The Puzzle of Peace: The Evolution of Peace in the International System

The Puzzle of Peace: The Evolution of Peace in the International System

The Puzzle of Peace: The Evolution of Peace in the International System

The Puzzle of Peace: The Evolution of Peace in the International System

Synopsis

The Puzzle of Peace moves beyond defining peace as the absence of war and develops a broader conceptualization and explanation for the increasing peacefulness of the international system. The authors track the rise of peace as a new phenomenon in international history starting after 1945. International peace has increased because international society has developed a set of norms dealing with territorial conflict, by far the greatest source of international war over previous centuries. These norms prohibit the use of military force in resolving territorial disputes and acquiring territory, thereby promoting border stability. This includes the prohibition of the acquisition of territory by military means as well as attempts by secessionist groups to form states through military force. International norms for managing international conflict have been accompanied by increased mediation and adjudication as means of managing existing territorial conflicts.

Excerpt

There has been a decline in international war over time; that is the conclusion of three major works published in this decade. Each has received extensive media, scholarly, and policymaking attention. The Human Security Report (2012), Joshua Goldstein’s Winning the War on War (2011), and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) all track the incidence of high-level armed conflict over various periods. The general theme of the latter two books is that war and its direct human costs (e.g., battle deaths) have declined over time, and this conclusion holds regardless of the historical baseline used for comparison. Pinker’s work makes an even broader claim, indicating that all forms of violence—from war to rape to crime to animal cruelty—are less common than they used to be. The Human Security Report is less sanguine but nevertheless provides strong empirical evidence that humankind is less prone to interstate war, even as some other forms of armed conflict (e.g., civil wars) exhibit greater fluctuations. There is a broad consensus that war has been on the decline. Whether these trends will continue into the future is subject to some debate (Hegre et al., 2013; National Intelligence Council, 2012).

These empirical analyses provide evidence on the evolution of war and violence but not on peace per se. In their conception, and indeed in the modal approach in international conflict research and national security discourses, peace is defined negatively, as merely the absence of war or

1. This is also a broad consensus across a series of other recent studies—see Gat (2013) for a review. Nevertheless, this is neither a new proposition nor one that is universally shared. For example, Mueller (1989) touted the “obsolescence of major war” decades before, and early decline-of-war claims were made by Woods and Baltzly (1915). Others (Richardson, 1960) took a middle position. There is also no shortage of critics of the proposition that war has become less frequent, ranging from Sorokin (1937) to, more recently, Sarkees and Wayman (2010), Braumoeller (2013), and Fazal (2014).

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