In The Peace Movement Worldwide. 2010.
Edited by Marc Pilisuk and Michael Nagler.
ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA.

As far as I know the first time that the UN General Assembly ever called for a global movement was in the 1999 Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. This standard-setting instrument for peace, still relatively unknown in the United States although much better known elsewhere in the world, is the equivalent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for human rights. In one of the key paragraphs of the Programme of Action, it calls for a "global movement for a culture of peace" through partnerships between the United Nations, UNESCO, the Member States and the civil society.

In fact, when we prepared the World Civil Society Report for the midpoint of the United Nations Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World in 2005, we found that while the United Nations, UNESCO and the Member States had done little, the civil society had made a great deal of progress in the promotion of a culture of peace. The report is available on the Internet at, where one will also find a link to the 1999 UN resolution mentioned above. And its history is available on the Internet at

Hence, it is appropriate to speak of a "global movement for a culture of peace." Unfortunately, this movement is not well known because it is not considered newsworthy by the mass media, because, I would argue, the mass media is very much in the employ of the culture of war.

In this article, I wish to explain why the phrase is for "culture of peace" and not for "cultures of peace".

First, let us consider the nature of culture. For this, I rely on the work of the great anthropologist Leslie A. White and his seminal book, The Evolution of Culture:

"We may think of the culture of mankind as a whole, or of any distinguishable portion thereof, as a stream flowing down through time. Tools, implements, utensils, customs, codes, beliefs, rituals, art forms, etc., comprise this temporal flow, or process. It is an interactive process: each culture trait, or constellation of traits, acts and reacts upon others, forming from time to time new combinations and permutations. Novel syntheses of cultural elements we call inventions…"

…The interrelationship of these elements and classes of elements and their integration into a single, coherent whole comprise the functions, or processes, of the cultural system…"

"For certain purposes and within certain limits, the culture of a particular tribe, or group of tribes, or the culture of a region may be considered as a system. Thus one might think of the culture of the Seneca tribe, or of the Iroquoian tribes, or of the Great Plans, or of western Europe as constituting a system. … But the cultures of tribes or regions are not self-contained, closed systems in actuality, at all. They are constantly exposed to cultural influences, flowing in both directions with other cultures."

Although White never lived to consider an analysis of the culture of war (he died in 1975), I think he would agree with me that it is a culture that has dominated the world for thousands of years. It can be described, using his words above with my additions in brackets, as a culture that involves "mankind as a whole … as a stream flowing down through time [involving] Tools, implements, utensils [i.e. weapons, weapon systems and other military supplies], customs, codes, beliefs, rituals, art forms, etc. [as] an interactive process: each culture trait, or constellation of traits, acts and reacts upon others, forming from time to time new combinations and permutations."

It is this universal culture of war that we set out to address when the UN General Assembly, in 1998, requested UNESCO to prepare a draft Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. It is in the singular tense, because, as I like to say, if Dwight Eisenhower, David Petraeus, Napoleon, Alexander and Great and Genghis Khan could be put into a room with translators, they would understand each other perfectly. And, in fact, it is said that Mao Tse Tung followed closely the advice of Sun Tzu's Art of War which dates from the time of Confucius.

The culture of peace (not "cultures of peace") was formulated as an alternative to the eight principle aspects of the culture of war in the draft document that we sent in 1998 from UNESCO Paris to the General Assembly in New York. Here are key excerpts from the full draft document that can be found on my website at :

1. "Education is the principle means of promoting a culture of peace ... The very concept of power needs to be transformed - from the logic of force and fear to the force of reason and love." [Although education for the culture of war and violence is not specifically mentioned here, it is inferred that it is based on force and fear, i.e. the basic qualities of terrorism.]

2. "sustainable human development for all ... This represents a major change in the concept of economic growth which, in the past, could be considered as benefiting from military supremacy and structural violence and achieved at the expense of the vanquished and the weak."

3. "The elaboration and international acceptance of universal human rights, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has been one of the most important steps towards the transition from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and nonviolence. It calls for a transformation of values, attitudes and behaviours from whose which would benefit exclusively the clan, the tribe or the nation towards those which benefit the entire human family."

4. "equality between women and men ... can replace the historical inequality between men and women that has always characterized the culture of war and violence."

5. "democratic participation and governance ... the only way to replace the authoritarian structures of power which were created by and which have, in the past, sustained the culture of war and violence."

6. "There has never been a war without an 'enemy', and to abolish war, we must transcend and supersede enemy images with understanding, tolerance and solidarity among all peoples and cultures."

