Challenges for Positive Peace in the era of Populism

Tackling the rise of populism, and therefore also it’s negative affect on peace, will largely depend on a proactive governance.

Brexit and election of Donald Trump to US presidency are two of the most prominent examples of the rising trend in populism. Yet, populism is often mistakenly understood to be homogenous.  Populist parties differ widely in their political scale across countries. They can position themselves at extreme ends of either left or right. These parties challenge established norms of checks and balances enshrined in constitutional democracies to advance interests of majority by hurting interest of minorities. From the basis of their policies, they are anti-establishment. And some of the established norms they oppose are the institutions and structures that assist in the maintenance of peace.

The Global Peace Indexes of 2017 and 2018 identified such a trend in many European countries. The share of vote for populists have been rising in the last decade. In Hungary, Greece, Poland and Italy populist parties together command more than 50% of the total vote share. Southern and central Europe is most affected by this populist wave. However, major countries of Western Europe have also seen the rise in populism particularly in Germany, France and Spain, as well as in Scandinavian countries, most notably in Finland and Sweden.

The rise of populism in recent years has influenced the trends of Positive Peace. Positive Peace is the attitudes, institutions and structures that are associated with creating and sustaining peaceful societies. Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace not only have a reduced number of grievances that arise, they also have the ability to resolve emerging disagreements without the use of violence.

IEP’s Positive Peace framework has been developed empirically through examining the strongest statistical relationships of over 5000 indicators to a countries level of peace.

IEP’s analysis shows that global trend in Positive Peace has been improving since 2005, however, this improvement stalled since 2013 and has slightly deteriorated since 2015.  The rise of populism had the largest impact on one particular pillar of Positive Peace, that is, Acceptance of the Rights of Others. All regions of the world have experienced a deterioration in Acceptance of the Rights of Others since 2013, however, North America and Europe were leading regions. Out of 163 countries included in the Positive Peace Index, 91 (63%) countries eroded in Acceptance of the Rights of Others between 2013-16. For Europe and North America, 29 out of 38 (67%) countries saw a deterioration.

Rising grievances between ethnic and social groups in Europe and North America have contributed to a notable deterioration in the Acceptance of the Rights of Others. In Europe Acceptance of the Rights of Others deteriorated by 4.5 per cent over 3-year period since 2013. In United States also Acceptance of the Rights of Others experienced the large erosion – 18.7% between 2005-16.  However, rise of populism will have an extended effect on other pillars of Positive Peace in due course of time. For example, President Trump’s withdrawal from major multilateral arrangements such as Iran Nuclear Deal and Paris Agreement on climate change and the hike in tariff rates to restrict imports will adversely affect the Good Relations with Neighbour Pillar which was actually showing improving trend till 2016.

Italy’s new government, an alliance of populist parties, is posing a fiscal challenge on account of alliance’s agreed plan to increase welfare spending along with tax cuts. This will obviously stretch fiscal deficit beyond 3% limit set by European Union. The fiscal expansion along with looming uncertainty of dissolution of alliance will have its effect on Well-Functioning Government Pillar. In fact, estimate of political risk rating from the PRS group show that most European countries have worsened in it since 2008.

The aftermath of Arab uprisings have presented an immigration crisis in Europe. In the US, heightened fears of terrorism have led also to the prominence of immigration in political dialogues. In light of these, populist parties were able to successfully argue that that rising inequality and unemployment was resultant of decades of economic globalisation. Such debates have seen major shifts in the political landscape of these two regions having significant implications for Peace. In the months following Brexit for example, violence against immigrants spiked by 41% as reported by The Independent. In the US, the rise of alt-right groups has been central to heightened tensions and violent clashes in many cities such as the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. According to CNN  there were 63 publicly reported incidents in which mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson between January to July of 2017.

Such observations pose a challenge for countries in Europe and North America as they are widely held as examples for liberal democracy in the world. Migration has played a significant role in economic success of Europe and US. However, recent trends in negative perceptions regarding migration and its association with heightened security concern has acted as potent fodder for populists. This trend reverses considerable long effort of collaboration and regional integration since WWII which helped in reduction of conflicts within and outside.

The real challenge is, factors that bolster populist tendencies are not transitory in nature. Immigration will continue to be contentious issue  given the scale refugee crisis due conflicts in Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Africa. Displaced people currently makes up 1% of the global population. Increasing use of artificial intelligence by firms poses serious a challenge for governments in keeping pace on policy innovations to tackle unemployment. Multilateralism is going to face fierce criticism particularly after hikes in tariff rates by US to which major economies have decided to retaliate.

Tackling the rise of populism, and therefore also it’s negative affect on peace, will largely depend on a proactive governance that prioritises protection of economic and legal rights. Recent economic recessions were particularly hurtful for a young and low-skilled demographic. This trend is likely to continue given the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the economy. This requires Europe and US to further build on its leadership role in the area of citizen’s protection of legal and economic entitlements.  Alternatively, there is imminent need for human-centred approach to economic policies where rights of consumers and workers are duly addressed, if peace is to be nurtured by attitudes, structures and institutions.

Zakaria Siddiqui

Research Fellow

Zakaria is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Economics and Peace. His research focuses on Positive Peace and ‘systems approach to Peace’. He has also published research articles in the area of applied economics and has contributed to development policy debates pertaining to nutrition, reproductive health, modern energy access and informal labour.

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