What is Positive Peace?

We Need to Look Beyond the Causes of Conflict

One hundred years ago, much of Europe was embroiled in what was optimistically being hailed as “the war to end all wars.” Except that it wasn’t. Instead, “the Great War” created conditions for an equally deadly world conflict just 20 years later, with new and even more dangerous repercussions.

Since then, we’ve experienced what has been called the long peace,” marked by an overall reduction in violence. Intrastate and regional conflicts have fortunately not ignited a third global war. Our 60-year containment of war is progress, of course, but the level of conflict has begun to creep up again, creating a mounting death toll and a refugee crisis of unsustainable proportions.

Clearly, containment is not the best solution, given the soaring human, social, and economic costs. It’s time for new approaches in our work for peace — solutions based on crafting the conditions that contribute to a peaceful society, rather than simply focusing on the causes of war. The Global Peace Index offers us a valuable tool that can make our work to develop peace both more realistic and more enduring.

Is it ‘Peace Studies’ or ‘Conflict Studies?’

The concept of positive peace seems so simple, and yet it’s actually quite revolutionary. For centuries, we have looked at peace as the absence of violence, without fully considering that other drivers are in play. Positive peace turns this definition on its head and lets us reframe the question. Instead of examining the causes of war, we can explore the attitudes, institutions and structures that build a more peaceful society, and work to create those conditions in vulnerable areas before conflict even occurs.

Working for peace has always been a top priority for Rotary — so much so that we had a seat at the table at the 1945 UN charter conference. In fact, more than 40 Rotarians were present at the UN conference in San Francisco. But most of our work for peace doesn’t happen at conferences or in diplomatic circles. It happens through personal relationships that are developed over time and across national borders and disparate cultures.

Positive Peace is More Than the Absence of Violence

Our members have always been passionate advocates for international understanding. We created professional and student exchange programs that promoted international travel many years ago at a time when it was both costly and rare. In fact, Rotary sends 9,000 students every year on various exchanges. Our scholarship programs have sent graduate students to opposite sides of the globe to act as ambassadors of goodwill. Our international service projects depend on Rotary members from two different countries, often with very different cultures, working together to improve the quality of life in the host country.

Today, Rotary is taking on some of the world’s greatest development challenges — from reducing poverty, to providing clean water and educating and empowering millions of people. If you look at these efforts as the spokes of a wheel, with peace and conflict resolution as the hub, you get a picture of how Rotary is working to create the social and economic conditions that encourage peace.

Will this approach succeed? Well, that depends on one key aspect — sustainability.

To be sustainable, our solutions can’t simply be stopgap measures, such as installing a hand pump without teaching the community how to fix it if it breaks. Instead, we’re looking for strategic interventions that will provide training and maintenance plans to keep the water flowing for years to come. This requires detailed program monitoring, solid data collection, and field workers trained in the principles of Positive Peace.

Through sustainable solutions we can reduce the likelihood of conflicts to create a more peaceful world.

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General secretary of Rotary International & The Rotary Foundation. Avid cyclist, father, hockey fan. http://rotary.org

General secretary of Rotary International & The Rotary Foundation. Avid cyclist, father, hockey fan. http://rotary.org