War and peace? An agenda for peace research in geography. Nick Megoran, Newcastle University. Needs – engaging war. Maybe as crit geop section Abstract




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War and peace? An agenda for peace research in geography.



Nick Megoran, Newcastle University.

Needs – engaging war. Maybe as crit geop section

Abstract


In 1885, Kropotkin called for geography to be a means of dissipating [hostile] prejudices between nations that make conflicts more likely, and creating other feelings more worthy of humanity. As a body of scholars, we have risen far more ably to the negative task of ‘dissipating’ than to the positive charge of ‘creating’: we are better at researching war than peace. For our discipline to play a serious role in addressing the problems wracking twenty-first century humanity, it is imperative that this imbalance be redressed. This paper illustrates and analyses these contentions by outlining a genealogy of peace research in geography, and by identifying and proposing new research directions. The general literature is illustrated from the author’s field research along the Danish/German, Kyrgyz/Uzbek, and Palestinian/Israeli interfaces.


Introduction


Recent interventions within geography have contended that the discipline is better at studying war than peace (Megoran 2010) Williams and McConnell (Williams and McConnell under review).Building on this argument that geography needs to think more clearly about peace, this contribution seeks to identify in broader terms how geography in general, and political geography in particular, can work towards that.

The title of this paper is a reference to a Derek Gregory’s plenary paper at the Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers 2008 conference, ‘war and peace’ (Gregory 2010). That paper neatly illustrates the state of human geography’s engagement with these topics. On war, it is eloquent, theoretical, and interdisciplinary, with a clear grasp of developments in warfare: a compelling and thought-provoking critique of cultures and practices of warfare. Conversely, peace is little more than gestured it, and soon disappears from the paper. The argument here is simple: for our discipline to play a serious role in addressing the problems wracking twenty-first century humanity, it is imperative that this imbalance be redressed.

There is a long and patchy history of geographical engagement with peace. In this paper I do not seek to review this literature, as to engage with aspects of it to make two propositions: geography must firstly conceptualise what it actually means by peace, and secondly clearly commit itself to peace. I suggest that, in so doing, geography can, as Gregory desires, reposition itself as one of the ‘arts of peace’ [ref].


  1. Conceptualising peace



Before considering how geographers conceptualise peace, I will begin by looking at what is meant by peace in a number of other disciplines that have devoted more attention to the question.

Negative peace


When discussed by politicians, journalists, academics, and even activists, it is frequently assumed that everyone knows what ‘peace’ is, and thus is commonly left undefined. I want to use this section to problematise peace and ask what ‘it’ is. To begin with, I will consider three disciplines that have pondered the matter more deeply than geography: peace studies, Biblical studies, and International Relations theory.

In a famous editorial that launched the Journal of Peace Research in 1964, Johan Galtung described the ‘absence of violence, absence of war’ as ‘negative peace’, counterposed to positive peace as ‘the integration of human society’ (Galtung 1964: 1). The weakness of negative peace is seen by political scientist Julie George’s recent analysis of the politics of ethnic separatism in Russia and Georgia. Saakashvili’s 2003 Rose Revolution inaugurated a period of territorial centralization, economic reform, anticorruption programs, statebuilding, and war. This “destabilised the tenuous peace of the Shevardnadze era ... [which] relied on a weakened Georgian state with individualized benefits and informal institutions surrounding economic enrichment and political power” (George 2009: 67). This ‘peace’ was an uneasy and untrusting truce between the corrupt leaders of an unjust society divided into warring regions. Saakashvili’s 2008 war with Russia was ruinous, but the ‘peace’ that the republic enjoyed – or endured – beforehand was hardly Edenic. That is why Galtung was clear that ‘negative peace’- preventing, stopping or de-escalating armed combat – is obviously a good, but believed that peace research should aim at understanding the processes whereby positive peace could be built and sustained.

Theological/Biblical studies


An expansive definition of positive peace has been offered by the discipline of Biblical studies. The word generally translated into English as ‘peace’ in the Hebrew Bible, ‘shalom’, appears 200 times and, Swartley argues, the base denominator of its many meanings in is ‘well-being, wholeness, completeness’ (Swartley 2006: 27). Mennonite scholar of Old Testament studies, Perry Yoder, has studied the meaning of these occurrences. He begins his book on the topic with the words, ‘Peace is a middle-class luxury, perhaps even a Western middle-class luxury’ (Yoder 1989: 3). This was his conclusion after working in the 1980s Philipines. He means that Western peace activism, essentially opposing the use of lethal violence, including revolutionary violence, maintains the structures of an unjust society and thus this type of peace seemed to Filipinos as ‘the rhetoric of those who have it.’ He gives an example of Guthrie, a British palm oil processing plant that was raided by the New People’s Army while he was there (pp.4-5). Guthrie was said to have hired mercenaries to help the company persuade' peasant farmers to sell their land to make into a plantation, depriving them of their livlihoods. The farmers tried to organise and sabotage, but the military used harsh measures to protect the company so the NPA entered one night, tied up the guards and took them away, and destroyed the plant. For western peace activists to call on the peasants to desist from violence, when not pressuring the company and British and Philipine governments to act justly, he came to conclude, was perverse, with western peace activists (including himself) espousing a concept of peace that maintained the status quo for the comfort of the wealthy. Everyone says they are ‘for peace’, those building ICMBs and those opposing them: the need, therefore, is to ask, ‘what kind of peace?’, and ‘for what kind of peace ought we to work?’ (p10).

His experience of working with and talking to Filipinos lead him to a close re-reading of the idea of shalom in the Bible. He concluded that ‘shalom is a vision of what ought to be and a call to transform society’ (p.5) – ‘a far cry from seeing peace as the passive avoidance of deadly violence’. He identified three ