UNESCO and Peace Research

UNESCO Courier, May 1985 | Go to article overview

UNESCO and Peace Research


Unesco and peace research

THERE is an urgent need to elaborate a generally acceptable modern philosophical framework on which to base activities aimed at strengthening peace; this would include an epistemology of the investigation of peace/war phenomena, a distillation of the philosophical essence of what constitutes a stable peace, and the ethical foundations of peaceful relations in all domains.

The lack of a general epistemology tends to weaken many well-intentioned attempts at peace research. A number of recent attempts to explain the peace/ war phenomenon have exhibited a common methodological weakness-- oversimplification. Oversimplified models of analytical abstractions have, for example, been constructed in the hope of throwing new light on complex, little-understood phenomena by comparing them with other, simpler and better-known phenomena. The descriptive accuracy of such models is doubtful, their capacity to provide valid explanations of phenomena is restricted, and they are only of limited use in practical applications and in forecasting.

In order to clarify the theoretical bases of modern peace research it is necessary to analyse its phraseology and terminology, sometimes borrowed from other disciplines and often ambiguous. At the 26th session of the United Nations General Assembly, for instance, it was suggested that "polemological barometers' should be established--a metaphor designating mechanisms capable of predicting local conflicts that could threaten peace.

Subsequently, the metaphor was carried further when it was proposed that an attempt should be made to detect "fronts of collective aggressivity', analogous to the meteorologists' "weather fronts'; computers were thought to be the best instruments for establishing these "barometers' and detecting these "fronts'. Thus an elaborate meteorological metaphor for the peace/war phenomenon was built up.

We should not denigrate all the work accomplished in the elaboration of computerized "polemological barometers', but the dangers involved in the use of such metaphors and the extrapolation of methods from one field of research to another, from a natural science to a social science, should also be borne in mind.

Less popular has been the "medical' model which assimilates peace and war to good health and sickness in the human body. Inventors of this model themselves point out that "whereas the human body clearly fits the idea of a "natural system', including the processes of self-maintenance and aging, we have some difficulties in conceptualizing the international system in a similar manner'.

Nevertheless, Norwegian theorist Johan Galtung, explaining a distinction between negative peace (defined as the absence of war) and positive peace (presence of patterns of co-operation), supposes that it runs parallel to a distinction between negative and positive health in the medical sciences and the "health' of the international system may depend to a certain extent on the "health' of its parts, i.e. nations.

"Meteorological' and "medical' conceptions of peace/war patterns are, of course, clearly recognized by peace research students as preliminary metaphors rather than as fully elaborated models. But in the field of peace research there are also models whose metaphorical character is not so obvious. Among these are psychological Freudian and behaviourist models, anthropological models, ethological models, and so on.

Every attempt at modelling bears in itself the danger of reductionism, of artificial oversimplification of the object of research. But when the theoretical approach is derived from the natural sciences (such as medicine or meteorology) and extrapolated to the social sciences, the danger is increased. Modelling based on a comparison of conflicts between primitive tribes and modern conflicts between States (i.e. wars), being within the social sciences, may very well display external and immaterial similarities. …

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