International Day of Peace

Nations were destined to be co-operating parts in one grand whole. . . . Peace hath her victories much more renowned than those of war: the heroes of the past have been those who most successfully injured or slew; the heroes of the future are to be those who most wisely benefit or save their fellow-men.

— Andrew Carnegie, “A League of Peace” (speech to the students at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, October 17, 1905)

Promoting Peace

In 1981, the United Nations designated September 21 as the International Day of Peace to bring awareness to peace efforts around the world. Carnegie Corporation of New York continues to pursue our founder’s vision to advance peace and understanding, and therefore to mark this day, we sought out the perspectives of several leaders in the field. We start with a snapshot by Jean-Marie Guéhenno of how conflict has changed since Andrew Carnegie’s time. Ian Bremmer, Erica Chenoweth, and Micah Zenko follow with their thoughts on that simple but elusive question: how can we advance peace?

To join the conversation, tweet (#PeaceDay @CarnegieCorp) about how you or your organization is working to advance peace.

The opinions offered below reflect those of the authors and do not represent the views of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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1Jean-Marie Guéhenno


Can we learn from past wars to prevent future ones? Or is the past a treacherous guide? What features dominate today’s international peace and security landscape and how do they compare with those of a century ago? I will highlight three: a sense, perhaps misguided, that major instability in the West is unimaginable; a transformation in the nature of warfare; and a radically changed geostrategic context. 

First, many in the West cannot imagine war in their own countries, partly because of the long stretch of peace we have enjoyed. European powers, for example, have not fought each other for 72 years—a period outstripping even the 44 years of peace preceding the First World War. This partly explains the trauma of terrorist attacks on Western public opinion. They do not inflict anything like the full pain of war, but their immediacy brings the conflicts of faraway places uncomfortably close to home.

The seeming remoteness of wars abroad, mirroring to some degree the colonial wars of the pre-1914 period, is further widened by the professionalization of the armies of the West today. This helps explain why Western politicians slip so easily into the language of war. Without conscription, war in fact directly impacts only very small segments of their societies.

Second, the nature of war has changed, with few parallels to wars of the previous century. Most wars are now civil wars, within states rather than between them, even if many of these same conflicts draw in outside powers. Non-state actors are among the main protagonists. Regional and even global powers influence or support—but rarely fully control—those fighting on the ground. The reality of this new type of war is painfully evident, for example, in Syria. Furthermore, some armed groups espouse radical and intolerant ideologies or transnational goals that are hard to accommodate in political settlements.

A definite separation between war and peace no longer exists. Many crises have no clear beginnings and no definitive ends. The world’s most fragile countries are caught in cycles of instability, in which outbreaks of major fighting are interspersed with low-intensity violence and lawlessness. The U.S. itself has been fighting an open-ended war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2001.

Today, only rarely is war ever “declared.” The United Nations Charter, forged in the aftermath of World War II, limits the use of force—without a formal Security Council authorization—to self-defense. Self-defense is clear enough when troops cross a border. But what does “self-defense” mean when it comes to covert operations, unclaimed cyber attacks, “hybrid warfare,” or a terrorist strike launched from a failed state?

Last, these changes are occurring in a geostrategic environment that has changed dramatically, even within the past decade. A century ago, Europe was the epicenter of the world and it was the main theater of war. Today, a more diverse group of powers have emerged, each of which is building their own military capacities and pursuing their own rivalries. The regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Tensions between China, Japan, and other Asian powers over maritime areas. The potentially explosive Pakistan-India rivalry. Geopolitical jockeying in Africa. These are all are cases in point. 

Nor is the world ordered by a single geostrategic confrontation, as it was during the Cold War. The U.S., with its economic and military muscle and web of alliances, remains preeminent, yet the overall picture is more complex. In some ways, the trends should move us toward greater peace, as exchanges of trade, capital, and people connect countries more profoundly than ever before. However, power today is diffuse and it is shifting—mostly eastwards and southwards—in a manner that may prove as destabilizing as were the power shifts that came before the eruption of World War I. 

