Once the leader of one of the world’s most powerful countries, former Soviet president and 1990 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mikhail Gorbachev addressed audience members at the Barclay theatre on March 26 about the social, economic and environmental pressures facing the world today.
The event was hosted by the Citizen Peacebuilding program which is dedicated to research and actions that support grassroot organizational methods to promote reconciliation and peace.
According to Gorbachev, the world today faces three main challenges: security including weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, poverty and the backwardness and degradation of the environment.
‘The developed countries which make up 20 percent of the world’s population manage to consume 80 percent of the world’s resources,’ Gorbachev said.
Gorbachev lamented the fact that the degradation of the environment has now become a global problem leaving only one-third of the world’s population to live in decent conditions while the rest survive on one or two dollars a day.
As a result of these observations, Gorbachev questioned the actions taken particularly by the United States.
As an ‘address to these challenges,’ Gorbachev accused the United States of ‘acting unilaterally’ by rejecting international law, the U.N. and the United Nations Security Council in its decision to enter war with Iraq.
Some students were skeptical of Gorbachev’s claim that the United States needed public support to enter the war.
‘I don’t think the public opinion should outweigh the consensus in the nation,’ said Ryan Mykita, co-chair of ICSU. ‘Taking the action without invoking particular polling data, U.S. citizens were in favor of the war.’
A staunch opponent of the war, Gorbachev deemed the United States’ decision a ‘mistake’ because of its failure to receive a mandate from the United Nations and the world.
As a result of our focus on the war, Gorbachev denounced the negligence surrounding pressing global issues such as greenhouse gases and resource consumption.
‘Those challenges are interconnected, they cannot be washed away, they cannot be deferred,’ Gorbachev said in Russian.
Referring to a recent ironic statement made by top U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, Gorbachev compared the dangers of war versus the environment, deeming the latter issue far more pressing for the world.
‘[Blix] recently said that he was more concerned now not with the war but by the problems of the environment, particularly of global warming,’ Gorbachev said. ‘Soon we will be using WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction] to protect these resources.’
Gorbachev blamed both the United States and Russia for not having taken initiative in establishing the Kyoto Protocol, which agrees for a five percent average reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for developed nations.
‘This number should be 25 [percent],’ Gorbachev said.
The Bush administration has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, saying that it leaves the country at a disadvantage. For developing nations, the United States does not want to face difficult and expensive research for tactics to reduce emissions.
As a proposed solution, Gorbachev called for an international ‘glasnost,’ a term coined during his 11 years as president.
Gorbachev explained that he taught the world ‘glasnost’ (political openness) and ‘perestroika’ (governmental restructuring) after his efforts to end Communist rule in Eastern Europe.
Following the speech was a brief Q-and-A session targeting topics such as Gorbachev’s opinion about the conflict in Chechnya.
‘I believe an adoption of the Chechen constitution and the elections that were held are a step in the right direction,’ Gorbachev said. ‘My idea is that Chechnya should be part of Russia but at the same time should receive a special status of autonomy.’
On the global issues, Gorbachev stressed the importance of being tolerant of our neighbors.
‘We must be respectful of other countries and their neighbors. We should respect their culture, we should respect their history.’
Gorbachev added that the primary cause of terrorism was the humility of nations, which ultimately feeds terrorism.
Some students, like fourth-year comparative literature and international studies major Nahid Dashtaki, support Gorbachev’s ideas on selecting political leaders.
‘It is truly very important to pick dialogue instead of force. The former takes less lives in the end and doesn’t allow superpowers to be controlling,’ Dashtaki said.
At the end of the program, Gorbachev was awarded the UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Award. In honor of his commitment to proposing global solutions, the award will be annually awarded to various peacebuilders.