7. "participatory communication and the free flow and sharing of information and knowledge ... is needed to replace the secrecy and manipulation of information which characterize the culture of war."

8. "International peace and security, including disarmament". [It seemed so obvious that we did not bother to state that this is an alternative to the soldiers and weapons that are central to the culture of war.]

Following my years of work at UNESCO designing the culture of peace programme with its national programmes in El Salvador, Mozambique, etc. and managing the International Year for the Culture of Peace (2000), I have lectured around the world on the culture of war and culture of peace. In Africa and Latin America, I have no difficulty eliciting the characteristics of the culture of war from the audience; they have lived through it. And they quickly relate to the prospect of replacing the culture of war with a culture of peace (in the singular).

But in the United States, I encounter "American exceptionalism" which includes a preference to speak of "cultures of peace" instead of "culture of peace." Why is this? One reason may be that Americans are so isolated from the rest of the world that they are not aware of (or, in many cases, not interested in) the UN initiatives for a culture of peace and their standard-setting instruments.

In order to understand the need for a culture of peace in the singular, it is necessary to understand and accept the fact that the world is dominated by a culture of war in the singular. But for many in the Global North this has been difficult to accept. It was the representative of the European Union who, in 1999, insisted that all references to the culture of war must be stricken from the culture of peace resolution before they could sign on to it. As a result the final resolution refers only to the culture of peace and not to the culture of war. The American delegate agreed with this, but went further by insisting that the phrase the "human right to peace" must also be stricken from the resolution because "if this is adopted it will be more difficult to start a war."

American exceptionalism was evident in the lack of response to the Manifesto 2000 by which we mobilized people during the International Year for the Culture of Peace. Over 75 million people around the world signed the Manifesto, pledging to cultivate a culture of peace in their family and community. Here's where most of the signatures came from:

India - 35 million
Brazil - 15 million
Colombia - 11 million
Korea - 1.6 million
Japan - 1.2 million
Nepal - 1.2 million
Western Europe - 1.1 million
Algeria - 789 thousand (with probably another half million not reported)
Morocco and Tunisia - 550,000

Where was the United States? Despite formal commitments to circulate the Manifesto and collect signatures by the National Council of Churches (50 million members) and the American Associate of Retired Persons (another 50 million members), as well as a number of other major US civil society organizations, there was a news blackout on the Manifesto and in the end there were only 45,000 signatures. As a result, most Americans have never heard of the Manifesto 2000.

Nor are most Americans aware of United Nations initiatives for the culture of peace, not only the Manifesto 2000, but also the International Year for the Culture of Peace (2000), the International Decade (2001-2010), or the standard-setting Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (1999). These have never been considered newsworthy by the mass media.

One rationale that I have heard for "cultures of peace" is from those who have sought to identify non-state societies that do not have a culture of war. Perhaps the best example is the website . Indeed, it is possible that some societies, such as those described on this website, did not experience war, but if so they were exceptional. At least half of the particular societies listed on the website were observed in conditions where warfare was impractical because of extreme environmental conditions and/or populations that were widely scattered or pacified by outside forces. In fact several societies listed on the website, including the Kung San and Mbuti pygmies did have historical accounts of warfare at earlier times when their peoples were more numerous and less scattered or were not "pacified" by other peoples. For detailed arguments refuting the so-called "peaceful peoples", see Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1979), The Biology of Peace and War. In fact, there are so few reported cases of people without a history of war that when the cross-cultural anthropologists Mel and Carol and Ember set out to examine the ethnographic record for predictors of warfare, "we could not compare societies with and without war to see how else they might differ, because there were too few unpacified societies without war" (Ember and Ember, 2000).

Some people point to ancient Crete as an example of a culture of peace, and indeed the traditional archaeological data tend to support this. However, in recent years there are new findings of extensive military fortifications on the island dating from the period that is considered to be its culture of peace. Hence, the question needs to be re-examined.

A related rationale for "cultures of peace" is from those who say that unlike the culture of war, a culture of peace needs to respect the autonomy and integrity of all cultures rather than forcing them to conform to a dominant global culture. Indeed, the basis of this argument is quite sound. One of the eight programme areas of the culture of peace is international understanding, tolerance and solidarity which should be interpreted as respect for all cultures, including indigenous cultures. With this in mind, perhaps the most complete formulation should not be "culture of peace or cultures of peace" but rather "local and regional cultures and societies of peace in the framework of a global culture of peace". Such a formulation would reflect the need to replace the global culture of war by a global culture of peace, as well as the need for local and regional societies and cultures to flourish without being dominated by other cultures. In saying this, however, one should not overlook the understanding, as expressed above by Leslie A. White, that "the cultures of tribes or regions are not self-contained, closed systems in actuality, at all. They are constantly exposed to cultural influences, flowing in both directions with other cultures."

