Analysis: Editor's Insight: The elusive search for world peace

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Beauty queens and business have one thing in common – they both want world peace.

This is also the intention of a think tank, the London-based Institute for Economics and Peace, established by philanthropist Steve Killilea.

But peace is not an easy topic to study or define and scholars differ on the approach.

During the Cold War, writes one expert, Columbia University psychologist professor Peter T Coleman, the main purpose was to address and prevent problems associated with conflict and violence and not on the solutions associated with peace.

“Concerns around nuclear annihilation, enemy images, discrimination, denial of basic human needs, terrorism and torture have been the main focus,” he writes.

“Even the idea of positive peace, first put forth by Johann Galtung (1985) to distinguish it from negative peace or attempts to eliminate overt forms of violence, fundamentally concerns problems of injustice and oppression and the needs for ‘a more equitable social order that meets the basic needs and rights of all people.’”

Mr Killilea’s institute, which has prepared measures of world peace since 2007, has refined its methodology to look at attitudes, institutions and structures that, when strengthened, can improve a country's peacefulness.

The result is a Positive Peace Index (PPI), which now covers 99.6% of the world’s population in 162 countries. By contrast, the Global Peace Index is a measure of negative factors.

What is positive peace?
Mr Killilea says Positive Peace is a identifies and measures long-term investments that create sustainable peace and resilience at the country level.  This contrasts with most research in the field, which focuses on what does not work and why systems fail, he says.

“Well-developed Positive Peace represents the capacity for a society to meet the needs of citizens, reduce the number of grievances that arise and resolve remaining disagreements without the use of violence.

“It is the first global, quantitative approach to defining and measuring Positive Peace and is based on the factors that have strongest statistically significant relationships with the absence of violence.”

These rest on eight pillars: well-functioning government, sound business environment, equitable distribution of resources, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of education and low levels of corruption.

The absence of problems
Professor Coleman says this approach still has the shortcomings, on most social dimensions, that the index still measures only the absence of problems.

Instead, he suggests defining a sustainable peace as “existing in a state where the probability of using destructive conflict, oppression and violence to solve problems is so low that it does not enter into any party's strategy, while the probability of using cooperation, dialogue and collaborative problem-solving to promote social justice and well-being is so high that it governs social organisation and life.”

I will leave that debate there for the moment and move on to the PPI’s key findings.

These are:

  • Positive Peace has been improving steadily since 2005. Of the 162 countries ranked in the Index, 118, or 73%, have improved.
  • The Positive Peace factor that deteriorated the most is low levels of corruption, with 99 countries recording a deterioration, compared with 62 that improved.
  • Positive Peace deteriorated in the US and in more than half of the countries in Europe due to increases in corruption, a greater number of grievance protests and limits to press freedoms.
  • Hungary, Greece, the US and Iceland recorded the largest deteriorations in Positive Peace – more than 5%
  • Poland, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates recorded the largest improvements. Each improved by at least 7%.

Democracies consistently have the strongest level of Positive Peace but represent the minority of countries. Similarly, high-income countries dominate the top 30 countries in the PPI.

Over the past decade, New Zealand has improved its ranking from 10th in 2005 to eighth in 2015. Among the top 10, Iceland has slipped from third to seventh.

The other countries are (in 2015 order): Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, Netherlands and Austria.

Benefits of Positive Peace:

  • Countries with high levels of Positive Peace have fewer civil resistance campaigns. Those campaigns tend to be less violent, shorter and more likely to achieve their aims.
  • 91% of all violent movements took place in countries with low levels of Positive Peace.
  • Many low-income countries have Positive Peace scores lower than their Negative Peace levels indicating a potential for violence to increase. The majority of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Positive Peace creates the resilience needed for societies to better adapt to change, whether planned or unplanned,” Mr Killilea says.

“Countries that perform well on measures of Positive Peace recover better from shocks, as demonstrated by Iceland’s response during and after the Global Financial Crisis, or Japan’s recovery after the 2011 tsunami.”

Current world trouble spots include Syria, Ukraine and Israel-Palestine. Professor Coleman has this to say about the latter conflict after doing a series of studies there: “… we found that the reasons Israelis and Palestinians are motivated to end conflict are fundamentally distinct from the reasons they are motivated to make and sustain peace.

They are not opposites – the drivers for peace and the drivers to end conflict conflict – but are fundamentally different.”

He concludes that while the absence of discrimination, injustice, threat and fear are good predictors of non-violent relations, they do not predict enduring peace.

“On the contrary, what is needed are better measures of incidence of intergroup cooperation, trust, pro-social acts, solidarity and moral inclusion to best predict sustainable peace.”

Professor Coleman also downplays Mr Killilea’s institute’s emphasis on the role of business and free economies as a peacemaker.

“… there is mounting evidence that horizontal inequalities within societies, particularly when political, social and economic inequalities combine, are a better predictor of civil rebellion than income level,” he says.

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