Which Approach to Peace Do You Find More Convincing and Why?
[Written October, 2019]
In 1964 Johan Galtung defined negative peace as the “absence of direct violence” and positive peace as the “absence of structural violence”. As with all theories “…for someone and some purpose”, Galtung’s ideas about negative and positive peace have developed. To achieve positive peace, it also requires equity and harmony (or empathy); “not a bad formula for a good marriage”, which is threatened by trauma and unresolved conflict. When considering approaches to peace, it is important to understand the interpretation of ‘violence’; “If peace now is regarded as the absence of violence, then thinking about peace…will be structured the same way as thinking about violence.” This discussion paper argues positive peace is the most convincing approach to peace, as it views violence as the increase in the distance between the potential and the actual, which is, therefore, avoidable. This definition of violence means it can be found in both violent actions and structures. For example, the patriarchy reinforces perspectives of gender norms limiting women within structures, and which can create an environment in which physical and emotional domestic abuse is present.
If a child died 200 years ago from Polio, this was not an act of violence. It was unavoidable as there was no cure or prevention for the disease. However, in 2019, Polio is avoidable, as, while there is no cure, there is immunisation to prevent the disease in the first instance. Therefore, a child dying today from Polio is an act of structural violence under Galtung’s definition: “…when the potential is higher than the actual is by definition avoidable, and when it is avoidable, then violence is present.” Under a negative peace approach, a child’s death from Polio in 2019 is not an act of violence, as it is not direct use of violence or force. The negative peace approach is a realist perspective, considering all we can hope for is the absence of direct violence; realistic in a world of power struggles and competition between states where “personal violence shows”. Considering this, Nandy implies there is the implication that wars could, therefore, be waged in a continuum, correcting the wrongs of the past. Still, direct violence is measurable and thus, so is negative peace. Under the mainstream International Relations discourse, negative peace is appealing, as there is a formula, a science, for achievement which can be operationalised by international organisations like the United Nations.
To achieve negative peace, the role of the state is significant. Weber defines the state as a “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. The state acts as an authority, administering the laws that enable the eradication of direct violence, which may require the state to use justified ‘legitimate’ force in the form of the legal system. Considering the example of Polio, some states around the world have failed to eradicate the disease. These include Afghanistan and Pakistan; both countries have faced generational conflict. Here, there is a lack of state control and therefore, a continuation of direct violence. It is unrealistic for scientists and aid workers to eradicate Polio or provide adequate healthcare in a situation where the state is not in control. Thus, it is only under a negative peace that Polio could be eradicated within these conflict states, with the state enforcing order through law.
However, this paper is more convinced by the positive peace approach to peace as there are more examples of violence than direct violence. For example, in 1990, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq after their invasion of Kuwait. These sanctions led to a “humanitarian crisis” which impacted innocent Iraqi civilians. These sanctions started as a form of structural violence, designed to limit the potential of the Iraqi state, but then, from the perspectives of the Iraqi civilians, transgressed into direct violence. This is not always the result: structural violence does not always lead to direct violence. However, in this example, structural violence did contribute to direct consequences, such as the starvation of innocent civilians. This is evidence that violence is complex, being more than direct use of violence or force, justifying the position of this paper of violence as the limiting of potential. Consequently, a positive peace approach would provide a longer-lasting peace, whereby the structures that limit potential, which is avoidable, are absent.
Further examples of the complexity of violence, in all its structural forms, is explored in Galtung’s 1971 paper ‘A Structural Theory of Imperialism’. In it, Galtung considers the structures of imperialism; “…a sophisticated type of dominance…basing itself on a bridgehead which the centre in the Centre nation establishes in the centre of the Periphery nation, for the benefit of both.” In the relationship between the Centre and the Periphery nations, there also exist relationships between the periphery of the Centre nation and the centre of the Centre nation in addition to the periphery of the Periphery nation and the centre of the Periphery nation. However, what is missing are lateral relationships between the periphery of the Centre nation and the periphery of the Periphery nation, along with the periphery of other Periphery nations, imperialised by the Centre nation. These structures of imperialism are designed to maintain control over imperialised nations by the Centre nation and are enabled by existing structures within Periphery nations, which stand to benefit the elite of those nations. Therefore, “professional” imperialism does not demand the need for direct violence; “Only imperfect, amateurish imperialism, needs weapons; professional imperialism is based on structural rather than direct violence.” Considering Galtung’s perspective in other terms, looking at the gap in GDP per capita between rich and poor nations, under a positive peace approach, this is an issue requiring “structural change”. There could be redistribution to try and balance the gap; however, this could simply be postponing the solution (structural change) as it is still coming from a position of inequality as the “…symptoms rather than the disease itself is cured.” Thus, further strengthening the position of this paper that positive peace is more convincing.
Moreover, Firchow and Anastasiou highlight the “normative” goal of resolving conflicts and moving towards positive peace by removing any underlying structures which led to violence in the first place. For peacebuilding to occur, relations between genders, classes, and communities, for example, must be considered. Galtung’s observation strengthens this; negative peace is better than violence, but it is not fully peaceful, as “positive peace is missing in the conceptualisation.” In conceptualising positive peace for peacebuilding, addressing the suffering caused by political and economic structures “of exploitation and repression” is required. Without addressing these, peacebuilders are working towards a “strange concept” of peace, one which fails to address the root causes of the violence they are trying to resolve. Without the structures being eliminated, it would be impossible for peacebuilders to reach a state of reconciliation based on equality. This, therefore, further evidences the perspective of this paper that positive peace is more convincing, as it without it, peacebuilding cannot occur and thus, violence would be likely to break out again.
In conclusion, this paper argues positive peace is the most convincing approach to peace when compared with negative peace. Humans have the capabilities to feel the sufferings of others and provide social justice, just as humans have created the traumas of past conflicts and the unresolved conflicts of the present. Positive peace, as argued in the liberalist perspective, provides the opportunity for more lasting peace, which sets the foundation for peacebuilding to occur, with the eradication of structural violence. This positive peace is achieved, argues Galtung, by an exchange on equal terms; the reduction of vertical interactions between Centre nations and Periphery nations: the instigation of lateral interactions between the periphery of Periphery nations and the periphery of other Periphery nations: and the increasing of self-reliance, where Periphery nations define what they need, rather than having this decided by the Centre nations. It is uniquely human to believe that structural inequality needs to be maintained by the state to eradicate direct violence. The ‘underdog’, when breaking through the structures keeping them down, throws the first punch and is labelled the ‘instigator’ by the state. If positive peace is achieved, there would be no ‘underdog’ in the first place. The potential of all would be realised. Thus, positive peace is a more convincing approach to peace, which challenges the idea states need to be involved in legitimised structural violence through the process of law and order to achieve an absence of direct violence.
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