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Enmity into Amity: How Peace Breaks Out

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow
April 2011
Friedrich Ebert Foundation

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Introduction

Scholars, policy analysts, and journalists love to write about war. Books about armed conflict regularly make it onto best-seller lists. The front pages of the world's main newspapers are often dominated by articles about Afghanistan, Iraq, or some other war zone. Meanwhile, peace gets relatively little attention from either scholars or journalists. Programs in peace studies are, especially in the United States, a rare breed. And it is a safe bet that German newspapers will not any time soon be running headlines that read: "All Quiet on the Franco-German Border."

This intellectual preoccupation with war is hardly surprising. As Thomas Hardy once observed, "War makes rattling good history; but peace is poor reading." When wars occur, there is all too much action, noise, and drama. When peace breaks out, nothing happens; there is no action or noise, and often little drama. The diplomats do their work, but often behind the scenes. For most observers, peace is a non-event – the dog that does not bark – and is therefore chronically understudied.

Even if this intellectual bias might be understand-able, it is unfortunate. Around the world, areas that were once the sites of bitter conflict are now devoid of strategic rivalry. The United States and Great Britain were once fierce enemies but now enjoy a »special relationship.« Western Europe has finally left behind centuries of bloodshed and has become a zone of stable peace. Indonesia and Malaysia settled their differences in the 1960s, and have since anchored ASEAN, a regional grouping that has pre-served peace in Southeast Asia since 1967. The same goes for Brazil and Argentina, which were for many decades hostile rivals, but since the 1980s have amicably anchored stability and regional integration in South America.

Even though these examples make clear that stable peace does indeed break out, we know precious little about when and how lasting peace takes root. Rectifying this gap in our knowledge may enable scholars and policymakers alike to contribute more effectively to making and preserving peace. If we spend more time studying peace, we might do a better job of avoiding war.

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