Is a global culture of peace possible, or is it a utopian idea with no chance of ever coming into existence?

The first question to consider is whether the culture of war reflects biological factors in human evolution that cannot be overcome through cultural change. I consider that the Seville Statement on Violence (1986) has adequately answered this question by disposing of biological explanations. This opinion is supported by the American Psychological, Anthropological and Sociological Associations, all of which endorsed the Seville Statement with its conclusion, paraphrased from Margaret Mead that "the same species that invented war is capable of inventing peace." See for details.

But if a culture of peace is possible, who are the actors that will bring it to pass? Let us consider four sets of actors: the state, the United Nations, the civil society, and local authorities.

The Role of the State

Traditionally, it has been assumed that peace (and by extension, a culture of peace) must be obtained through reform of the state. Hence, for example, peace movements direct their message to the state. The state is demanded not to make war, or, once a war has started, to stop the war and "make peace." Revolutionary movements also address their message to the state, calling for its replacement by a new revolutionary government with the assumption that the new state will bring peace.

I have come to believe that the state cannot make a culture of peace, and that a new strategy is therefore needed. This conclusion is based on my experience as the initiator of the culture of peace programme of UNESCO (1992-1997) and director of the International Year for the Culture of Peace (1998-2001). And it is based on the study and writing of the first ever "history of the culture of war," which I am now trying to publish.

To put it briefly, the last five thousand years of the culture of war may be summarized as the progressive monopolization of the culture of war by the state. A graphic allegory is presented by the American Western film genre. Prior to the arrival of the sheriff, there is lawless violence in the frontier town, whether by Indians, outlaws or feuds. The sheriff arrives and announces that he represents the state and that only the state has license to kill. The sheriff can deputize others to kill, but only in the name of the state. As Max Weber put it a century ago, the definition of the state has become the organization that has a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory." And as it is seen at the United Nations, the definition of a "failed state" is one that has lost its monopoly of violence.

When the US delegate objected to a "human right to peace" by saying that if this were adopted it would be more difficult to start a war, he was implicitly stating that the fundamental right of the state is the right to make war.

In this regard, the dream of a United Nations that could enforce international peace through universal disarmament had a fatal flaw. The flaw was article 2.7 of the Charter:

"Article 2.7: Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state...."

This is a fatal flaw because one of the essential and indispensable functions of the culture of war for the state is the ability to use military force as a last resort to suppress internal opposition. And this is precisely what the United Nations is forbidden to address.

In 1995, I published Internal Military Interventions in the United States in the Journal of Peace Research. Compiling the data from the US Army and National Guard for the years 1892 to 1992, I showed that in the United States there were 18 interventions and 12,000 troops per year, on average, during the period 1886-1990 against striking workers, urban riots, etc. The rate has been more or less constant over time, when one includes the interventions to stem urban riots throughout the US in the 1960's and again in 1992 in Los Angeles when 4,000 National Guardsmen and 4,000 US Army soldiers and marines were deployed I am not aware of systematic data for other countries or for the U.S. in the years since 1990. For the US data, see .

The question of the internal function of military force in so-called "democracies" is a taboo topic, not only at the United Nations, but also in academia. I noted this in my 1995 article: "The unchanging rate of internal military intervention in the USA and the lack of attention to such intervention in the literature on war and peace are in striking contrast to the rapid changes in other aspects of war and peace. It is argued here that this reflects an oversight which peace researchers and activists should address in the coming years."

During the intervening years since I published the article, there have been only four academic references to it according to the Social Science Citation Index, even though the Journal of Peace Research is a prestigious journal that one would expect relevant researchers to read. I have searched throughout the academic literature and as far as I can see, no other researchers have taken up the challenge independently.

From all of the above, I conclude that the state is incapable of promoting a culture of peace.

The Role of the United Nations

As long as the United Nations remains an inter-governmental organization, run by the Member States, one should not expect it to play a role other than that dictated by the states themselves. However, as will be suggested below, we can look forward to the day when the United Nations is no longer run by states but by another system that brings to pass the initial lines of the United Nations charter, which begins "We the peoples…"

The United Nations Organization and its specialized agencies have the capacity to work for a culture of peace. When they are able to act without the direct control or interference of the states they are quite capable of representing the interests of peace and justice. A good example is the national culture of peace programmes which I was privileged to participate in during the 1990s at UNESCO. As representatives of the United Nations, we were able to make great progress with civil society and local authority representatives in the El Salvador and Mozambique National Culture of Peace Programmes until it came time to involve the Member States. It was only later when these programmes failed to get the necessary support from the powerful states in Europe and the United States that they had to be shut down.

