What Makes for a Peaceful Nation?

The Pillars of Peace is a new conceptual framework for understanding and describing the factors that create peaceful societies. Developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, it was launched on the 10th of September at the United Nations in Geneva. The discussion used the report as a basis to explore a new approach for increasing resilience and well-being, and the necessity for positive peace to be included on the post-2015 development agenda.

This framework defines national characteristics that are most closely associated with peace and has been derived from a process of statistical analysis. It stands as one of the few holistic and quantitative based studies to isolate the positive factors that sustain and reinforce peaceful societies. The attitudes, institutions and structures associated with peace are also associated with many other aspects that are considered desirable, such as a strong business environment, gender equality and high levels of human capital; consequently, the Pillars of Peace can be seen as describing the optimal environment for human potential to flourish.

Peace can be viewed through the lens of both negative and positive peace. Negative peace, which is the absence of violence or fear of violence, is used as the definition of peace to create the Global Peace Index (GPI), while positive peace can be defined as the attitudes, institutions and structures that, when strengthened, lead to a more peaceful society.

The Pillars of Peace provides a framework for assessing the positive peace factors that create peaceful societies. The taxonomy also forms an ideal base for measuring a society’s potential for peace. These positive peace factors can also be used to assess how supportive the underlying environment is towards development, as they are positively associated with developmental outcomes and therefore the fulfillment of human potential. The Pillars of Peace provides the ideal benchmark against which to measure the performance of the broader aspects of social development and a country’s overall resilience when confronted with social upheaval.

In constructing the Pillars of Peace over 900 different indices, datasets and attitudinal surveys were analysed in conjunction with current thinking about what drives peace, resilience and conflict. In order to ensure the development of a holistic framework, both a multidisciplinary and ‘systems approach’ was applied to the concept of peace, drawing on a range of recent research.

The Pillars of Peace is an eight-part taxonomy as follows

  1. well-functioning Government

Based on several factors, from how governments are elected and the political culture they engender, to the quality of the public services they deliver and their political stability. Strong relationships across a number of these indicators and sub-indicators demonstrate the interdependent nature of the various governance indicators. These measures are consistently linked to peace.

2. Sound business environment

The strength of economic conditions as well as the formal institutions that
support the operation of the private sector determine the soundness of the business environment. Business competitiveness and economic freedom are both associated with the most peaceful countries, as is the presence of regulatory systems that are conducive to business operation.

3. Equitable Distribution of resources

This refers to income distribution but more importantly to whether there is equity and access to resources such as education and health. The UN’s Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) correlates with the GPI and even more strongly with the GPI’s internal peace measure.

4. Acceptance of the rights of others

This category is designed to include both the formal laws that guarantee basic human rights and freedoms as well as the informal social and cultural norms that relate to behaviours of citizens. These factors can be seen as proxies for tolerance between different ethnic, linguistic, religious, and socio-economic groups within a country. A commitment to human rights and freedom are key characteristics of peaceful countries,a claim supported by very strong correlations with several indexes measuring human rights. Also important are societal attitudes towards fellow citizens, minorities, ethnic groups, genders and foreigners.

5. Good relations with neighbours

This refers to the relations between individuals and communities as well as to cross- border relations. Countries with positive external relations are more peaceful and tend to be more politically stable, have better functioning governments, are regionally integrated and have low levels of organised internal conflict.

6. Free flow of information

This captures the extent to which citizens can gain access to information, whether the media is free and independent, as well as how well-informed citizens are and the extent of their engagement in the political process. Peaceful countries tend to have free and independent media which disseminates information in a way that leads to greater openness and helps individuals and civil society work together. This leads to better decision- making and rational responses in times of crisis.

7. High levels of human capital

A broad human capital base increases the pool of human capital which in turn improves economic productivity, enables political participation,
and increases social capital. Education in many ways is a fundamental building block through which societies can build resilience and develop mechanisms to learn and adapt. Mean years of schooling is closely associated with the most peaceful countries, however tertiary levels of education and the percentage of government spending dedicated to education is not statistically as important.

8. Low levels of corruption

In societies with high corruption resources are inefficiently allocated, often leading to a lack of funding for essential services. The resulting inequality can lead to civil unrest and in extreme situations can be the catalyst for more violence. Low corruption, by contrast, can enhance confidence and trust in institutions, which in turn helps to create informal institutions that enhance peace.

These structures, attitudes and institutions can also help to promote resilience in society, enabling nations to overcome adversity and resolve internal economic, cultural, and political conflict through peaceful methods. They can be seen as interconnected and interacting in varied and complex ways, forming either virtuous circles of peace creation or vicious circles of destruction, with causality running in either direction depending on individual circumstances. Overall the complex and multidimensional nature of peace can be observed, underlining the need for pluralist and multidisciplinary approaches to understand the interrelationships between economic, political, and cultural factors that affect peace.


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