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By Kerri Kennedy

I joined the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) eight years ago. Soon after, our Washington D.C. office, together with the Friends Committee for National Legislation, developed a provocative 50-year vision for a just U.S. foreign policy called shared security. It is a compelling vision that I have been thinking deeply about and sharing through my work ever since.

What do we mean by shared security? It is simply a paradigm for promoting the safety and well-being of people throughout the world, based on our human understanding that shared problems require shared solutions, and that our interests are best served when we foster peaceful and just relationships together. It is essentially the idea that “my peace is your peace.” The understanding that peace and security are, by their very nature, indivisible. A threat to co-existence in one corner of the world is a threat to our communal safety everywhere.

Never before have the fates of individual communities and nations been so intertwined, exemplified by the current pandemic. And never before has our safety and well-being depended so much on the safety and well-being of others. A new approach is required; an approach where we commit to our mutual well-being and equitable access to resources and justice.

A shared security approach invests seriously in peacebuilding instead of war-building, in the name of security. It imagines a world where leaders are mobilized not to build walls, separate families, and bomb targets, but where they work together to prioritize peacebuilding, support people-powered movements, and invest in early interventions that address root causes of conflict long before violence and discrimination erupts, dividing civil society and disintegrating institutions of cooperation and democracy.

We have observed heads of states frequently repressing and controlling civil society over the past decade. This has been exacerbated by COVID-19 responses. Such restrictions lead to, or go together with, widespread repression, the criminalization of human rights activists and peacebuilders, violent and unfair political processes, armed conflicts, and unjust economies triggering mass migration.

AFSC is committed to protecting the space civil society needs to engage and address injustices and inequalities. A free society is a necessary element of our shared security vision. The “Under the Mask” body of work we are showcasing at the Paris Peace Forum presents AFSC’s response to these controls. We have developed an array of activities, webinars, networking opportunities, and online resources designed to inform, connect, and protect those standing up for the rights of communities around the world. Our response is strategic, collaborative, and nonviolent. An active civil society is an essential ingredient for a just and healthy culture.

We must push our leaders to invest in global shared security that rejects policies based on narratives of fear and military domination. We need to seek solutions that recognize that in our interconnected world, security depends on ensuring that all of us are safe, not just a privileged few. We must create conditions where people can enjoy their human rights and meet their basic needs. And we need to promote nonviolent responses to the conflicts that inevitably arise.

Exceptional world leaders, community activists, and ordinary people around the world have subscribed to an inclusive, egalitarian way of conducting themselves. Further, they respect and protect diversity, recognizing people’s right to be shaped and defined by their own cultures, faiths, and nations of origin. I hope this enlightening commitment to justice and equality will become contagious, and that AFSC’s work in this field can help to kindle a movement of kindness, which brings its own rewards at both a personal and societal level.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

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Kerri Kennedy, Associate General Secretary for International Programs, began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga and is now a global peacebuilder. She has dedicated more than 20 years to leading international peace, disaster relief, and humanitarian organizations in the U.S. and in over 50 other countries, including work in war zones and post-conflict nations. Kerri has spent her career working to reduce conflict and advocate for human rights globally. After her time supporting women politicians in Afghanistan, she created Represent Political Action Committee back in the U.S., to support progressive women candidates in Pennsylvania and beyond, ensuring all have a voice in policy and politics. She recently founded Elect Women New Jersey, a political action committee to support women in U.S. local races. Kerri is a Truman National Security Fellow, a board member of the Alliance for Peacebuilding and has an MSc from American University. She has produced two documentary films and co-edited the book Indivisible: Global Leaders for Shared Security.

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