The West Has a Peace Theory – And a Bad One

EDITORIAL, 11 Jul 2011

#172 | Johan Galtung

From Vonnas

Vonnas in France, between Bourg-en-Bresse and Macon?  Yes, the home of a Guide Michelin *** restaurants, Georges Blanc, serving

Coeur de Carré de Veau Elevé sous la Mère–Mijoté aux Petits  Oignons, le Ris Doré et un Méli-Mélo estival, le Jus Nourru de Pistou, Roquette et Citronnelle

Divine.  The master made his round among the guests, and was served, in return, “if the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs had your three star creativity–not just normal Ecole normale conventionality–their foreign policy could take off, beyond the Libya dish: pommes frites.  Even soggy. As ordered by that “philosophe”, Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Let alone US standard dishes; fried Hamburgers, Frankfurters.  Berliners, Dresdeners–where now a museum of the history of wars as experienced by the victims is coming–Tokyos, Hrisohimas, Nagasakis.

But let us leave all that and what we know about The Effects of Strategic Bombing on Japanese-German Morale (June 1947, one member of the team was J. Kenneth Galbraith) and the much deeper Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945, Múnchen, 2002) aside.  And let us focus on Western peace theory, on what they want to achieve to build a more peaceful world. They would be the first to say that bombing is only a regrettable–but necessary–first step.  There are many of them, though.  Zoltan Grossman has updated his list to include Libya 2011-?, and like for the end of the (West) Roman Empire the number is now, increasing toward the inevitable end.

According to a Brown university study “the total costs of /US/ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the related military operations in Pakistan, is set to exceed $ 4 trillion–more than three times the sum so far authorized by Congress in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.” And: “At $4 trillion and counting, their combined cost is approaching that of the Second World War, put at some $4.1 trillion”.

Borrowed money; the federal budget deficit is $1.5 trillion.

Western peace theory is based on three state attributes: the Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Democracy.  The logical flaw is clear: these are attributes of states, not of the relations between them–like equitable-horizontal vs. inequitable-vertical. One relation is in multilateral organizations like the UN.  Does that relation include control of Big Powers?  Answer: No.  Does it guarantee qualified majority General Assembly votes Uniting for Peace?  Answer: No.  Does it guarantee that nationals of any country accused of crimes against peace, humanity and–new–nature, can be prosecuted?  Answer: No.

However, if these three attributes were nevertheless so strongly correlated with peace that we could start talking of causal relations, the difference between attribute and relation would remain, but as a theory more than as an effective reality.  But, as pointed out many times in this column, the top four belligerent countries by participation in wars divided by the number of years of existence, are the USA, Israel, the Ottoman Empire and the United Kingdom; with numbers 1, 2, 4 (with Italy and France) encroaching on the declining, falling No 3.  All three are considered high on the three pillars of peace.  And yet.

The objection would be that others also have to be high on the three attributes for peace to be ushered in; consequently, warfare may be justified as defensive wars against states with the Rule of Man, no civil-political human rights, and Autocracy.  And, after victory, change them so as to embody Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy.  War participation is necessary to survive, and sufficient for peace.  Germany and Japan after May and August 1945 are the key exemplars.

But Germany and Japan were democratic before autocracies against the West–the Versailles Treaty in Europe, and colonialism in Asia–and after the war they actually obtained what they had been fighting for: membership in the club of privileged states.  And even so, to participate in US-led wars is far removed from reasonable concepts of peace.

Evidently, there are snags in the theory; but also some truth.

Those three attributes may be, if not necessary perhaps sufficient conditions for domestic peace.  We say perhaps because:

– the Western Rule of Law rules out illegal acts of commission, but does not rule out highly illegitimate acts of omission, like doing  nothing about flagrant inequalities that kill people all over;

– the Western dominated Human Rights are the individual rights on an I-culture, not the collective rights of peoples in we-cultures; and

– the Western inspired democracy–in principle based on one person, one vote and majority rule–may work well in homogeneous societies like the Nordic countries and Germany-Japan, but not in countries deeply divided by nations in general and religions in particular, or cut across structurally by strong structures like clans.

