Could Brexit ultimately help spread peace, love and understanding?

The RISING Global Peace Forum aims to put the UK at the forefront of international diplomacy

Brexit negotiations are still ongoing – while not really going anywhere – and our uncertain future is set to dominate the upcoming party conference season. But this week, talks of a different kind could determine the UK’s place in a post-Brexit world.

Professor Mike Hardy, who spent 15 years as a diplomat in the Middle East before taking up the Chair of Intercultural Relations at Coventry University believes we can remain a global superpower by promoting world peace. He founded the RISING Global Peace Forum, which brings together leaders and academics to plot a better future. This year’s speakers include two Nobel Peace Prize winners – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Yemeni human rights activist Tawakkol Karman – as well as Irish politician John Bruton, who has served as the EU’s ambassador to the US. Focussing unity instead of division, RISING proves it’s good to talk…

The Big Issue: Is this one of the most conflicted times in history?

Professor Mike Hardy: This appears to be the most conflicted time but it’s actually one of the most peaceful times there has ever been. The transference of conflict from battlefields to communities is a new paradigm. The conflict that we have is changing; it’s very localised, focused in particular places, prejudice and discrimination within communities or in the cyber world. At the same time, the world is more peaceful but it’s more unequal and uneven.

Does anybody actually want world peace? In the past, Russian and US leaders being on good terms would be something to celebrate but today it seems particularly controversial.

I think what people worry about is whether this veneer of camaraderie is a meaningful thing, and if it’s papering over cracks that exist. But I have to say, my whole team are passionate advocates for dialogue, not threat and posturing. So the more talk and the more contact you have, the more understanding is created.

Peace is a nice ambition but is an argument that will convince more people that a more peaceful world is a more prosperous world?

Last year for the first time the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals embraced peace as a precondition for fighting poverty and climate change. At RISING this year is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia. She delivered that message singularly for Liberia saying that her country could never make the changes needed in health, education and fighting poverty unless it removed the conflict.

Countries that trade together are less likely to be in conflict. Is trade good for peace?

The only counter to that is the arms industry. Countries make money by selling arms and you can’t sell them if they’re not used.

Is it Britain’s place to try and influence others to be more peaceful?

There is no doubt in my mind that the UK genuinely has a compelling advantage in this area. We’re good at this, we’re well connected through the Commonwealth and our commitment to aid. We can establish the role for Britain as a superpower, not because we have a nuclear deterrent but because we are being a force for good.

Is leading the way for world peace how we could remain a key player on the global stage?

This is an important question currently, defining our role in a post-Brexit world. We won’t be a powerful trading force but we can be an influencer for peace.There’s analysis to be done around defence procurement and the massive aircraft carriers we’ve built without the ability to use. They are the size of four football pitches but we haven’t got planes that can use them nor frigates to defend them. But as platforms for delivering humanitarian aid they’d be second to none. Imagine putting one of these aircraft carriers alongside Haiti after the earthquake – a whole city of support. These are ideas come out from the dialogue we have at RISING.

The RISING Global Peace Forum takes place in Coventry this week

How peaceful is the world right now?

The Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute of Economics and Peace, analyses societal safety and security, the degree of militarisation and the extent of domestic and international conflict, ranking 163 states and territories according to the level of peacefulness. Their latest report found…

  • The global level of peace has deteriorated by 0.27% in the last year
  • This is the fourth successive year of deterioration
  • In the last decade the world has become 2.38% less peaceful
  • 92 countries became less peaceful, 71 became more peaceful
  • Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world – and has been since 2008
  • Syria is the least peaceful country in the world – and has been since 2013
  • The UK is the 57thmost peaceful country in the world

Image: Matt Brown/Flickr