In 2020 the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founded in October 1970, PRIF today is one of the leading peace research institutes in Europe. Our motto for our anniversary is ambiguous: “Peace begins with us”. But who is meant by “us”?
When talking about peace, we usually think about ending armed wars or conflicts, or to prevent them. We remember the catastrophe of two World Wars and the “Never Again” of the United Nations in response to the breach of civilization that was the Shoa. We also think of current military conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen, Iraq, Southern Sudan or Syria.
While all these horrors shape how we perceive the imperative of peace, they sometimes tend to make us overlook the fact that peace has to be established not only globally, in the Far East, in the Global South, between hostile states or alliances, but also locally. Peace begins with us – in our families, with our neighbours, in our cities, in our society. Only a society that lives in peace with one another can foster peace in the outside world.
And yet, peace in our communities is always linked to peace on a global scale. Due to the advancing globalization in every aspect of our life, for all its positive effects, we as a society are neither immune from shocks in other parts of the world, nor can we isolate ourselves from them – be it political or economic crisis, natural disasters or conflicts. We notice these shocks in the form of travel warnings or supply shortfalls for essential goods, pandemics, political deadlocks, increasing numbers of refugees or the simple fact that conflicts are now taken directly into our societies. Terrorism may be a side effect of global conflict constellations, but it is equally visible in the heart of Europe, in Paris or at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. The Islamic State, on the other hand, which tyrannized the Middle East for many years, has been backed by foreign fighters from Europe. Terrorism is not a one-way street.
Even though the primary goal of arms control is to commit the major powers to reduce or – at least – limit their weapons stockpiles, arms control is equally linked to small arms and light weapons. Both the availability of and the trade in small arms must be dramatically restricted in order to curb not only conflicts in the Global South, but also mass shootings in the United States and here in Germany.
Digitalization is another factor to make our world appear smaller. Malware threatens critical infrastructure such as energy suppliers, traffic and transportation systems. Weapons can be manufactured and made available anywhere in the world using 3D printers. Social bots and internet trolls influence public opinion and democratic elections with the ultimate goal of destabilizing free society.
Regardless of where conflicts and problems arise: They are often noticeable or waged on our end. But not uncommonly, they also originate from our own society. The rise of xenophobia, antisemitism or general misanthropy and the accompanying violence, which we can witness in many liberal Western states, should be seen in the context of global crises and conflicts. But they are not simply a consequence of these conflicts; they originate from our own society as well. Therefore, it is even more important to promote peace within us by establishing the social foundations of peace. We need to encourage and maintain both mutual respect and tolerance, promote and demand public debate on controversial issues when it is diminishing, and we need to foster economic and welfare policies which preserve the natural foundations of life and protects those who need it the most. Only a society which is capable of peace in this sense will be able to resist external and internal hostilities, face the indistinct threats of our time and contribute to global peace.