2023-2024 Academic Year Opening Lecture
12 October 2023

War and Peace in the 21st Century

The Geneva Graduate Institute had the honour to welcome Ghassan Salamé, Professor of International Relations Emeritus at Sciences Po Paris and former UNSG Special Representative in Libya, for the opening lecture of its academic year on 5 October 2023.

As we navigate an increasingly fragmented and challenged world, Director Marie Laure Salles stressed in her welcome remarks that “Peace is a utopia…but one that should always guide us. It is not enough for peace to be established, we know that it must also be constantly sustained, and fought for on a daily basis”. In this context of uncertainty, we should remind ourselves of the words of Albert Camus – “peace is the only battle worth waging”. 

Three decades ago, wars opposing major powers had become unthinkable courtesy of assured mutual deterrence bringing a sense of optimism within the international community. 

A worldwide process of democratisation coupled with rapidly increasing economic interdependence and a global agenda seemed to make Immanuel Kant’s dream of universal peace true. Nonetheless, as stated by Ghassan Salamé, “universalisation is differentiation”. Instead of the expected convergences, concepts such as democracy, capitalism and peace were used in very selective ways by the newly converted. The reappearance of conflicts that once seemed like isolated anomalies has now returned with a resounding intensity.
As explained by Ghassan Salamé, the paradigm on which that optimism was built had six foundations, which turned out to be illusions: 

  1. Stalled democratisation processes and crises in established democracies have led to the deregulation of politics in many countries showing us the vulnerability and interpretation of democratic processes. 
  2. Globalisation and trade interdependence did not prove Montesquieu’s theory of doux commerce right. 
  3. The digital age ushered in open societies by fostering connectivity, yet it also brought undeniable challenges to our freedom.
  4. Culture is now being weaponised to fracture societies and has evolved into an ideology in its own right.
  5. Since the end of the Cold war, the international system has witnessed a serious deregulation of the use of force demonstrating zero respect for international law. The regulation of force by emulation became a universal phenomenon, the Russian invasion of Ukraine being just one sad example. 
  6. The nuclear taboo, symbolised by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, is falling in front of our eyes. 

We know a new international system is in the making, but the confused signals of the recent past strongly blur the traits of the still-to-crystallise system. 

Multilateralism is in poor shape, declared Ghassan Salamé, but we still need more multilateralism. None of the above pillars is extinct; we need to be vigilant and fight within our own countries for better governance, helping us to look forbetter multilateralism. 

Marie Laure Salles underlined that there is no better place “to affirm the urgent and constant fight and commitment for multi-dimensional peace than right here in Switzerland, in Geneva, in the Maison de la paix”. 

The creation of the Geneva Graduate Institute in 1927 was seen as a mechanism for transnational community building – a community that would be bound by the conviction that peace required international collaboration and rule-making. In that sense, the Institute is deeply anchored in the spirit of Geneva and in Swiss soil. It is therefore important “to put peace at the heart of education from very early stages and to fight for a culture of peace in all dimensions and at all levels of our social, economic, political and institutional systems”.  

This opening lecture was introduced by Anne Hiltpold, State Councillor of the Department of Public Education, Training and Youth Affairs, and moderated by Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamedou, Deputy Director and Professor of International History and Politics at the Geneva Graduate Institute. 

War and Peace in the 21st Century - A Conversation with Ghassan Salamé
5 October 2023 | Ghassan Salamé, Professor of International Relations Emeritus at Sciences Po Paris, gave the opening lecture of the academic year.