Building Positive Peace is the Key to Sustaining Peace

The latest research from the Institute for Economics and Peace demonstrates that building up Positive Peace can be the preventative tool for the Sustaining Peace Agenda.

Encouragingly, results from the 2017 Global Peace Index show a slight improvement in world peace: the average level of country peacefulness improved 0.28% in 2017. But nonetheless, the world is facing record levels of violence and severe humanitarian crises, and despite some improvements, the indicators tracked by the Institute for Economics and Peace highlight several risk factors and vulnerabilities for global peacefulness in the years to come.

The GPI, released on 1 June, measures ‘negative peace’: the absence of war and violence. Research shows, however, that there is quite a bit more to the reality of peacefulness. ‘Positive Peace’ is the counterpart to negative peace, defined as the presence of the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. IEP has developed an empirical framework for identifying the characteristics of the world’s most peaceful societies and measuring their levels around the world. The 2017 GPI report highlights three key insights from this research: indicators of positive peace can tell us where breakdowns in peacefulness are likely to happen, what factors make them riskier, and how and where we can invest in preventing them.

Positive Peace is deteriorating in the world’s most peaceful region.

Since 2005, the average level of Positive Peace around the world has improved 1.6%. However, in Europe, which has been the world’s most peaceful region for the last decade, the average improvement was only 0.3% and 18 out of 36 European countries actually deteriorated over the period. The report assesses recent political developments in Europe, finding that the sharp increase in support for populist political parties closely corresponds with deteriorations in Positive Peace.

Many of the EU countries recorded substantial deteriorations, including Italy, France and Spain. Increased perceptions of corruption within the political elite, rising inequality in wealth, deteriorations in press freedoms and the diversity of information sources, along with diminishing Acceptance of the Rights of Others, are linked to many of the issues populist parties have successfully capitalised on and are pertinent dynamics in recent political strife.

Of the world’s highly peaceful countries those that saw serious breakdowns in peacefulness had two things in common; weaknesses on the eight Pillars of Positive Peace, and above average access to small arms and light weapons.

The deteriorations in these indicators are critical to track because the research finds that, over the last decade, the defining characteristic of countries that have transitioned to more or less peaceful states has been their performance on Positive Peace. But the findings also show identifiable risk factors that can be pre-emptively addressed.

Strong Positive Peace and limited access to weapons can prevent breakdowns in peacefulness.

Analysis of the characteristics of transitions in peacefulness show some consistent factors are at play when countries become more or less peaceful. Of the world’s highly peaceful countries – which include most of Europe – those that saw serious breakdowns in peacefulness had two things in common: weaknesses on the eight Pillars of Positive Peace and above average access to small arms and light weapons. Europe as a region has deteriorated on four out of eight pillars in the last decade, suggesting that the preventative and sustaining capacity of Positive Peace may be fading.

Countries that have successfully improved their levels of negative peace have shown different patterns in Positive Peace based on their starting point because different factors become more or less important as countries transition from low to mid to high levels of peacefulness. The report offers more detail, as well as evidence that limited access to small arms is conducive to improvements in peace. And these findings are by no means limited to Europe or the developed world.

Positive Peace metrics can tell us where to act.

The world’s most peaceful societies consistently demonstrate strength in all eight Pillars, and in the three domains of negative peace (the GPI measures the state of peace using three thematic domains: the level of Societal Safety and Security; the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and the degree of Militarisation). One of the most accurate metrics for anticipating breakdowns in peacefulness is by looking at the gap between indicators of positive and negative peace. Where a country’s score for negative peace outperforms its score for Positive Peace, this is known as a ‘Positive Peace Deficit,’ referring to the weaknesses apparent in the attitudes, institutions and structures that support the absence of violence.

IEP’s Positive Peace deficit model accurately identified Syria and Yemen, among others, as being at risk for violent conflict before these two countries fell into crisis. The reality for Syria and Yemen is that, now, there is little peace to sustain. But – in line with the UN’s comprehensive new approach to prevention and sustainability for peace and development – investment in Positive Peace can be the preventative tool the world is looking for.

The human reality of what it means to sustain peace carries no price tag. But nonetheless, the global economic impact of violence reached $14.3 trillion PPP in 2016, and the cost of armed conflict alone was over a trillion dollars. Yet early analysis suggests that every single dollar invested in peacebuilding reduces the cost of armed conflict by $16. And the activities that constitute ‘peacebuilding’ are easily realised proactively as well as reactively.

At present, the world underfunds peacebuilding in the most at-risk countries by roughly $4 trillion PPP per year, even while we stand to gain a $55 billion peace dividend. Fortunately, IEP’s recent research tells us clearly where we need to invest and the benefits of doing so. The way to operationalise the Sustaining Peace Agenda is to build up Positive Peace wherever it is weak – and then reap the rewards of a more peaceful and a more prosperous world.

Talia Hagerty

Research Fellow

Talia Hagerty is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Economics and Peace, where she works on applied peace research for positive peace and citizen security. Talia leads the Institute’s Latin America research and has contributed to the Global Peace Index, the Positive Peace Index, and measuring Goal 16 for the sustaining peace agenda.

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