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Peace Studies:
A Ten Point Primer



Johan Galtung, Transcend, TFF Associate


June 4, 2005

Dear participants!

This is an important conference. The world's biggest country, based on one of the world's oldest civilizations, soon also with the world's biggest economy, is having a serious look at peace studies. A small step for China, but a major one for us who have been working in this field for soon fifty years. We are most grateful to the hosts, Nanjing University and particularly its Department of History, and Coventry University and particularly its Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, for this important international and interdisciplinary dialogue.

I have been given the task of reflecting on the field of peace studies, something I will do with the warning that what you get from me is one person's perspective. Others will have other perspectives. We can enter this field from many angles, and it is important that we do so.

Peace studies, like anything else, is a process. It has to be born and reborn, again and again, like our colleagues from Coventry have done by entering the field via reconciliation. No doubt China will put its particular imprints on it, and I cannot wait!

How will the daoist, confucian, buddhist and other traditions find their ways into the field, and how will the daunting task of coming to grips with peace conceptually, theoretically, practically reshape them? How will the experience of China, between the Tundra, the Gobi desert, the Himalayas and the China sea, with almost no military excursions outside, but the subject of several incursions, with the Nanjing massacre by the Japanese Imperial Army as a major example, impact on peace studies?

So, here follow five short descriptions, and five elaborations:


1. Peace studies explore handling of conflict by peaceful means.

Another word for peace is equality. And other words for equality are equity, symmetry, reciprocity, equal rights, equal dignity. You can see them as part of the definition of peace, or of the peaceful means. As such they are necessary rather than sufficient conditions. Equality etc. does not guarantee peace. But inequality etc, almost guarantee the opposite, direct violence, in one form or other, physical or verbal, directed against the body, mind or spirit of human beings. And inequality etc. are also parts of structural violence, meaning that absence of structural violence is a necessary condition for the absence of direct violence.

Most people agree that peace is more than the mere absence of direct violence also found in a battlefield after the fighting is over. The word "justice" is often used for this "more", as in "peace with justice". But "justice" is ambiguous and has to be supported by adjectives like punitive, restorative and transitory. I can see the pragmatism of giving "peace" to the political left and "justice" to the right, hoping to come out neutral, supported by both. But the intellectual quality of such maneuvers is low.

"Another word for peace is equality" gives to peace a progressive connotation and explains why it is so often resisted on the right, including resisting peace studies. In practice, however, peace is not that radical but rather expresses common sense, a world with less insult to the basic needs for survival, well-being, freedom and identity--meaning with life--and without the inequality, inequity etc. that generate these insults.

Peace is similar to health, a rich summum bonum which we can fill with new meanings. Violence, like disease, is suffering. And peace, like health, is liberation from suffering and fulfillment.


2. Peace studies are empirical, critical and constructive.

As empirical studies peace studies, like any other field of inquiry, collect data, construct hypotheses, and then compare data and hypotheses to conclude in terms of true, false, both-and, neither-nor. The standards for this activity should be as rigorous as in any other field of study. It is worth noting that empirical studies by necessity are past-oriented as only the past can produce data. Of course, we can make more or less well founded predictions about the future, but they remain hypotheses till the future becomes past with data that can be used to check hypotheses.

As critical studies peace studies do the same as critics of human behavior--moral philosophers, priests, criminal judges--do, compare data with values related one way or the other to peace, and then conclude in terms of right, wrong, both-and, neither-nor. For this the criteria have to be explicit and the comparison carried out with the same rigor as in any other field. Art critics are important "human behavior critics", an important activity serving as a guide to good art and literature for artists and users. Critical peace studies do the same for politicians and people.

As constructive studies peace studies would not shy away from making recommendations, the "therapy" part of the useful diagnosis- prognosis-therapy triangle taken from health studies. Expectations from therapy can then be held against values relating to peace to conclude in terms of adequate, inadequate, both-and, neither-nor.

The peace researcher should ideally be up to all three tasks. The empirical studies should fully respect the canons of research, the critical studies should be based both on adequate reasoning from value premisses and on adequate data, and the recommendations both on explicit values and well tested theories. Not always easy.


3. Like health studies peace studies are an applied science.

Imagine a person suffering badly from some disease, barely able to come to the office of a famous physician. The person is duly examined and at the end the doctor expresses his gratitude for offering a case that will be written up in a forthcoming article. - But what are you going to do to cure me? the "case" asks. - Cure? Nothing, I am a scientist, I am objective, value neutral.

