The view from the balcony of the Campidoglio, overlooking the ruins of the Roman Forum, provides a good perspective on the war culture of the modern age. Not even the might of the Roman Empire could prevent its collapse; yet, the human spirit soared again and again through the ages to create the vibrancy of today's Rome.
The Campidoglio provided the setting for a remarkable gathering from 18 to 20 October 2002 of Nobel Peace laureates to consider the principal challenges of our time: widespread war, violence, terrorism, poverty, water and the ecological crisis. The laureates sought solutions leading to a new world order emphasizing peace, humanity and equity.
Organized by Mikhail Gorbachev, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and now heads the Gorbachev Foundation, and Walter Veltroni, Mayor of Rome, this was the third such Nobel gathering. The other attendees included: Adolfo Perez Esquivel (1980), Lech Walesa (1983), Rigoberta Menchu (1992), Joseph Rotblat (1995) and Betty Williams (1976), as well as representatives of these Nobel Prize-winning organizations: Institut de Droit International, International Peace Bureau, International Red Cross, American Friends Service Committtee, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organization, Amnesty International, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, United Nations Peacekeeping Forces, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the United Nations. Messages were sent by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2001), Yasser Arafat (1994) and Au ng San Suu Kyi (1991).
Though the topics of the meeting were weighty indeed, it opened on a light note with the presentation of the 'Man of Peace" prize to Italian actor-director Roberto Benigni who, seizing the baton, conducted a children's choir to the delight of the astonished singers. It was this moment that perhaps best captured the hope that animated the meeting.
The Nobel laureates quickly asserted that war clouds notwithstanding, they refused to accept the cynicism and despair that crushes hope and vision. In fact, they began their final statement by affirming "our common humanity and capacity to work cooperatively, informed by compassion and inspired by love. Our humanity demands this."
Mr. Gorbachev eloquently and firmly outlined the crisis of our civilization brought about by war, violence and the instability caused by poverty. The status quo of dominance by a few cannot be allowed to continue. He warned about the over-abundance of power in the North Atlantic Organization (NATO), expanding once again, which possesses 70 per cent of the military power in the world. Quoting President John F. Kennedy's famous address to the American University on 10 June 1963, Mr. Gorbachev said a Pax Americana was not what was needed today; rather, the cooperation of all must overcome the tendencies of unilateral domination. Thirty-one countries now have the ability to develop a nuclear weapon--a terrifying situation.
He excoriated Governments for pleading that they do not have enough money to cure poverty but, at the same time, spend enormous sums on arms. He especially criticized the development of nuclear weapons--this will go on and on, he said, unless the world community is energized to stop it. Certainly, new weapons were not needed to fight terrorism.
A principled position against nuclear weapons should be taken, he urged. The world could contribute to the alleviation of terrorism by implementing new models of development. …