They say war, we think peace

By Johan Galtung

Talk at the Université de Strasbourg, France, May 21, 2012

Important is not only to think peace, but to speak, write and contribute to making, building and keeping it.

For that purpose a little formula might be useful:

+ Positive Peace Equity X Harmony

Peace = ________________ = _________________

– Negative Peace Trauma X Conflict

There is positive peace in the numerator: the more the better. And key factors leading to direct, structural and cultural violence–the opposite of negative peace–in the denominator: the less the better. What is gained in peace is easily lost through inattention to negative pace. But there is a zone of stability by compensation.

According to the formula there are four basic tasks; all of them difficult but not impossible, all requiring training, skills.

[1] Constructing Equity: cooperation for mutual and equal benefit, or at least not flagrantly unequal getting worse, is basic. The West and capitalism want an extra cut, thereby doing structural violence.

[2] Constructing Harmony: in the daoist sense of enjoying the joy and suffer the suffering of Other. Emotional resonance, sympathy.

[3] Reconciling Past Trauma: clearing the past, acknowledging wrongs, wishing them undone, dialogues about why and how, building a future.

[4] Resolving Present Conflict: working on overcoming Contradiction-incompatibility but also on negative Attitudes and Behavior. ABC.

For equity: the 1950-1958-1992 French-German, then EEC, then EU cooperation on equal terms initiated masterly by Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. A major peace project, today threatened by the economic inequality between Germany and the EU G-I-P-S-I periphery (Greece-Italy-Portugal-Spain-Ireland).

For harmony: human history is also the history of expanding zones of resonance up to some tipping edge – using another French genius, René Thom’s catastrophe theory. Suffering the suffering of others is today limited by clashes, by civilizations, and by both.

For trauma reconciliation: Truth and Reconciliation of South Africa, and German rewriting of textbooks, are excellent examples.

For conflict resolution: the liberal mistake of seeing conflict only as Attitude in need of religious-psychological therapy; or the conservative mistake of controlling Behavior only by military or police; or the marxist mistake of only solving Contradictions, like between Capital and Labor must be avoided. We need to understand and work on all three, ABC.[i]

Test the formula with marital conflict in mind. As feminists have thought, said, written and enacted: parity, another word for equity, is the way. The harmony is also known as love. But both can be overpowered, negated by traumas persons close to each other can cause, inadvertently or not, and the rolling agenda of conflicts bound to come up. Reconciliation and resolution are skills to be learnt, they are not inborn. Much education is needed.

Test the formula on a cousin of peace: health. Denominator: chronic and acute illnesses, which can be reduced through care and diagnosis-prognosis-therapy. Numerator: preventive medicine; the balance – another word for equity – between physical and mental aspects of human beings–psycho-somatic–and the social harmony with others. The “physical, mental and social well-being” of the World Health Organization, WHO.

This meeting happens to be in Salle Pasteur. He focused on one external cause, the micro-organism. Another French genius, rival Antoine Béchamps, also Université de Strasbourg, on the “milieu intérieur“; immunity, balance. Obviously we need both perspectives.

Take Israel-Arab-Muslim states. Using Europe as model, a resolution might be a two-state Israel-Palestine formula, within a six-state community of Israel with the five Arab border countries, within an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East.

The harmony might come from mutual and equal benefit, and it would be a conflict resolution of the post-World War II magnitude.

What stands in the way is the deep culture of traumas suffered by Jews-Israelis, and the European, particularly German-Austrian, traumas of having caused those traumas. This has to be approached.

War is a social evil, causing untold suffering like slavery, colonialism, patriarchy, preventable-curable diseases; soon to join the others in the cemetery for social evils. And talk about “just war” is like talking about just slavery, just colonialism, just patriarchy, and disease as God’s or Nature’s cleansing humanity of those unfit for salvation-survival.

Clausewitz’ modernization of war “by all necessary means” has yielded to a post-modern warfare against civilians; by state terrorists in uniform–first from the air by the Italians in Libya 1911, followed by Anglo-Americans, Hamburg-Hiroshima, Iraq, Afghanistan–and by terrorists, like 9/11. His “politics by other means” is intellectually flawed, insensitive to human suffering. But there are Western alternatives.

Hegemonic peace, like the UN Security Council, depends on the hegemons: Anglo-Americans who confuse peace with their interests. Balance of power leads to arms races unless the arms are purely non-provocative, defensive. Federation and confederation are within the formula under equity; but there are three more jobs to do, at least.

Rule of law? Western law forbids acts of commission, permits acts of omission, and opens for huge structural-cultural violence, with nobody doing anything. And social ills, and illness, were not outlawed, but overtaken by other approaches, some research based.

Human rights? Better, but add to the individualist Western focus a focus on collective, peoples’ rights.

Democracy? Fine, but add to the individualist one person-one vote majority rule the Western formula of dialogue to consensus, more satisfactory to the we-cultures in which the human majority live. And add a democratic UN, with an elected UN Peoples’ Assembly.


[i]. For some of my work as mediator, see 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press, 2008; TRANSCEND Peace University–based on diagnosis-prognosis-therapy. Forthcoming this summer 2012: A Theory of Peace.

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