The historical evolution of peace has led to the development of a substantial International Peace Architecture (IPA). This often-ignored architecture represents a wide set of frameworks, concepts, and methods, which span the balance of power, diplomacy, mediation, peacekeeping, civil society peacemaking, as well as development and peacebuilding. It also includes institutions and laws designed to prevent violence, end wars, and sustain a long-term peace based upon more than victory. The development of the IPA ultimately points to a peace with justice. Also of great significance have been social movements, civil society, and global networks of peace activists.
However, the IPA’s historical development has overall been very slow, hidden, and fraught. Its main historical stages or layers are now becoming clearer:
1. The ancient to medieval period
The ancient to the medieval period saw the development of the victor’s peace, wise governance to avoid war, truces and treaty-making to end wars, and the realization of the advantages of achievement of prosperity. It also saw a growing role for religious and social movements, which preached philosophical pluralism and pacifism.
2. The Enlightenment
The Enlightenment added a concern with domestic and international law and norms to govern state behaviour, the liberal social contract (the constitutional peace), social movements for anti-slavery, enfranchisement, disarmament and pacifism, labour movements, human rights, and free trade.
3. The modern period
Whilst the modern period saw these interests extend into social and gender issues, as well as equality and social justice (which is known as the civil peace) it also saw the emergence of international organizations, law, and conventions, forming an institutional peace. Other peace-related mechanisms also emerged in the context of decolonization and the collapse of the Soviet Union, including self-determination, development, aid, democratic peace, and trade. This became known as the liberal peace and appeared to some to represent the end of a long journey of political evolution.
To maintain the liberal peace, peacekeeping, various approaches to peacemaking, humanitarian intervention, liberal peacebuilding, development, and state-building were developed, along with processes of transitional justice, in post-conflict countries around the world. Over time all of these developments have coalesced into a comprehensive international peace architecture, complex, reactive, and fragmentary, but significant, nonetheless.
On the recent return of militarised authoritarian nationalism with Russia’s war in Ukraine in 2022, its apparent alliance with China and other regional powers, and with nationalist ideologies competing with Western versions of liberal peace, there are now major questions about whether the IPA remains adequate, however. There is also the question as to what version of peace and international order the global south might prefer, given that they were not fully supportive of the liberal peace model.
New agendas and the IPA
The older notion of a victor’s peace still plays an important role as a foundational layer of the IPA. Peacemaking and the complex machinery it requires has advanced considerably throughout history, even though it remains far from ideal. When confronted with transnational problems and political tensions which relate to inequality, environmental unsustainability, injustice, the arms trade, human trafficking, nuclear proliferation, urban conflict, and the use of new technologies, new agendas for peace are emerging.
As peace systems have become more complex, with new layers and tools being added as conflict, violence, and war evolve, they have also become more costly and require more political will to maintain.The liberal peace model of the twentieth century was a significant attempt to move beyond cruder versions of the victor’s peace, by focusing on democracy, human rights, development, and free trade, and placing the West as the leader of the IPA. This has provided the basis for the bulk of post-Enlightenment advances in peace thinking and practices. Similarly, an important layer of the IPA dealt with expanded (ECOSOC) rights after industrialized warfare ended in 1945 and decolonization thereafter. This was all consolidated in the most recent stage of the IPA, the liberal peacebuilding system (often now known as the Liberal International Order), after the end of the Cold War.
“A new layer of the IPA is now required to deal with new war and conflict dynamics, and to respond to widespread social demands for a form of peace more closely connected with justice.”
However, after failures in peacekeeping and peacebuilding across countries such as Somalia, Rwanda, and in the Balkans, and with the start of the War on Terror in the aftermath of 9/11, the IPA began to be dominated by a more limited neoliberal statebuilding framework in a new stage. This was applied in Afghanistan and Iraq, and failed to bring peace, justice, or stability. Given the failures in the 2010s and onwards in other cases such as Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, the next stage of the IPA is as yet undetermined. It must stabilize many frozen conflicts and open wars, from Syria to Ukraine, as well as deal with new phenomena and technologies in warfare (AI and automated weapons, proliferation of small arms and worse, hybrid warfare, urban violence, and more), as well as the older forces of nationalism, populism, inequality, authoritarianism, and environmental unsustainability.
Thus, a new layer of the IPA is now required to deal with new war and conflict dynamics, and to respond to widespread social demands for a form of peace more closely connected with justice. This process will probably not lead to a world government (to the disappointment of some liberal internationalists and the relief of others attuned to nationalism, political, and identity differences), but instead may indicate a world community made up of interlocking, pluralist, or “pluriversal” “peaces”: a “Grand Design” to quote the Duc de Sully (1560‒1641), a seventeenth-century philosopher. It may include different types of states, institutions, and norms, as well as new transnational and transversal networks that include official, civil, and social actors and groups. From a scholarly perspective, it would need to reaffirm that only cooperation, inclusivity, pluralism, and redistribution can maintain an ever-evolving IPA and thus a peaceful, just, and sustainable international order.
Featured image by Chris Liverani via Unsplash (public domain)