Missing: Conflict Literacy, Peace Literacy

EDITORIAL, 5 Feb 2018

#520 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

Missing Conflict Literacy

The example is Robert Malley “10 Conflicts to Watch in 2018“, in Foreign Policy (USA) 2 Jan 2018:

1- North Korea, 2- US-Saudi-Iran rivalry, 3- Rohingya-Myanmar-Bangladesh, 4- Yemen, 5- Afghanistan, 6- Syria, 7- The Sahel, 8- Democratic Republic of the Congo, 9- Ukraine, 10- Venezuela.

No!  These are not conflicts, but areas on a state-oriented map. Seven of them are states, two are regions of states. Only one, #2 listed, spells out a (tripartite) conflict formation, listing the parties.  USA is among the three, but could just as well have been included in at least 6 of the others. Malley’s listing makes USA almost invisible.

Why?  Not imputing motives, Malley’s list, with one exception, gives an impression of 9 non-USA problem areas to watch, the USA being absent from all of them. These are not conflicts, but possibly arenas for conflict action.  However, listing USA in 7 of the 10 would convey the (correct) impression that USA is a major party to conflicts.

A conflict is a relation with 2 or more parties with incompatible goals–called “rivalry” in #2–not an attribute of any one party. A conflict solution changes that relation by making goals compatible, in the present empirical reality, or in some new, potential reality.

Thinking “relation” is more than thinking “attribute”.  Malley is very capable of that, and does it.  But he obscures the role of USA in general and the major US roles with wars and threats of war in 7 of the 10 in particular. Our conclusion: the article is US propaganda.

Do I have a right to demand of Malley that he uses the terms the way I use them?  Of course not!  But I have a right to point out the consequences of using the terms the way he does.

Do I have a right to phrase the critique as a deficit in conflict literacy? Yes! Because definitions, solutions, and conflict formations are obscured.  Rather major omissions for social analysis.

Missing Peace Literacy

The example is “Positive-Peace-Report-2017“, 108 pp., from Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), Sydney, Australia; chairman Steve Killelea, an accomplished businessman.

There is the same failure to see peace as a relation, not as an attribute; and only for states as unit of analysis. (“Peacefulness” is an attribute worth exploring, but not the same as a peace relation). There is nothing about man and woman, male-female, generations, races, classes, provinces, nations, regions, civilizations; only states, today withering away. The key focus is on intra-state handling of opposition, particularly on how to make class struggle nonviolent. The US focus is on intra-USA, not on US wars and threats of war.

Eight positive peace pillars, strongly correlated with internal (italics ours) peacefulness: well-functioning government, sound business environment, equitable resource distribution, acceptance of others’ rights, good relations with neighbors (the only inter-state), free information flow, high human capital level, low corruption level.  Missing: ability to solve conflict, concile trauma, equity, empathy. Looks like “what is good for business is good for peace” (GM for USA).

Positive Peace Index: # 1 Sweden, # 14 Australia, # 17 USA.

NOTE: regression and correlation coefficients are mathematical artifacts(*), not social reality. Better simply “# of peace pillars”.

Plagiarism. Others get ideas of “positive and negative peace”, but not as IEP does (p. 7) with almost exactly my wording from 1958. True intellectuals trace the history of ideas, and build on that.

Do I have a right to demand of Killelea that he uses the terms the way I use them?  Of course not!  But I have a right to point out the consequences of using the terms the way he does.

Do I have a right to phrase the critique as a deficit in peace literacy? I think so, because the nature of peace as a relation is obscured.  A rather major omission for social analysis.


Turning to the other major part of the West, the European Union, also throws a dark shadow on present geopolitics.  There was a time last year where voices were heard of European countries unwilling to fight US wars, but they were deafened by even louder voices willing to fight EU own wars.  With Headquarters, a fully fledged army, and enemy.

Where?  There is always Russia, with the wrong Christianity, the wrong alphabet, and the wrong location to the East–even very much so.  There is China even farther East.  There is Islam to the South, to the East, unlike the “West” which actually is the Northwest.  From geo-graphy to geo-politics the steps are short.

And we find France at war in Mali against the Hausa, like in colonial days, with no EU protest. Rather, one senses an agreement, you intervene in  your old area of interest and I in mine; unopposed.

I feel sad.  I feel betrayed. I am in the West, the West is in me.

So, permit me two wishes, two dreams.

I dream of a USA able to challenge its deep culture idea that the market puts people where they deserve to be, of a USA lifting the poor in poor municipalities with rural cooperatives with sales points.

I dream of a USA rejecting fascism to reconquer lost empire.

I dream of an EU challenging its deeply rooted militarism with enemies, indispensable for it all to make sense. An EU not joining USA with millennia old habits of seeing Russia as an enemy, now adding Islam and China. “More enemies, more money for defense”.

I dream of an EU using its strong ability to build positive peace among community members by helping others around the world do the same. I dream of an EU rejecting fascist attempts to reconquer lost colonies.

Unrealistic?  No. Unrealistic are the present US-EU policies. Whoever moves too far away from reality will be punished, USA by being isolated, EU by warfare turning potential friends into enemies.

If they want to go down, continue.  Alternative: join the world.


(*) Arithmetic mean is a mathematical artifact, but modus and median are meaningful as the position of the plurality and in the middle.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. Prof. Galtung has published more than 1500 articles and book chapters, over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and more than 170 books on peace and related issues, of which more than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at transcend.org/galtung.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Feb 2018.

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One Response to “Missing: Conflict Literacy, Peace Literacy”

  1. Gary Corseri. says:

    Yes! Here Johan is calling us to a Higher Calling: forget about dividing the world into “attributes”: the tech-savvy vs. the non-tech-savvy; billionaires vs. the rest of us; my sophisticated, well-trained, well-funded armed forces vs. your ragtag “terrorists”; my religion/ethnicity vs. yours. See a problem here? Divide the world into “attributes” and we invariably get one “state” vs. another “state.”

    Aim higher! How can we RELATE? Not only “state” vs. “state,” but elements within the “state” relating to other elements. How does the oboe relate to the French horn; the viola to the violin? Can we think in such compositional terms, create a greater harmony? Not a “new world order” based on inflexible, selfishly and narrowly guarded “attributes,” but an intelligent dynamic for change and growth, learning and integration (an integral approach)–intellectual and spiritual growth as well as material.

    Great challenges here! Challenges worthy of those who challenged greatly in the past–scientists and philosophers, religious seers and teachers; challenges worthy of seekers in a new millennium, willing “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”