PARIS — Picking the right time, taking tips from social media, spotlighting both global bigwigs and civic groups and doing his best to rein Donald Trump back into the “community of nations”: these were just some of the ways that French President Emmanuel Macron tried to set the world straight on Nov. 11, Armistice Day, in Paris.
The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, but that was only an opener for Macron, whose message could have been roughly translated as, “Tribalism may be on the rise, but we need to work as a team or risk the future of the human race.”
Macron’s inaugural Paris Peace Forum pitted a strong conviction for people-centered multilateralism against resurgent nationalism and a languishing commitment by some major powers to global treaty and financial obligations.
Unlike the annual Davos World Economic Forum, where corporations predominate, or the annual Munich Security Conference, which emphasizes the world’s national security establishments, the Paris Peace Forum has fast become a premier “global meet-up,” where the voices of citizens and their organizations are amplified, their contributions to solving global problems better understood and opportunities for substantive partnerships explored, by:
- First, spreading news of innovative initiatives aimed at improving global governance and helping to put them on the global map. Examples include Together First: A Global System that Works for All, the Platform on Global Security, Justice & Governance Reform, Tech Peace Governance Model, Business for Inclusive Growth Platform and the UN2020 Initiative.
- Second, borrowing networking tools from social media platforms like Braindates, pitching-session tips from TED talks and face-to-face organizing skills from Meetup. With more than 100 carefully vetted civic initiatives from diverse regions grouped around five themes — peace and security, environment, development, new technologies and more-inclusive economy — the forum gave participants an extraordinary opportunity to reach representatives of every kind of private, government, service-delivery and advocacy group.
- Third, using the Armistice Day commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe, the forum was able to invite A-listers like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Secretary-General António Guterres. They would have drawn the world’s attention in any case, but once Donald Trump bowed out of parts of the commemoration — after his caustic America First rhetoric in the run-up to America’s midterm elections — that attention was magnified.
Given the star power, the atmosphere in the forum’s venue, the Grand Halle de la Villette, was at times electrifying. The many moving, nonstop presentations on powerful global themes by world leaders, activists and leading scholars and innovators created a positive vibe over three days.
From Chancellor Merkel’s stirring remarks against the rise of nationalism and the skillful facilitation of major plenary sessions by Trisha Shetty, a social activist and lawyer from India, to the prominent roles performed by many other women, the forum featured the voices of women from diverse cultural and political backgrounds.
As an inaugural event, the forum was still feeling its way. Despite stimulating plenary sessions, a greater focus was needed on major wars in places like Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. The sessions could have also used more representatives of nongovernmental organizations, especially younger activists and scholars. (High participation fees dampened participation, though many people got sponsors). A common theme for plenary and smaller sessions, such as just security, or the simultaneous pursuit of justice and security, would have helped to better unify the purpose and convergence across the gathering as a whole.
The closing session could have given more traction to proposed global institutional reforms, balancing them against the grassroots-development and peace-building activities that typically get the most attention at such gatherings. It would have been one way to guarantee more nurturing of civic global-governance reform efforts by the forum’s key players.
Above all, if the forum is to grow and thrive, landing a spot on the international calendar in the spirit of the State of the World forums and Clinton Global Initiative annual meetings, it must fully embrace a nonmilitaristic and comprehensive concept of global governance that genuinely engages the talents and ideas of both state-based and non-state actors.
As Macron himself argued, the world needs a new definition of patriotism, “the exact opposite of the egotism of a people who look after only their interests . . . where bodies and forums enable yesterday’s enemies to engage in dialogue and make it the binding force for understanding, the guarantee of a harmony that is finally possible.”
Anchored by a proposed overarching vision of just security for a multilateral system of governance, future forums should strive for a better balance between, on one hand, principles of justice, a global civic ethic and a people-centered world order and, on the other hand, the continued predominance of state security, multinational corporation stability and growth in global affairs.
With the United Nations fast approaching its 75th anniversary in 2020 — and its future in no way certain — this new platform for dialogue, partnership-building and action on multilateral innovation is welcome and timely. Nothing less than global security, justice and governance are at stake.
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