The theory may work for direct violence and peace based on acts of commission, but not to overcome structural violence–inequity–based on acts of omission; individual human rights may work in amorphous societies of unrelated individuals but not for strong nations, peoples; and counting individual votes may work in I-cultures but not in we-cultures with dialogues toward consensus.

All three problems relate to Libya.  Imposing structure-blind law and Christian I-culture would give Law, Human Rights and Democracy bad names, and the West knows no other ways than their own. The We-culture of Islam, the clans of Iraq and Libya, and the nations in Afghanistan doom the Western approach even before the three invasions.  Under Western conditions the Western approach may work.  But much, much better, and much more universal, would be equity as a road to peace.

Westernization of the Rest will lead to endless problems and war.  And should the West succeed, cloning will have declining, eclipsing economies as opposed to emerging, and post-modernity with mental disorder and crime in its wake.  And even more wars, fought for peace.

Better leave the pommes frites, and start climbing for the stars.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Jul 2011.

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8 Responses to “The West Has a Peace Theory – And a Bad One”

  1. Mammo says:


    Can I respectfully ask Professor Galtung the following questions:

    Can Professor Galtung explain the meaning of ‘Christian I-culture’? Why people mix ‘Christianity’ with the west culture?

    • Johan Galtung says:

      Dear Mammo – it is actually more Protestant than Catholic Christianity: individual salvation for individual souls, depending on individual behavior in this life. Moreover, space in heaven is limited, making access competitive; that is the particularly Protestant point. Contrast this with unlimited access if you live according to the rules–say, ten in X’ty, 5 in Islam, celebrate togetherness–prayer, mess–share with the poor. You get a continuum from extreme I-culture to extreme we-culture, that is the one that I refer to.
      Thanks for asking – johan galtung

  2. Ada Hakobyan says:

    Dear Prof. Galtung,

    your article captured my interest and let me ask myself what are then the “right” attributes for peace. I guess they are multiple depending on the particular context. I have been working in Sierra Leone in the last couple of years. I will say a full stomach, opportunities to grow and mutual respect (opposed to marginalisation) are the prerequisites for the peace consolidation for Sierra Leone.
    What is needed to ensure this? To ensure equal opportunities and respectful atmosphere, we need (besides economic growth) some form of democracy and respect for human rights. It might be Africa-tailored democracy, which takes into consideration the multi-tribal system and a modified human rights, which can include the collectivistic cultural setting.

    According to Executive Representative of the Secretary General (ERSG) he is working according to these principles, which has been extremely successful.
    There are good examples of building peace on the ground. Unfortunately foreign policies most often do not build up on them.

    I am happy to read your views and have the opportunity to share mine!
    Best regards from Freetown,

    • Prof. Galtung’s reply:

      Dear Ada Hakobyan, what is the better peace theory? Very short answer: one based on cooperation between the parties for mutual and as equal as possible benefit. Symbiosis, but equitable.

      This usually works better when there is diversity, the parties are not so similar that they cannot produce something new together. Intra-clan relations, as you say. The focus is on the relation between the parties, not on their attributes: the West always insists on changing somebody (not themselves) and does not focus on the relation.

      Thanks for your fine observation — for more detail see my “A Theory of Peace”, out this fall, Transcend University Press.

      Johan Galtung

  3. satoshi says:

    Two things to comment:

    First: What amazed me is that Prof. Galtung’s discussion in the above mentioned essay covers virtually all major current world issues comprehensively in a very concise manner with a surprisingly deep insight.

    Second: The Christian trinity (please note that it is considered that Christianity is a Western symbol in the religious sense here in this context of my comment regardless of the fact that Christianity is spread all over the world) consists of “Pater, Filius et Spiritus Sanctus.” And Deus sits at the center of this trinity. Pater does not equal Filius which does not equal Spritus Sanctus which does not equal Pater. But Deus equals Pater, Filius and Spiritus Sanctus. If Western peace theory consists of “Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy,” what sits at the center of this trinity? And how the “center being” relates to each element of the trinity? I am sure that Prof. Galtung knows all that.

    Anyhow, thank you very much for writing the wonderful essay, Prof. Galtung (not only this time but also every week)!

  4. I agree with Mr. galtung.

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