Peace in the Age of Chaos: How peace can help us solve global challenges

As the world was already struggling to juggle life-defining challenges such as climate change, decreasing biodiversity and food security, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early March 2020 provided additional mayhem that sent shock waves across the globe. Acting as both a catalyst and a booster of previous imbalances, the health crisis uncovered faults in our systems and from these cracks released fright, making all the alarms sound off. It is in this age of chaos, as defined by the author himself, that Steve Killelea revamps the concept of peace. 

Killelea, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, has long had the antonym of war as his prime object of study; the IEP itself releases annual reports like the Global Peace Index and the Global Terrorism Index, used to inform the likes of the OECD, The Commonwealth Secretariat, the World Bank and the United Nations. For Steve Killelea, who is also a Member of Club de Madrid’s President Circle, peace is much more than simply the absence of violence. Positive Peace, his conceptual framework, “describes the attitudes, structures and institutions that underpin and sustain peaceful societies,” providing  “a roadmap to not only overcome adversity and conflict, but to build societies more resilient and better able to adapt to our constantly changing environments.” 

In his new book Peace in the Age of Chaos,” released shortly before the turn to 2021, Killelea sets peace as a prerequisite to solve global challenges, and deems it vital to the survival of our societies in the 21st century. He claims that unless we have a world that is peaceful, we will never get the levels of trust, cooperation and inclusiveness necessary to solve current social, economic and environmental issues. He also provides eight pillars as reference for creating peace, encouraging system thinking to make them work simultaneously rather than isolated points of action. They are highly based on responsible leadership, resilient institutions and digitalization of information, and the list tackles: well-functioning government, sound business environment, equitable distribution of resources, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of human capital and low levels of corruption.

The coexistence of those qualities, Killelea claims, benefits not only peace itself but also societies’ democratic resilience. In developing the Global Peace Index, he said his most profound discovery was the realisation that those same qualities foster higher GDP growth, create better measures of well-being and happiness, and provide better measures for inclusion. By using the framework of positive peace, it is possible to revitalise the approach to some of the issues like polarisation and political disenfranchisement, which limit our capacity to act in multilateral and cooperation settings. “If you can keep the system right, it is self-reinforcing, it is a vicious cycle and it improves,” Killelea said.

Beyond that, the framework can also help tackle environmental challenges, mainly through what Killelea highlights as system adaptability. The qualities that create vibrant and peaceful societies, he said, also create concepts for this adaptability, so when a society gets hit by a shock, the system’s ability to react to and absorb that shock is then incorporated. This makes it more prepared and resilient to future shocks. 

Killelea describes the Positive Peace framework as a transformational framework, defined by its push to create the optimal environment for human potential to flourish. “One of the important qualities of Positive Peace is that it creates societies that are more resilient,” he writes. “In other words, better capable of adapting to their changing environments. This is especially needed in the 21st century as the planet’s ecosystems are stretched by the sheer number of people inhabiting it, pandemics, such as COVID-19, or because of the technological changes reshaping work and the way people interact.”

Building on the post-pandemic aftermath and gaining momentum from the hard lessons it has taught over the course of a year, “Peace in the Age of Chaos” encourages its readers to engage in deeper thinking, to embrace complexity, to stay globally conscious and above all, to foster the conditions to not only create peace, but to sustain it.