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International Day of Peace lesson: Building peace pays

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Given all of the polarization, uncertainty and fear that seem to grip us these days, many of us are hungering for something that unites us rather than divides us – basically we want more peace in our lives. But beyond the importance of peace to us personally, peace can be the glue that unites communities and nations, benefits our economies and saves lives.

Virtually no one disputes the value of peace, yet we still hear the common refrain that war is inevitable, and some still contend it is good for the economy. We rarely hear the affirming truth that peace is good for the economy or that peace can be inevitable. Peace could also be deemed patriotic. We know it is. Consider the evidence.

Multiple studies have confirmed that the curve of human history has been towards peace. Wars and war-caused casualties have declined dramatically over the centuries and even more so since the world wars and the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, contrary to popular mythology – war is not good for anyone’s economy. If it were, the US would have been thriving while we fought two large wars, yet the economy collapsed, and the tax payers have been saddled with trillions of dollars in additional national debt.

{mosads}The Institute for Economics and Peace has calculated that, “The economic impact of violence to the global economy was $14.8 trillion in 2017… This is equivalent to 12.4 percent of world gross domestic product or $1988 per person. If the world decreased violence by only 10 percent, an additional $1.48 trillion could be directed to other economic activities.” And Oxford University economist Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion writes, “Civil war tends to reduce growth by around 2.3 percent per year, so the typical seven-year war leaves a country around 15 percent poorer than it would have been.” Business suffers, people suffer, and government suffers.

The obvious corollary is that peace pays. The Global Peace Index (GPI), developed annually by the Institute, shows the multidimensional nature of peace by identifying key drivers, measures and economic benefits of peace. The 2018 Index shows that 71 countries became more peaceful in the past year, and that about half of the world enjoys a stable peace. This demonstrates that differences were resolved effectively without warfare, showing that war is not inevitable. Furthermore, the most peaceful countries correlate with the most prosperous, not to mention the happiest societies. The top 40 on the GPI correspond closely with the World Happiness Index top 40. People like to do business and live in peaceful countries. Who knew!

So, if living in peace produces prosperity and happiness, why not invest in the systems and structures that build peace? The GPI includes a detailed analysis of the factors that enable societies to be peaceful. It is known as positive peace, “the capacity for a society to meet the needs of its citizens, reduce the number of grievances that arise and resolve remaining disagreements without the use of violence.” The infrastructure of peaceful societies is based on well-functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbors, free flow of information (a free press), high levels of human capital (quality education), low levels of corruption, and equitable distribution of resources. Research shows that positive peace creates an environment that leads to multiple positive social and economic outcomes.   

To promote positive peace globally, the United Nations established the International Day of Peace, celebrated on September 21, to “commemorate and strengthen the ideals of Peace both within and among all nations and peoples.”  This is an opportunity to reflect personally and collectively on how we live peace in our families, communities, workplaces and in our world, and to take specific corrective steps where needed.

While building the pillars of peace can be a heavy lift, it is easier and less costly than fighting wars – by far. The evidence is clear that countries that live in peace prosper, economies are strengthened, and that citizens have greater opportunity to achieve their potential. If this is our goal, and it certainly should be, then governments must reorder priorities and commit to building more peaceful nations. Why not?

Chic Dambach is President Emeritus, National Peace Corps Association and former President, Alliance for Peacebuilding. Kimberly Weichel is a peacebuilder, cross cultural trainer, citizen diplomat and women’s leadership specialist who has worked for 25 years building bridges of understanding.

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