Understanding Peace

Posted by on Jul 19, 2011 in Ingredients | 0 comments

“The difficulties of attaining a durable peace in contexts of protracted violence suggest we know more about how to end something painful and damaging to everyone but less about about how to build something desired.”

This is a quote taken from the book The Moral Imagination by John Paul Lederach. He is discussing the process of composing and implementing peace accords, supposedly designed to end deeply-rooted cycles of violence and war. However, is ‘peace’ the actual outcome of ‘peace’ accords? When considering the subsequent collapse of numerous carefully crafted ‘peace’ accords and the return to violence, perhaps ‘peace’ is not the correct usage of terminology for this phrase. It is difficult to blame anyone for using ‘peace’ in this context, although it may not be entirely appropriate, because there is no unequivocal definition of ‘peace.’

A prominent peace researcher, Johan Galtung, presents the argument in his paper Violence, Peace, and Peace Research “Few words are so often used and abused – perhaps, it seems, because ‘peace’ serves as a means of obtaining verbal consensus – it is hard to be all-out against peace.”

Defining peace is not a simple, black and white process because, like most every other word, it is strongly attached to our personal connotations. It is malleable based on your vision of ‘peace.’ Take this question into consideration: Is peace an on-going process or a destination? Will peace arrive at some point or do we have to nurture it every day?

The good news is numerous other people have considered these questions extensively before us, so we already have a good starting point. In order to aid with the process, I have compiled some of the most popular definitions of peace, used and understood by virtually all peace practitioners and theorists.

Negative Peace is a destination oriented version of ‘peace.’ Here ‘peace’ is simply regarded as the absence of violence, which typically describes the state of society after the signing of a peace accord. In many violent circumstances, this may be the best scenario we can work towards, but while peace accords might end open fighting, they may not actually create institutions and structures that allow a sustainable peace to emerge. The advent of a society that integrates these institutions and structures and is capable of seeking peace without using force is typically called Positive Peace.

Another standard interpretation of ‘peace,’ Liberal Peace, is the practice we see every time the United States engages in intrastate operations. Daniel Philpot in Strategies of Peace defines this as the dominant thinking that “pervades the most powerful and prestigious institutions and governments who take on the work of peacebuilding. Its aims are simple and familiar: to end armed violence and to establish human rights, democracy, and market economies…It envisions the UN, outside intervening states, state governments, and oppositional factions, undertaking mediation, military intervention, war settlement, disarmament, election monitoring, refugee resettlement, and the creation of free government institutions, free markets, and free media. A cardinal virtue is finitude: when will this operation end?”

While these definitions do require a process, it is typically a predetermined process, geared towards an end product. They desire to answer the question: what will society look like when we’re done? Alternatively, the following definitions leave space for flexibility and creation, for building peace, rather than just expecting it.

Justpeace is Lederach’s preferred definition. He describes it as “an orientation toward conflict transformation characterized by approaches that reduce violence and destructive cycles of social interaction and at the same time increase justice in any human relationship.”

I would like to propose another definition. Those who study the spread of democracy, or “democratization,” are familiar with the term “consolidated democracy.” Simply, this means democracy is the only acceptable “game in town.” While we may want to tweak certain parts of our democracy, we really do not challenge the overarching concept or the practice or try to institute another governmental structure. What if we extend this concept and consider a Consolidated Peace? What if ‘peace’ was the only acceptable state and we did everything in our power to build a society that sustained it?

To reach a sustainable, consolidated peace, one that can last beyond a peace agreement, that reduces cycles of violence, and increases justice, we need to engage in building peace. In order to implement this type of ‘peace,’ peacebuilding must be defined as well.

Lederach’s book Building Peace in Divided Societies understands peacebuilding to be a 
“comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships. The term thus involves a wide range of activities and functions that both precede and follow formal peace accords. Metaphorically, peace is seen not merely as a stage in time or a condition. It is a dynamic social construct. Such a conceptualization requires a process of building, involving investment and materials, architectural design and coordination of labor, laying of foundation, and detailed finish work, as well as continuing maintenance.”

Strategies of Peace offers a “far wider, deeper, and more encompassing” definition “a far greater array of actors, activities, levels of society, links between societies, and time horizons than the dominant thinking recognizes. It involves the United Nations carrying out sanctions against terrorist groups in a way that promotes good governance, human rights, and economic development in the countries where the sanctions are targeted. It involves coordinating the international prosecution of war criminals with the need to settle a civil war and the efforts of local cultures and leaders to bring peace. It involves educating the children of the next generation so as to transform their hatred into tolerance and even friendship. It involves nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society. It involves religious actors, who are all but ignored in most current thinking on peacebuilding. it involves combating inequalities that are embedded in global structures or power and wealth. It involves trials, truth commissions, and reparations, and also apology, forgiveness, and rituals of reconciliation. Not only is the broad range of these players, practices, and periods crucial for achieving sustainable peace, each is linked to others in cause and effect, for better or for worse. Effective peacebuilding, it follows, aims to strengthen these ligatures of interdependence, accenting, deepening, and synchronizing them, and linking them further with efforts of governments and international institutions and with the broad project of building a just peace in and between societies.”

As humans, we like to classify and organize everything into neat packages because this is how we begin to fully comprehend the complexities of the world; definitions aid with this process. It is critical we understand peace so that we may create peace. If we can define something vague and abstract, such as ‘peace,’ perhaps it will be a little bit easier to put in into practice and begin to build something desired.



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