The Role of the Civil Society

In 1998, realizing that the powerful states would oppose and weaken the culture of peace resolution, we proposed in the draft Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace, that it should be promoted by a global movement for a culture of peace including not only the United Nations and its Member States, but also the civil society. This provision was kept intact in the final version of the UN resolution, and as mentioned above, it was the first time that the UN General Assembly ever called for a "global movement". The resolution calls for the promotion of this movement through sharing of information among its actors, including the civil society.

In this spirit, during 1999-2000, for the International Year for the Culture of Peace, that we launched the global campaign, as mentioned above, for individuals to sign the Manifesto 2000 committing them to work for a culture of peace in their daily lives. Most of the 75 million signatures were obtained through the efforts by a great number of civil society organizations around the world.

In 2005, at the midpoint of the United Nations Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, we carried out a survey of actions for a culture of peace by 700 civil society organizations around the world. As described in the website , most of them reported that they were making progress toward a culture of peace in their own area of work, but that few people knew about it because it was not treated as newsworthy by the mass media or the academic community.

We found, in conducting the survey, that the civil society promoting a culture of peace extends far beyond what is usually considered the "peace movement." When one considers all the civil society initiatives around the world working on the various aspects of a culture of peace, including human rights, sustainable development, women's equality, democratic participation, etc. then the civil society initiatives for a culture of peace touch the lives of most of the world's inhabitants. For example, all trade unions may be seen as working for the economic and social rights of workers. For another example, the initiatives for sustainable development include not only obvious ecology organizations, but also those working for local sustainable agriculture and farmers markets.

Because of the strengths of the civil society, its enormous scope and complexity and energy, it is tempting to think that the civil society itself, working independently of the state, and gradually coalescing into a global movement, could eventually bring about a transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace. No doubt, civil society is a powerful force for the culture of peace, and must play a very important role, but for the following reasons, I believe that the civil society, working alone, cannot accomplish the task.

First, civil society organizations are not truly representative of the peoples of the world. Civil society organizations are not elected by the people. Instead, they are self-appointed, and their leadership develops independently within each organization. Of course, they wish to be recognized by the people they serve, and they try as much as possible to involve these people as a force to strengthen and expand their capacities, but, at the same time, they are not required to obtain a mandate from the people. In some cases, they give the people they serve a voice in the decisions about how and what actions to undertake, but the leadership of the organization itself is not usually decided by the people at large. This is both a source of strength and a source of weakness. On the one hand, it gives civil society organizations the freedom to be "ahead of their time" and be an educational force for the future. On the other hand, they do not have the democratic legitimacy to become a political counterforce to the culture of war of the nation-state, and in the final analysis, the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace is a question of political power, not just a struggle of ideas and good works.

Second, civil society organizations are often locked in a fierce competition, one against another, for limited resources. For example, many organizations must devote a high proportion of their efforts to finding enough money to pay their staff on an ongoing basis. In doing so, they are competing with other organizations doing the same thing, and the overall effect of the various organizations is often greatly reduced.

Third, there is often a lack of synergy among organizations working for different components of the culture of peace. Organizations working in one area, for example, freedom of the press, do not necessarily join forces with organizations working for other areas, for example, disarmament or women's equality. This "fragmentation" of the culture of peace is unlike the unity of the various components of the culture of war. For example, those working in the arms industry know full well that they are in synergy with those working for economic exploitation, male domination, propaganda for enemy images, and vice versa, those working in these other areas recognize their alliance with the arms industry, etc. The various forces of the culture of war pool their energies in the traditional political process, ensuring that most national presidential campaigns support the various aspects of the culture of war, explicitly or implicitly, and once the politicians are in office, the lobbies of the culture of war are synergetic.

Fourth, much of the energy of civil society is directed toward trying to change policies of the state. No doubt this is important and many important victories have been won, including the prevention of some wars. But in the long run, for the reasons I have provided earlier, it is not likely that the transition to a culture of peace can be accomplished at the level of the state. It will be more productive in the future, as I will argue further below, to put more of the energy of the civil society into making changes at the local level, while continuing to think globally and acting in liaison with local authorities..

For all the above reasons, it makes sense to redirect the primary emphasis of the civil society toward working together with elected officials at the local level instead of the national level. That does not mean abandoning completely their work at national and international levels, which will continue to achieve important victories. But it does mean a radical shift of emphasis and priorities.

