The world is on high alert. Even Norway — the most peaceful-sounding nation — is in a heightened state of alert after receiving intelligence that nationals from Syria might be planning a terrorist attack. Norway? The last time we worried about Norway, they had pirates.
What is going on? Are the world's airports and airlines increasingly becoming fear-inspiring places? Is this a real crisis or just another example of newscasts turning facts into science fiction?
The truth is, we don't know. What we do know is that a rash of aviation disasters swept three continents in three months: Africa, Asia, and Europe, beginning with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and ending with crashes in Taiwan, Mali and eastern Ukraine. What we do know is that the number of deaths from airplane crashes has been mostly on a downward trajectory — until now. According to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents, a Swiss organization that tracks data, 462 people died in airline crashes in 2013 and we have surpassed that number in just the first seven months of this year. You don't have to be a conspiracy buff to count.
Airline terrorism is a gnawing reminder that conflicts breed extremists and extremists breed conflict in an unending cycle of violence. Terrorists constantly up the ante. Having mastered the art of ground terrorism, they turn to the skies. The response to threats of airline terrorism has been, rightly so, more airline security. It is no coincidence that a month ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced new security measures, including additional screening and checking laptops more closely. It is no coincidence that the U.S. asked other nations in Africa, Europe and the Middle East to take similar measures.
But we need long-term solutions that go beyond technology and physical airport security. Let's remember that the outbreaks of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, the horn of Africa and now between Israel and Gaza are human disasters. They are collisions between people. Amidst all the high-tech answers remains the need for low-tech diplomacy and conflict resolution.
Conflict resolution can sound insubstantial. It's not. It involves early education about conflict — and how to prevent it. It involves training in peacebuilding. It involves cross-cultural exchanges and contact between countries. It involves everything from the Peace Corps to the Marine Corps. It means believing in the power of communities to create positive change through social, political and economic structures. It involves faith in rule of law, individual achievement, and yes — democracy.
Preventing conflict is hard work. But we can't stop trying.
Resolving deadly conflict is a better solution than black boxes with more sophisticated technology. In the end, it is better if the conflict never starts. Once they burn, conflicts, like forest fires, spread. The heat becomes unbearable. There is no light. The consequences are uncertain and unsettling.
We owe those who died fighting terrorists — and those who died, caught up in conflicts they didn't sign up to resolve — our best efforts to get ahead of war.
We might start in Norway, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year.
Sonenshine is a distinguished fellow at George Washington University. She was formerly under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs.