I attended the second ever Paris Peace Forum earlier this month, part of President Macron’s efforts to keep global conversations on war and alive in an era of multilateralism seemingly in decline and nationalism on the rise.
The agenda was vast with multiple agora talks competing for attention with dozens of stalls divided by development, inclusive economy, climate, education, peace and security. After making your way through the obligatory metal detectors, sniffer dogs and heavily armed police you find yourself alongside thousands of other participants in a cavernous conference hall that feels like a distinctly French version of the UN General Assembly.
Macron deserves credit for his efforts to set up a new conference from scratch that brings together global voices representing politics, civil society and business. The final tally was an impressive 7,000 participants, from 140 countries,114 projects and 33 Heads of State.
The sessions of the first day were dominated by some of these leaders. President Macron, the new EU Commissioner and the Chinese Vice-President all spoke a similar message of praise to multilateralism as the key to maintaining a peaceful global order. Such a defence felt like an obvious counterpoint to growing nationalist agendas across the world and in particular President Trump’s ‘America First’ stance. Indeed, the Americans were largely conspicuous by their absence as world leaders and their entourages crisscrossed from event to event.
The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, gave a barnstorming speech that you seldom hear on the virtues of peace itself as a human condition. He challenged each country to “ask itself what it can contribute to the challenges of modern humanity. Peace is not just the lack of war, rather it’s a way of addressing famine, climate change and health epidemics”.
Tshisekedi was not alone in signalling out the particular threat of modern terrorism. He described it as a “common agenda of cross cutting values” before outlining how the terrorism of Boko Haram and al-Shabab continue to plague much of the African continent.
A focus on non-state armed groups was continued in an event that marked the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), pushed for the rules of war to be ‘adapted to different conflicts’ via ‘a more global, holistic, differentiated vision’. He outlined the very modern challenge of complexity in conflict, especially around non-state armed groups, the ICRC is currently engaged with over 420 of these groups, two-thirds more than their state interlocutors.
Another common theme that speakers made reference to was the challenge of catering for their country’s large youth population. This was a reminder of the complexity of modern conflict and its deep interlinkages with the state of a country’s economy, its environment and its ability to offer a future of hope for its next generation of citizens.
Whilst events informed and breakout spaces were quickly filled with intense networking, there was a focus on practical solutions around 700 project submissions from 115 countries looking to be ‘scaled up’ with the support of the forum. Meanwhile ‘innovation spaces’ hosted peace and security role-playing and ‘pitch spaces’ allowed people to present to a range of agendas all supported by an army of translators operating on over 30 headset channels.
There was not much in the way of headlines, the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged that the EU will spend 30% more on external action, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov launched a blistering attack on what he described as the West’s selective interpretation of the international order. A packed event on security challenges in the Sahel was headlined by the Presidents of Chad, Niger and Mali - all who bemoaned a lack of fiscal support to their counterterrorism efforts.
Macron’s hosting of the event reflects a growing influence of France in global affairs. Whilst the UK’s political bandwidth remains gummed up by Brexit, President Macron urged attendees not to surrender to being too ‘lazy, cowardly or blind’ to the global challenges of the present day. A key indicator of sustained engagement in this agenda will be if next year’s conference is able to secure the same level of attendance and energy.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.