Solheim: We Need to Change Peace “Narrative”

Event Video

“When I hear most politicians speaking, they speak as if there’s a surge of violence on planet earth,” said Erik Solheim during his April 25th IPI Leading for Peace presentation. “They speak as if we’re living at the most violent of times, when the truth is exactly the opposite.”

Mr. Solheim, who is the Executive Director of UN Environment, emphasized the need for a shift in attitude, saying, “We are living at the most peaceful moment in human history.”

Outlining the political impacts of such rhetoric, he said, “When we talk about violence the wrong way, we feed the politicians who live from fear.” He continued, “We need to transform the narrative into ‘Yes, indeed we have major challenges, we have a number of wars,’ still we are living at the most peaceful of times.”

Mr. Solheim illustrated the importance of changing the tone of the conversation by saying, “People will mobilize for peace if they believe it is happening and can do more.” He warned, “If we set up the UN as, ‘Everything is going in the wrong direction,’ who will support us? If we were in a more violent time than the 1950s—what a failure—but we are not.”

Mr. Solheim offered Indonesia as an exemplary case study of the progress that can be achieved in a short space of time, referencing the nation’s “rapid sustained growth,” despite the worries of many that it was, at one point, a “doomed nation.”

In detailing other factors that are aiding the “sustaining peace” movement more globally, Mr. Solheim also extolled the virtues of the humanism ideology, saying, “The idea that every life counts is helping.” He praised the UN and negotiators around the world for working to resolve conflicts, regardless of their level of immediate success.

Further, Mr. Solheim identified multilateral cooperation around water management as a crucial step towards fostering peace, saying, “Many potential conflicts between nations are about water management of the main rivers. If we get nations working together on river management, conflicts are much less likely.”

Ending on the note that cooperation is at the heart of all humanity’s successes, Mr. Solheim said, “There will be hiccups and ups and downs, but we must make this message clear: that the single most important word in the vocabulary of the world today is ‘together’.”

Youssef Mahmoud, IPI Senior Adviser, moderated the conversation.