Finding the Next Frontier of Peace in the Cold War's Aftermath, the Task Is How to Manage More-Complex Kinds of Conflicts

By Rushworth M. Kidder, Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 1990 | Go to article overview

Finding the Next Frontier of Peace in the Cold War's Aftermath, the Task Is How to Manage More-Complex Kinds of Conflicts


Rushworth M. Kidder, Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


HAS the peace movement outlived its usefulness?

For peace activists Elise and Kenneth Boulding, the question - put to them during a two-hour interview earlier this month in their book-stacked apartment near the University of Colorado campus where they both maintain offices - seems deeply relevant but slightly silly.

It is relevant because, as the cold war winds down, the once-mighty peace movement has lost its most potent motivator: the fear of an East-West nuclear conflict. Since the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Washington in 1987, American peace organizations have seen a steady drop in public support (see box below).

But it is silly because, in the eyes of these two doyens of the international peace movement, the need for peace has never been greater.

"Everybody was mesmerized by this East-West thing," says Norwegian-born Elise Boulding, a sociologist and author who is secretary-general of the International Peace Research Association and a recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee. "We didn't really understand that the basic problem is what I call the 10,000 societies living inside 168 nation states."

By focusing on a "simplistic, bipolar view of the international system," she explains, the world's peace organizations "have not solved any of the problems of how different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups live together within states, let alone between states." Case in point: the "terribly complex" issues behind the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. She sees that situation as an example of "something that has been going on beneath the surface for many decades that we just haven't paid attention to."

"The critical thing," says her husband, Kenneth, the English-born economist whose more than 30 books have made him one of the most respected commentators on contemporary ideas, "is how you turn enemies into opponents." A coiner of the term "conflict resolution" in the 1950s, he now prefers "conflict management."

"One definition of peace is `well-managed conflict,"' he explains. "War is a very poor form of conflict management." The peace movement today, he says, is at last "broadening its interests very substantially" and paying more attention to the kinds of internal conflicts exemplified by Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Liberia.

The United Nations, he says, has been somewhat helpful in moderating internal conflicts in Cyprus and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But such efforts are "rather crude," he adds, noting that "we haven't really developed very much in the way of organized, professional skills" for dealing with such problems.

What is more, Mrs. Boulding says, these internal problems have sometimes been exacerbated, rather than lessened, by changes in superpower relations. …

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