The Paris Get-together


November 14, 2018

What brought some sixty world leaders to France last weekend was the centenary of the end of the First World War. They were invited to take part not only in commemorative ceremonies but also to attend the Paris Peace Forum.

Its website says that “The Paris Peace Forum is neither a summit nor a conference. It is a new annual event based on a simple idea: international cooperation is key to tackling global challenges and ensuring durable peace. To support collective action, it gathers all actors of global governance under one roof…”

Indeed, the whole Paris get-together proved neither a summit nor conference. It was a solo performance by President Macron. Throughout the commemorative events, the spotlight was constantly on him. President Trump who enjoys being the centre of attention appeared frustrated while others just watched.  Chancellor Merkel and UN Secretary-General Guterres made some remarks at the opening of the Paris Peace Forum and that was it. It seems that as Mrs Merkel approaches the end of her remarkable political career, Mr Macron has set his eyes on succession for Europe’s de facto leadership. Europe, however, is in disarray and as President Trump’s barrage of tweets on Mr Macron’s call for a European army and his low approval rates show so is the transatlantic relationship.

There is no question that multilateralism is the key to lasting peace. However, while the Paris Peace Forum has set some noble objectives for itself, the UN which is supposed to lead the world in attaining these is largely dysfunctional. Efforts aimed at reforming the world’s official governing body have produced nothing. So, the fundamental question is not providing a roof but creating a collective will. The end of the Cold War had created hopes for a peaceful world order. Sadly, these have not been fulfilled. The Ukraine conflict and the Arab spring have led to a new set of confrontations. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation which is supposed to further the so-called “brotherly relations” among its members has proved a dismal failure. Populism and authoritarianism are on the rise.

In brief, the Paris Peace Forum is unlikely to go any further than the once popular “Alliance of Civilizations”.

Unfortunately, there is not much the world can do collectively to confront populism and authoritarianism. That the decline of democracy has become a current topic is disturbing. Countries have their particular political evolution. Developments in some EU countries testify to that. Their accession was initially perceived as a total and final commitment to highest standards of democracy. Today’s reality does not match that commitment. Turkey’s political evolution has followed an ebb and flow pattern. More than once our democracy gained speed but failed to take-off.

What is still important is the presence of examples to follow. For decades the U.S. was seen as a bastion of democracy despite external interventions which blurred Washington’s international image. Now, Americans themselves are accusing the Trump administration for its not so democratic behaviour.

At the international level, the problem is not only rising in defense and promotion of democracy. It is also about respecting standards of consistency. The U.S. and the U.K., two of Saudi Arabia’s biggest arms suppliers have finally started calling for the cessation of hostilities in Yemen. Would they have done so if it weren’t for the Khashoggi murder?

In order to move beyond generalities, world leaders who claim to lead should take a focused and collective approach to resolve the issue on top of world’s agenda: Middle East turmoil. Because continuing turmoil and opening up new battlefronts would only mean more trouble and more migration. And, a migration which they all dread has proved to be a divisive issue giving a further boost to populism. Engaging Iran and launching Syria’s political transition would be a good start since the two are inexorably linked.

Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog: