Sustaining Peace in Practice: Evidence, Measurement, and Indicators

Event Video

In 2016, both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council passed resolutions on “sustaining peace,” which they defined as a goal and a process to build a common vision of a society. Rather than focus efforts on conflict resolution, the sustaining peace agenda centers on conflict prevention by studying what qualities make a society peaceful.

As the first in a series of events on the topic, a forum was held on March 28th, in collaboration with the Stanley Foundation. The aim was to better understand what elements contribute to long-term peace, how to measure sustaining peace, and how to operationalize this goal.

Due to the lack of data on sustainably peaceful societies, understanding contributing factors to sustaining peace and measuring evidence of peace in practice are particular challenges, explained Peter Coleman, Co-Director of the Advanced Consortium for Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) at the Earth Institute of Columbia University.

“We’ve studied peace and peacemaking and peacekeeping in the context of war and violence, and so we know a fair amount about that, but it’s rare that people study peaceful societies,” he said.

To fill this void, an AC4 team of researchers analyzed what produces sustainable peace. Based on their evidence, he argued that “even though the factors and dynamics that contribute to sustainably peaceful societies are many, ultimately it is fundamentally simple. Ultimately it is how members of one group respond to and treat members of another group.”

Predictive factors of peaceful societies, he explained, include having shared identities and common goals among citizens within a country, as well as celebrating gender equality. Nations that advocate for peace through ceremonies and symbolism, as well as teach peaceful values in early education also tend to be societies that have positive conflict management progress internationally, he said.

Jennifer Smyser, Vice President and Director of Policy Programming Strategy at the Stanley Foundation, gave opening remarks on how the Foundation is partnering with others to recognize factors that strengthen resilience in societies and promote them among policy makers and practitioners to advance sustainable peace and prevent mass violence and atrocities.

“At a gathering of researchers we co-organized just last week in which a number of case studies were considered, connecting local peacebuilding and international prevention approaches surfaced as a critical element in strengthening resilience and building sustainable peace,” she said.

IPI Senior Policy Analyst Lesley Connolly introduced the panel, reflecting upon the research that IPI has contributed to the international conversation on sustaining peace. “We at IPI believe that peacebuilding and development are the key processes which work together to achieve the goal of sustaining peace,” she said.

“In 2017,” she continued, “we examined how sustaining peace interacts with different thematic approaches, including the role of human rights as a tool to advance sustaining peace and the role of youth in advancing long-term peace. In 2018, we are taking this a step further to really look at the conversation outside of New York and try and examine how to concretely measure the impact of peacebuilding and development initiatives towards sustaining peace.”

This is the first event, she explained, in “what we hope is going to be a broader stream of work, looking at what a framework of evaluation, drawing on a set of indicators, would look like in terms of measuring the impact of initiatives to advance sustaining peace in practice.” The Stanley Foundation co-organized the event with IPI, and Ms. Connolly expressed her hope “that this is the start of a long-term partnership between our organizations.”

Michelle Breslauer, Director of the America Program at the Institute for Economics and Peace, said that this year’s annual Global Peace Index measured 23 indicators across 163 countries and analyzed “negative peace,” defined as the absence of violence or fear of violence in society.

This index also measured “positive peace,” defined as the attitudes, institutions, and structures that sustain peace within society. “Positive peace helps us better understand the capacities and strengths of countries,” she said.

The data revealed that countries with higher levels of positive peace also have higher levels of stability, higher GDP growth, greater levels of gender equality, and less violent political events. “So we think of positive peace as a proxy for resilience as well,” she said.

Mamadou Tangara, Permanent Representative of The Gambia to the UN, called his country a useful case study on sustaining peace. He said that because of open dialogue, The Gambia had avoided a major war. “It’s important to continue to listen to the people and to work with our traditional mechanism of solving conflict,” he said, “I think that we will be able to move the agenda forward and rise up to the challenges.”

Ismaila Ceesay, Professor of Political Science at the University of The Gambia, said that flaws in the “post-colonial” education system deter the country from achieving sustained peace. “We must manage this youth bulge and transform it into a youth dividend by investing in youth,” he said. “Give them any tools they need so that they can be able to unlock their potentials and contribute to society because without that, youth can become liabilities.”

Dr. Ceesay also highlighted the need to place long-term policy focus on gender inclusivity. He spoke of the “intricate nexus” between gender and peace. To empower women, he said, access to economic resources, and quality healthcare, in addition to quality education, are essential. “We must include them in the political process so they can have a voice to also promote their own agenda.”

Alan George, Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN, also emphasized the need for reforming and modernizing his country’s educational system. He asked, “How can we still be teaching students subjects in university [that] when they come to the real world, are not fit for purpose?”

Ala Oueslati of the International Federation of Planned Parenthood, explained that his home country, Tunisia, sets a premium on inclusivity and gender equality, which are both factors that contribute to sustaining peace.

Mr. Oueslati stated that women’s political contribution in Tunisia, leading protests, movements, campaigns, and lobbies, is what has helped Tunisia to find a transition “that is based on the basics of nonviolence and the basics of societal peacefulness.”

Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at IPI, moderated.