at each other in the “real-world.”
In the 21st century, countries should fight wars virtually, not in the real world. There is the metaverse that seeks to replace real life with virtual life, but there are also existing war and strategy games where people can take their frustrations with the real world in a way that will harm no other humans nor the environment. It is like the punching bag, except the biggest consequences may be some sleepless nights (for the gamers) or an overheated computer. This vision may be utopian from today’s perspective, but we can also turn it into reality.
All of us are children of one planet. We should be united in empowering each other, not fighting over concepts and borders we arbitrarily created. We are better than sanctions, embargoes, special military operations, invasions, bombings, wars and other forms of violence or crimes against humanity.
We should enjoy and celebrate the sports, culture, music, literature, and other great contributions to our human civilization of the various peoples of Ukraine, Russia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and others. We should celebrate and enjoy our diversity in peace and prosperity. We should empower each other without harming others or the environment. Let’s celebrate our athletes, poets, musicians and cherish human creativity and ingenuity that is democratizing, empowering, not militaristic, destructive.
We should make the international institutions that advance healthcare, education, and well-being more human-centric and democratized. We should not strengthen the ones that lead to the destruction of human life.
I wish this war and other wars and violence come to an end, and families and friends are reunited with their loved ones.