State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

What Does it Take to Build Sustainable Peace?

By Jaclyn Donahue 

Today, more countries are experiencing violent conflict than in the last 30 years and the number of conflict refugees and global military expenditures are at historic highs. As stated in Robert Ricigliano‘s book Making Peace Last, 25 percent of peace agreements relapse into violence within 5 years, and these failures significantly increase the likelihood of these conflicts becoming more violent and intractable.

It is in this context that the international community has been attempting to turn its attention toward the goal of sustaining peace. However, a recent report reads that “sustaining peace remains critically under-recognized, under-prioritized and under-resourced globally and within the United Nations system.”

In response to these challenges, the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4) at Columbia’s Earth Institute launched the Sustaining Peace Project (SPP) in 2014. The SPP is a multi-disciplinary, science-practice-policy initiative focused on providing a holistic, evidence-based understanding of peace and how it can be sustained in societies. The full project takes a mixed-methods approach by employing archival, expert survey, community participatory, and ethnographic case study research, along with mathematical modeling, to develop, validate and refine a basic model of sustainably peaceful societies that can be used by decision-makers.

The mixed-methods and multi-disciplinary approach of the SPP distinguishes the project from research on peace that often remains siloed within disciplines and sectors. AC4 has recently collaborated with the documentary filmmaker and photographer Luz Marina Zamora to introduce the SPP project and highlight the varied perspectives of the team through interviews with each of them. The videos include interviews with:

  • Peter T. Coleman, project leader, AC4 co-executive director and professor of psychology and education at Columbia University. With his colleagues—environmental scientist Joshua Fisher, international development practitioner and researcher Jaclyn Donahue, and philosopher Philippe Vandenbroeck—Coleman has been engaging academic and practitioner experts and synthesizing the science on sustainable peace.
  • Douglas P. Fry, professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Fry has been examining data on peace systems (societies that have not made war in at least 100 years) to understand what factors contribute to their peacefulness.
  • Larry S. Liebovitch, professor of physics and psychology at Queens College, CUNY, who has developed a mathematical version of the model to simulate changes over time.
  • Kristen Rucki, whose qualitative research expertise and background in international education have been integral to engaging local stakeholders to understand perceptions of peace at the community-level.

The cross-disciplinary perspectives of the SPP team help to inform, elaborate and validate findings, so that the project’s main output — a model of the dynamics of sustainably peaceful societies – will be useful as a tool for decision makers and policymakers for forging more peaceful relations within and between communities.

To learn more about the Sustaining Peace Project and AC4, visit the AC4 website and watch the videos linked below.

What Does it Take to Live in Peace?

Peace is Possible: The Science and Core Dynamics of Sustainable Peace

Learning from Peace Systems

What Makes the Sustainable Peace Project Innovative?

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Understanding Sustainable Peace

Epistemology, Systems Thinking and Sustainable Peace

Finding Possibilities through Complexity Science

How Can Physics Be Applied to Peacebuilding?

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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