The Role of Local Governments (cities, towns and regions)

Over the centuries, as the state has increasingly monopolized the culture of war, the city, town and local region has lost its culture of war, ceding it to the national authorities. If we visit European cities, we can still see fragments of the old city walls with their turrets spaced at intervals so that archers or musketeers can shoot an invading enemy on all fronts. In many cases we will see the old gates that could be closed to keep out an invading enemy or to control who could come in and out of the city, much as today's states control the traffic through their customs at each port of entry into the state.

No longer do cities and towns maintain armies to protect against invasion or to put down internal rebellions. Police forces are armed to encounter one or a few potential "enemies", and one does not imagine them to have tanks, missiles, nuclear weapons and the weapons of the modern battlefield. The same is true for the various other areas of the culture of peace in the context of local government. One finds that policies in most of these areas are much less aligned with the culture of war than their equivalents at the national level, and instead one finds considerable evidence of the culture of peace.

The strategy proposed here is to link civil society to local governments in order to develop culture of peace at the local level, and eventually to develop a new global democratic order based on regional networks of local authorities as a replacement for the role of the Member States in the United Nations.

This strategy is already being developed in city culture of peace commissions, beginning in Brazil and now spreading to other parts of the world. These commissions are official bodies of local government with a certain number of elected officials or city representatives and an even larger number of representatives from local civil society organizations. This strategy has a number of key advantages.

First, by working together with local elected officials, the civil society achieves a legitimacy of working for the people as a whole, and it increases the possibility of broadening the base of involvement to include everyone in the community.

Second, by working together with local elected officials, the civil society can find common ground, beyond the level of their competition for limited resources. For the projects with city or town officials, resources may be provided by the city or town budget or by foundations and other financial sources that will give their money to a city or town project while they might not give it to a particular non-governmental organization.

Third, by working together on the culture of peace, the civil society organizations that would normally concentrate on their own particular area, can now take part in a more holistic and mutually-reinforcing approach involving all of the programme areas of a culture of peace.

Fourth, by putting energy into local government, they can help build the base for a new world order that is democratic, global and free from the culture of war.

At the same time, the involvement of civil society makes possible contributions of the city to a culture of peace that would not otherwise be done by local government working alone:

1) passion, energy and local experience provided by civil society organizations in each of the various areas of a culture of peace

2) linkage to global civil society movements concerned with each of the various areas of a culture of peace

3) continuity when local government changes hands in election reversals

Toward a New World Order Based on Local Governance

As of December 2008, I am part of an agreement being developed between the Fundación Cultura de Paz, the Diputacio de Barcelona (representing the cities of the region around Barcelona in Spain) and the Hague Commission of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). UCLG is the umbrella organization for most of regional organizations of cities, towns and other local governments around the world. The agreement is for the measurement of the culture of peace at the local level in at least two cities in the Barcelona region, as well as several other selected cities of the UCLG in the global North and global South..

Already there are global organizations of cities working on sustainable development, such as the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, and democratic participation (the International Observatory of Participative Democracy) and one can imagine similar global initiatives of local initiatives for the other eight programme areas of the culture of peace.

These global initiatives of local authorities show that it is not necessary to pass through the nation-state in order to achieve global governance based on a culture of peace.

In this regard, I can imagine an eventual shift of the United Nations from its present dependence on the Member States to a dependence on regional representatives of local governments (perhaps organized by continent) that are aligned locally with civil society for a culture of peace. To cite an example of such regional organization, ICLEI has regional offices in South Africa (for Africa), Japan, Korea, Germany (for Europe), Argentina (for Latin America and the Caribbean), Canada, United States, Australia (for Oceania), India (for South Asia), Philippines (for Southeast Asia), and Mexico.

Just imagine how the agenda of the Security Council would change if it were dependent on representatives of local government! For example, nuclear disarmament would be one of the first items on the agenda!

Of course, such a shift would not take place under normal conditions, but it seems likely that the world is headed in the next few decades for one of its periodic breakdowns of state power. In the past these breakdowns have been associated with World Wars and with the Great Depression as well as the breakdown of the Soviet Empire at the end of the 1980's. When the state system breaks down, there is a void and a period of opportunity for radically different approaches.

What concerns me is not so much that there will be such a crash, historical void and period of opportunity, but rather that it will come too soon for us to prepare for it. In the past, the crashes of empires and states often have been followed by fascism and/or revolutionary governments that reflect the culture of war of the revolutionary movements that brought them about. The institution of a culture of peace instead would be a radically different response, without historical precedent, and perhaps the greatest challenge our species has ever faced. The time to begin developing this alternative is now!

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