Mounting friction between the big powers, particularly between Russia and the West, is perhaps the most perilous of all threats to the world—made all the more so by any lack of agreement on the status quo and how to change it. Russia sees the order that emerged from the Soviet Union’s collapse as an unacceptable rejection of its great power status. The West sees Russia as revisionist. These tensions obstruct the work of the U.N. Security Council, whose dysfunction risks precipitating a crisis in global governance. This means that any local conflict, particularly in geostrategic areas like Ukraine or Syria, can provoke a dangerous escalation.

What does this gloomy picture mean for civil society groups working on building and sustaining peace?

Understanding conflict remains the starting point to resolving conflict. Field-based analysis has never been more vital: examining local dynamics and exploring the perspectives of all parties, including those perpetrating the violence and those who are suffering. Local analysis must now be paired with a good grasp of the roles of both the regional players and the big powers. Although fragmentation complicates diplomacy, it can present opportunities for creative partnerships. Only framework diplomacy, requiring different configurations for different conflicts and an intricate understanding of the interests and motives of all of the parties involved, stands any hope of ending the crises facing the world today. 

Perhaps most importantly, we should persist in pressing those with power to do the right thing. War is never preordained. It is always a man-made disaster. In today’s complex world, our compass must remain the commitment to the victims of war and to averting future tragedies. There is no excuse for ignorance and indifference.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno is president and CEO of International Crisis Group.

2Ian Bremmer

Risky Business: Advancing Peace

The 2016 presidential election has created uncertainty around the world. Is it possible, many wonder, that the United States will elect a president with no experience of either government or the military, one who rejects—and is rejected by—a large segment of the Washington foreign policy establishment? A man who has suggested that key alliances are obsolete and that U.S. allies should acquire nuclear weapons so that Washington will not have to defend them? Donald Trump is not the only source of international confusion. Can anyone explain Hillary Clinton’s position on trade?

But uncertainty about the U.S. role in the world began long before this election season, and the best way the next president can advance peace is by defining America’s intentions as clearly as possible. In particular, the next administration should make clear to U.S. allies and adversaries whether the United States means to lead, whether it will fight only for its core interests, or whether others must adapt to a world in which Americans will try to lead mainly by example.

If Washington means to use its superpower capabilities to advance a global agenda, it must call on allies to take risks. Yet, U.S. commitments are useless unless it’s clear to all that Washington will honor them. Sanctions will have no value unless other governments make the sacrifices required to enforce them, and they will not take that risk if they do not believe Washington will follow through. Other governments will not ask local industries to reduce carbon emissions to protect the environment unless they believe the U.S. administration will keep its promise to do the same. When the president draws a red line, an adversary crosses that line, and Washington does nothing, the failure to act calls into question every commitment that president has made in the past and will make in the future.

An ambiguous foreign policy will invite rivals to test the new president’s intentions, and it will leave allies unsure how much responsibility to accept for their own security. Some will take risks, expecting support that isn’t coming. Others will struggle to adapt to a world without U.S. leadership as uncertainty about Washington’s role makes it impossible for other governments to build the domestic support they need to spend the money and accept the risks to take more responsibility for their own security. Mixed signals from the president and senior members of Congress might serve their political interests, but they increase the risk of miscalculation, on all sides.

Superpowers have real options, and the next president will have defining decisions to make. But whatever decisions he or she makes, how those decisions are communicated to the rest of the world is as important as the details of the decisions themselves.

Ian Bremmer is the president and founder of Eurasia Group.

3Erica Chenoweth

Civil Resistance: Advancing Peace?

Earlier this month the New York Times ran a forum on the hotly debated topic of the global decline in violence. For many skeptics, the world still looks like an unprecedentedly dangerous place, but the fact is that violence has declined worldwide, while incidents of nonviolent resistance are on the rise. As I have documented elsewhere, nonviolent civil resistance has become the dominant form of contentious politics characterizing our global landscape.

Not only has civil resistance become more common, since the 1960s it has also become a surprisingly effective technique of social change. From the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the 2015 Guatemala Uprising, people-powered movements have achieved stunning victories over the past fifty years.

Civil resistance does not always work, of course, but it certainly works more often than violent forms of struggle—even when it comes to removing brutal and entrenched dictators from power. Sustained civic mobilization has also been influential in expanding rights, curbing corruption, and even protecting civilians from violence during civil wars.

