“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King (Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963) 

 

On February 16th, the death of Alexey Navalny sent a shock wave through the world. The news of his death threw a pale cloud on the Munich Security Conference (MSC) where I was participating. His wife Julia Navalnaya was there, scheduled to speak, when the news broke. Her mere presence was enough to remind us all of Russia’s disregard for human rights and continued disregard for international law. Navalny’s death was not just a Russia problem, it has had a global resonance that calls to question what behaviors are deemed acceptable for countries and how the world responds to egregious harm to citizens within their own countries. In this case, an act of reckless disregard for life by Russia is symptomatic of its disregard to a rule-based global order. The brazen nature of this tragic event clearly demonstrates the difficult reality of our time: How do we adhere to a common standard that respects human dignity and hold each other accountable in a world of greater insularity that accommodates national interest over a value-based world order? 

The 2024 Munich Security Conference, held from the 16th to the 18th of February 2024, lived up to its billing with several world leaders in attendance such as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, US Vice President Kamala Harris, and Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. The conference’s unofficial theme “Lose-Lose?” spoke to the interconnectedness of our survival as one humanity and the need to avoid the temptation of insularity and narrow nationalism as a response to current global challenges. The prominence given to issues around protecting international humanitarian law and civilian protection was a testament to one of the biggest challenges of the time and of which CIVIC has been raising the alarm. This year, it is important to acknowledge the remarkable effort of the MSC to bring greater diversity to the conference ensuring that important issues affecting the global south were given the proper amount of attention. Similarly, the inclusive and diverse nature of the panels offered participants a more balanced view of issues and created platform for alternative voices. The inclusive nature of the conversation, though sometimes uncomfortable, demonstrated the important need for dialogue and the value of avoiding the temptation of a single story. 

As was clearly acknowledged in conversations at the MSC, the world is confronted with many challenges, some of them existential. These challenges rarely lend themselves to a one-country solution.

Climate change is the culmination of years of industrialization, but the burden of its risk does not discriminate. If anything, countries who bear the biggest brunt of its impact are the ones that probably contributed the least to this crisis. Similarly, economic and governance challenges create instability in countries that weaken the state and pose significant risk to other countries. The same can be said of conflict were destruction and displacement of large populations occasion deep strain on others either through mass migration or regional disintegration and violence escalation. The world is so intrinsically interconnected that the borders are mere illusion and national interests are swallowed up by common global challenges. These global commonalities demand global responses built on shared interests. The solution, therefore, is a more collaborative global relationship built on a common set of rules and values. And this is where it gets tricky. 

While everyone seems to agree that we need to work together to solve global issues and protect the dignity of human beings, countries have largely played by their own rules while placing national interests and politics above shared values and principles. This approach has led to the undermining of international law and its effectiveness in protecting human dignity. 

Conversations at the MSC called out the menace of double standards and the existential risks it poses to humanity. Nowhere has this challenge of double standards been more devastatingly fatal than on issues of civilian protection. Conflicts from Sudan to Yemen, Gaza and DRC – to name only a few – have all become playing fields of competing third parties that place politics, affiliations, and narrow national interests above the lives of civilians. These continue to delegitimize the international system and widen the lines of polarization making consensus on other issues of international importance difficult. 

If there is anything that world leaders need to do urgently, it is to start building consensus on indisputable principles like the protection of human dignity and subjugate politics to the unqualified protection of civilians especially those in conflict areas. This requires a more nuanced approach to collaboration which places pragmatism over petty competitions and objectivity over ultra-nationalistic instincts. But it’s not just for governments to do, citizens should and can impose steep political consequences on their government. Current demands from citizens across the world for civilian protection in Gaza is a clear example of the power of the people. Similarly, the media must bring objectivity to its reporting and shed the perception that they serve the interest of one side or another. As discussed at the MSC, the business community is also a powerful actor that can use its influence to promote and pressure the respect of important international conventions, especially as it relates to human dignity.  

Insularity may have its local political appeal, but the world challenges we confront today can only be solved by collective efforts built around shared values and good behavior. It is enlightened self-interest to urgently do this. If we have learned anything from world history, our borders are only as good as our neighbor’s. We are in this together, and we rise and fall together. 

Author: Udo Jude Ilo,  CIVIC’s Interim Executive Director 

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