Fortunately we are better served today by maybe as many as 44 health professions. The constructive connection between the value of health, well specified, and reasonably well grounded hypotheses about what can be foreseen as the result of an intervention has been made. again and again, often successfully, sometimes not. Peace studies should be able to deliver the same, at the same level of adequacy, through conflict transformation, peacebuilding, peace- keeping, reconciliation to mention some approaches. Let many peace professions grow, mediators, conciliators, and so on and so forth.

But what if we, like health professionals, do not succeed but even make mistakes? Then we should be accountable and not like so many economists with misleading diagnosis (because they cut the issue wrongly), prognosis far off the mark (because they take too few factors into account) and highly unsuccessful therapy/remedy (for the above reasons) get off with impunity. They cannot get off the hook blaming politicians who execute plans developed by peace or economy specialists. Adding to the predicament come politicians who would rather go wrong with a war than with a peace, like the politician who would rather go wrong with growth than distribution. Growth, like aggressive war, seems to need less legitimation than peace and distribution. So better be careful, never do what cannot be undone, you may be on a wrong track. Violence is irreversible.


4. Peace studies are trans- rather than inter-disciplinary.

Like women studies make women and their conditions of suppression and liberation visible, peace studies make peace visible, understandable, obtainable. No academic discipline has any monopoly on peace, just as little as they have any monopoly of women -- but all disciplines have something to contribute.

As a rule, in a good peace researcher the PhD field is no longer visible. There are often four stages on this road.

In the multi-disciplinary stage a university, or a conference, invites specialists from several disciplines to contribute to peace studies from their angle. People or disciplines who never meet because our universities fragment human knowledge, keep us apart fighting for funds and recognition, learn the art of tolerance.

In the inter-disciplinary stage a university or a conference encourages dialogue among approaches, an obvious method being to address the same event or phase in history, or the same problem.

In the cross-disciplinary stage this dialogue goes further, into mutual learning. A psychologist may pick up a sociological hypothesis about status disequilibrium (like high on education, low on power) as aggression productive and explore the psychology; a sociologist may explore the social effects of cognitive consonance as "peace of mind". Usually such explorations are bilateral.

In the transdisciplinary stage, based on the preceding three or not, the problem that determines the choice of intellectual tools and they will usually have to come from the tool chests of several disciplines. Like for health studies. But in this process other disciplines will also learn and change. Historians, for instance, will focus more on peace and on how war could have been avoided, economics more on survival and equity, etc.


5. Peace studies are trans- rather than inter-national.

Peace studies in Europe, a very belligerent and aggressive continent, emerge mainly outside the capitals and "universities of excellence" of big powers. They study "security". Starting in the Nordic countries, Spain (Barcelona), Italy (Firenze), Austria (European Peace University) and England (Bradford) are today more important. But no country has monopoly, nor does any gender, generation, race, class, nation. As peace belongs to all of us so do peace studies.

This is important because the study of peace is so intimately related to the study of conflict. About conflict we know something for sure: each actor in a conflict has his own angle. The conflict always looks different looked at from different angles. Hence we have to listen to all parties, understanding what they want, to sort between legitimate and illegitimate, using, for instance, human rights as a measure, and then try to bridge the gap between legitimate goals. Such is the TRANSCEND approach. All parties to a conflict have equal rights to be understood, but not the same right to be accepted and supported. That depends on legitimacy.

Ideally a peace research team should be not only inter- disciplinary but also international, each participant listening to the other angles in a spirit of tolerance, entering into dialogue. The cross-national stage of mutual learning, reciprocity, will then follow, adding more depth to the analysis of the conflict. And this is exactly what China invites the USA to do in connection with human rights, publishing a yearbook on human rights in the USA, now in its sixth edition. Let us approach such problems cross- nationally, in a spirit of equality, and the way we study peace is already peace. Any pretense at having a monopoly on understanding reality is violence, aggression, in this case cultural violence.

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6. Violence, insults to the basic needs of body, mind and spirit, is caused by unresolved conflict and polarization = dehumanization of human and social relations.

That is a basic hypothesis linking conflict and peace. Conflicts have to be solved; human and social relations to be depolarized = humanized; and the cycle of "violence breeding violence" to be controlled, basically nonviolently, also with healing of traumas and closure through reconciliation. Toward this end peace studies train mediators for conflict resolution and transformation and conciliators for reconciliation, to mention two specialties in the field of peace work. We know a lot about this.

And there is an enormous demand for such peace workers, more than for peace researchers, and much amateurishness and denial that there may be something to study and learn before leaping into practice. One example, often found in Anglo-American approaches, is inability to distinguish between conflict and violence. Both are seen as shocks to be managed and controlled. Thus, there is talk about "post-conflict reconciliation" where "post-violence" would be appropriate. Conflict is ubiquitous, forever, violence is not.