Indeed, recent history has shown that many erstwhile armed combatants—such as armed Maoist groups in Nepal, militant Palestinian organizations in Israel-Palestine, and violent extremists in Basque country—have abandoned armed struggle in favor of nonviolent resistance on account of its effectiveness. Yet we know that nonviolent action does not always lead to happy results (Syria, Ukraine).

I am part of a research team at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies that seeks to better understand these dynamics. For the past two years, our group has used a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York to explore why nonviolent action leads to peaceful outcomes in some cases, but to civil war in others. Our key findings:

Nonviolent action is possible—even in armed contexts. Women’s groups in Liberia, humanitarian groups in Syria, village-level juntas in Colombia, civic groups in Kenya, grassroots coalitions in Spain—all of these actors have effectively mobilized effective resistance to violence in the context of protracted armed conflict.

Organization matters. Movements that coordinate, plan, train, negotiate, and communicate widely have a much higher capacity for tamping down violence than those that improvise.

Inclusion matters. Efforts to tamp down violence are most effective when they involve broad-based coalitions of stakeholders.

There is nothing inevitable about the continued rise of nonviolent resistance—or the tendency for nonviolent action to yield more peaceful outcomes. Our hope is that our research, which we will seek to disseminate broadly, will contribute to a growing body of evidence-informed work that can help to provide alternatives to violence in all of its forms. 

Erica Chenoweth is professor and associate dean for research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

4Micah Zenko

Strategic Advice: Advancing Peace

The growing role of the private sector in both peace and conflict presents new opportunities and challenges for state and international actors to collaborate on peacebuilding efforts. That is precisely what we are working on at the Council of Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action (CPA). By bringing together representatives of government, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector, CPA provides a forum for assessing and developing strategies to promote peace.

CPA researches the drivers of conflict on both a regional and a thematic basis, and offers actionable policy recommendations for the U.S. government, international organizations, and local actors. Because of our unique access and convening power, CPA is a trusted resource for foreign officials, staffers, and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). We help these players get the information and policy recommendations they need on the world’s potential flashpoints.

Since the public has such an important role to play in advancing peace, CPA shares its research not just with foreign policy elites—it is available to anybody with access to the Internet. On the Council of Foreign Relations’ website, the most popular tool is CPA’s Global Conflict Tracker, an online guide providing background information and daily alerts about ongoing conflicts around the world that are of particular concern to the United States. By raising awareness and sharing information about these crises—from the civil war in Syria to criminal violence in Mexico—CPA empowers citizens to engage with their own elected representatives, helping them promote policies that can create a more peaceful world.

Notable recent works from CPA include a Contingency Planning Memorandum (CPM) on “Strategic Reversal in Afghanistan,” a Council Special Report on Securing a Democratic Future for Myanmar, and a CPM on the “Strategic Risks of Ambiguity in Cyberspace.” The lessons and recommendations from works like these shed light on how states and IGOs can identify early-warning indicators of political instability, develop options to prevent outbreaks of violence, and undertake steps to mitigate a conflict should one emerge.

On their own, states—especially the United States—wield significant economic, diplomatic, and military power, with the tools to promote equitable social and economic development in partner countries. States can also help partners build strong and democratic institutions by sharing knowledge and resources. State-sponsored efforts to strengthen democracy have the effect of promoting peace not only because their citizens tend to be happier and healthier, but also because democracies rarely go to war. For example, the recommendations offered in CPA’s Council Special Report on Myanmar aim to support that country’s current transition to democracy, including by streamlining sanctions to encourage reform and strengthening Myanmar’s integration into ASEAN.

CPA addresses emerging challenges in international peace and security. For example, issues of attribution, like those explored in the memo on cyberspace, complicate a state’s response to attacks, accidents, or failures in privately owned critical infrastructure networks. The risk of misattribution or a mischaracterization of action in cyberspace threatens global security and could make both inter-state and internal conflict more likely. In light of these new challenges, efforts by CPA and other actors and organizations are all the more critical in supporting conflict prevention.

Micah Zenko is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.