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Global humanitarian crisis arises

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:

Digital conflict and military action are increasingly intertwined, and civilian targets  private businesses and everyday internet users alike are vulnerable in the digital crossfire. But there are forces at work trying to promote peace online. It will be a tough challenge: In May 2019, Israel responded to unspecified cyberattacks by Hamas with an immediate airstrike that destroyed the Gaza Strip building where the hackers were located.

The US had done something similar in 2015, launching a drone strike to kill an alleged Islamic State hacker, but that operation was months in the making. In July 2019, the US also reversed the equation, digitally disabling Iranian missile-launching computers in response to Iran shooting down a US military drone over the Strait of Hormuz. US businesses fear they might be the targets of retaliation for that attack from Iran. Even local nonprofits need to learn how to protect themselves from online threats, potentially including national governments and terrorists. In some ways cyberspace has rarely seemed more unstable, even hostile. At the same time, dozens of countries and hundreds of firms and nonprofits are fed up with all this digital violence, and are working toward greater cybersecurity for all and even what might be called cyber peace. Data and security breaches like the one carried out by the Shadow Brokers, revealed in 2016, released extremely advanced hacking tools to the public, including ones created by the National Security Agency.

Cybercriminals are using those programs, among others, to hijack computer systems and data storage in governments across the country. Some companies have been forced to revert to one-to-one instant-messaging and passing written memos in the wake of ransomware attacks and other cybercrimes.

The US government is taking note. Instead of pushing the technological envelope, it has elected to use tried and true analog technologies to help secure the electricity grid, for example. A transformation of the mindset will be a key driver of the triple nexus of peace, security and development as the world seeks to draft a post-conflict agenda. To achieve this, a critical mass of leaders who can push countries to adapt universal norms of good neighbourhoods is needed, which is what institutions like HPC are helping to build.

While human survival and resilience against new diseases must depend on scientific discoveries, there must be a part of humanity that checks the temptation to turn those same discoveries into ever more efficient killing machines. More international institutions that work to create a generation of citizens as the dynamos of the vehicle of peacebuilding need to be established. That one of the leaders towards that vision is a region that carries the scars of the worst devastation caused by war provides inspiration that a moral revolution is possible, even as the scientific revolution continues. Japan’s former Prime Minster and Nobel laureate Mr Eisaku Sato once said, Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered the ravages of atomic bombing.

That experience left an indelible mark on the hearts of our people, making them passionately determined to renounce all wars.

From the ashes of a tragedy that wiped out almost 90 percent of the city of Hiroshima on August 5,1945, an institute called the Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center (HPC) rose like a phoenix of hope that is pioneering the creation of a global pool of peacebuilders. It is driven by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development declaration that “there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development. Hiroshima underwent miraculous post-war reconstruction after World War II, and it epitomises speed, innovation, technology and efficiency which marks the Japanese character of utter discipline and loyalty to the vision. An architectural and engineering feat of reconstruction. Today HPC supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, trains professional peacebuilders to assist war-torn societies and they are doing a remarkable job. I have seen this first hand and I have had the privilege of facilitating two mid-career courses which brings together Japanese and non-Japanese United Nations professionals who work in different conflict affected parts of the world. The UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres once made a profound remark- “the world is in pieces and we need world peace. With over 65 million people displaced, due to conflict, instability, climate shocks and sheer degrading poverty, the message from the UN Secretary General is a clarion call to action.

Japan has stepped up. In fact, Japan’s pacifist constitution may hold the key to a world free of conflict, violence and instability. At the HPC, various programmes are being implemented to develop practical knowledge, skills and experience in peacebuilding and development among civilians, an important contribution towards transforming conflict-prone countries into peaceful nations engaged in the pursuit of SDG 16. Having seen both worlds as a former combat veteran and later as an international civil servant, where I have been working to bring dignity to people ravaged by war in various countries I know the importance of such institutions. For instance, the many years of my UN career spent in Somalia, South Sudan Iraq, Darfur, between 1997 to date, will always remain a poignant reminder of the disparate harm that women and children are predisposed to whenever one form or other of humanitarian crisis arises. With recent technological advances on one hand giving a leg-up, and on the other rolling back progress on the United Nations Charter’s vision of getting the peoples of the world “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”, institutions such as HPC are increasingly needed. The strings of guilt have continued to pull at the collective global heart after the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By telescoping distance and time, scientific advances have given us the global village.

Yet the more people have of things that bring them together, the more they have tended to invent others that divide them. One such development is the indisputable evidence that all of humanity is vulnerable in current rates of ecological degradation. However, while the web of interdependence continues to thicken, debates about what needs to be done and by whom rages, delaying consensus on remedial action. The reasons we need citizens to drive global neighbourhood are legion: maintaining peace and order, expanding economic activity, combating pandemic diseases, deterring terrorists and sharing scarce resources are just a few of them. We cannot have any illusions about the scope of the challenge ahead. As we move towards working with others, clashes between the familiar and the different are expected. Stresses will result from people having to come to terms with new circumstances. In an attempt to avoid leaving people to fend for themselves in a perilous online world, the nonprofit Consumer Reports organization has launched a “Digital Standard” program that will evaluate and rate the privacy and security features of various internet-connected devices and services. Academics are also helping out, such as the Security Planner tool created by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which helps civil society groups and researchers protect their data. There’s much more to be done to protect a digitally centered society, both politically and technically.

The key will be focusing on a more positive vision of peace that includes better governance, respect for human rights, making internet access more widely available around the world, and teaching everyone how to protect themselves and each other online.This will not happen overnight, and the path may not be a straight line. Consider that the often-derided 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, also called the Pact of Paris, outlawed aggressive war. It didn’t work, but did eventually help lay a foundation for the United Nations and a more stable international system. Similarly, a Cyber Peace Accord  building from efforts such as the Paris Call and the Cybersecurity Tech Accord could, in time, lead the international community toward greater stability in cyberspace. One possibility could take inspiration from efforts to fight climate change, by asking individual nations, towns, groups and even individuals to announce Cyber Peace Pledges, to build momentum toward a more collective solution. In subsequent years, the world has drafted the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as numerous treaties and conventions, but it’s possible to all seeking to ensure global peace

Writerand Columnist