The two concepts are different. Violence is to hurt and harm, insulting basic human needs. Conflict is a state of incompatible goals, within and between persons, societies, regions, the world. Another word is contradiction. That is a challenge, and the Anglo- American tradition is unwilling to assume that there could be contradictions even in their social and world orders. Their term "dispute" does not cover the depth, nor does, indeed, "trouble". Anglo-Americans lay down rules and demand that people follow them.

So there is conflict before violence, and more easily solved before than after. And ceasefire, armistice is not peace; peace is much more complex. Politicians and journalists, please take note.


7. In security studies, violence is seen as caused by evil forces, like dangerous classes and inferior races/religions/ideologies "out to get us", and the remedy is to have enough strength to deter or destroy those forces.

A parallel in traditional health studies was disease seen as caused by Satan or God's punishment for evil. The remedy was strength as faith, to resist all evil, and to believe in God, the Church and in authorities in general. One problem with modern hygiene and simple rules to stay healthy was less need for the Church. We have something of the same in today's struggle between peaceful conflict transformation and the reliance on court systems, governments and the UN Security (not Peace) Council.

This security discourse stands in the way of a rational approach to peace. The remedies offered are two: to be strong enough to deter, and/or to crush those forces of evil, as we see it all over the world in the Anglo-American effort to deal with terrorism or tyranny. The net result is a security state like a fortress, and much, much killing, all over. Very primitive.


8. Disease can be seen as an unresolved contradiction between Exposure to pathogens and the Resistance capacity of an organism, and violence as unresolved contradictions among the goals of parties in a conflict.

Equilibrium/disequilibrium thinking was basic to Chinese medicine. Then came the idea of some microbes hiding somewhere, "out to get us", and the remedy was to be strong, building up our immune system, if necessary through outside assistance in the shape of inoculation. I guess most of us believe in that. But I wonder if health studies could not learn something by studying the phenomenon also from the micro-organism point of view? Chinese medicine saw health as natural and many thinkers saw peace = harmony the same way. Very important perspectives.


9. Major sources of violence in the 21st century are globalized, privatized, monetized capitalism; the US empire expanding that system also by military means including the encircling of Russia- China-India (40% of humanity); the contradiction between 2000 nations, 200 states and 20 nation-states basically with one nation; violence against women through selective abortion, infanticide, discrimination; and among the abrahamitic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam and them and other world views.

Peaceful solutions include better distribution/alternative economic systems; boycott of the US empire; confederations (East Asian Community) among states and federations (like Switzerland) inside states; gender parity; civilization dialogue.

There are many pointers in such directions in China Daily these days, coinciding with the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). There is talk of social development, gender equality, social harmony, how to calculate ecological costs (cutting China's growth rate by 2% points!) all over. The many people standing in line to deliver protests and suggestions to authorities come to mind, and it is not obvious that idea democracy is inferior to arithmetic democracy, but it depends, of course, on who in fact has the last word.

I also welcome the White Paper "Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China". And I deplore the hypocrisy of countries criticizing an anti-secession law. How would Washington react to a Declaration of independence from Hawai'i? Or Paris to Corsica - England relative to Ireland or parts of Ireland we know. And yet I feel China would be better off as some kind of decentralized federation linking Beijing to Taiwan, Hong Kong/Macau, Inner Tibet, Xianjiang and Inner Mongolia. Let us have a good dialogue!


10. Peace studies focus less on actors, more on deep cultures and structures and how they affect mediation and conciliation.

I wonder if the next stage in this amazing country's history will not be a turn toward cultural rather than economic development and in addition to the much needed economic distribution? The focus on economics is also a focus on materialism and a country that seems to change, and even basically so, every nine years (1949, 1958, 1966-69, 1976-80, 1989. 1998, 2007?) might well also turn from material to the more spiritual. As any student of China knows there is much to draw upon, and even more importantly, the enormous creativity of today's Chinese people.

There has been much focus on the role of structure for peace, particularly of gender and class relations. Time has come for much more focus on culture, and not only in the sense of religion.

Thus, what is the secret behind the outer peacefulness of the Kingdom in the Middle, the Zhong Guo? The USA, following the English tradition of watching the second biggest, has already appointed China its natural enemy and the Project for the New American Century, PNAC, talks about changing the regime in China. The aggressiveness is unbelievable instead of doing the obvious, not only tolerance but dialogue and mutual learning like the Chinese do. We are all anxiously watching how the only surviving superpower and the Kingdom, in the Middle, relate to each other.

Well, if the US thinks it has the right to create Free Trade Areas in Latin America, China has the same right with Japan and the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. Of course, Japan has to reconcile, revise its textbooks, apologize deeply for Nanjing.

Nanjing? A possible center for an East Asian Community, for peace and prosperity? And the suffering would make some sense.


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