On the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I, a number of world leaders and other policy makers joined together in Paris to take part in an inaugural peace forum hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, following the day’s ceremonies. While dozens of heads of state attended the first day of the forum, which is set to last three days, United States President Donald Trump was notably missing. The driving force of the forum is the idea that global cooperation is needed to maintain world peace, and self-interest need not impede that. Many of the speakers condemned actions that are commonplace for Mr. Trump, such as his America First policy and general hesitancy towards multilateral cooperation, which seems to be echoed in his absence from this event. Key addressers such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Macron expressed fears of falling into the same series of events that resulted in World War I and called for collective action to prevent history from repeating itself as well as preserving human rights.
President Macron was recently commenting on the rise in nationalism, noting, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying, ‘our interest first, who cares about the others? … giving into the fascination for withdrawal, isolationism, violence and domination would be a grave error that future generations would very rightly make us responsible for,” according to the New York Times. By pulling in future generations, Macron is creating a sense of accountability that the world needs right now in order to see through their immediate desires. Later that same day, Macron also commented on a number of crises such as racism, antisemitism, “economic, environmental and migrants-related challenges,” and nuclear proliferation. The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was also present and warned not only of repeating the events leading up to World War I, but also World War II. Chancellor Merkel was very adamant that “we must not simply stand by and watch” the growing number of conflicts continue to rise in the world, according to France 24.
The creation of this forum should be applauded, as it is certainly a step in the right direction for creating a more peaceful world. Its focus on concrete actions to work towards peace is key, as it provides world leaders with the feeling that world peace is something that can be attainable through actual steps being laid out. This sense of hope is key to being able to reduce violence in the world, especially combined with the retrospect of not wanting to fall back onto the path that led to the death of millions in World War I. On the other hand, President Trump’s absence essentially demonstrated the necessity for this forum, as he is one of the largest contributors to nationalistic and isolationist sentiment in the world right now, both of which were leading causes of the events leading up to World War I. Lacking cooperation from one of the most powerful nations in the world would certainly not bode well for encouraging others to partake in the collective action.
There has been an unsettling resurgence recently of antisemitism, racism, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, and isolationism in countries such as the United States, Hungary, Poland, France (in the National Front party), and Great Britain (regarding Brexit), among others, and this has put the world on its toes. Increased levels of violence and conflict are spreading across the globe and not enough is being done to address it. This is why it is so crucial that long-time supporters of multilateral agreements, such as Merkel and Macron, take the lead in mobilizing the world. Trump touts an “America First” policy, which is problematic in itself in this case, but at the same time does not seem to be taking human rights into consideration and continually brushes off the country’s internal violence and anti-semitism.
On such a crucial day of remembrance and reflection, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel, and Secretary-General Guterres are prioritizing peace and providing the world with a platform to cooperate and a tangible means to achieve goals towards this. Hopefully, the United States will be represented in next year’s forum, willing to cooperate towards reducing conflict and promoting peace for generations to come. The best way to honour those who lost their lives in the war that ceased 100 years ago is to make the changes necessary to the society we live in to ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain; that nothing that horrific will ever happen again.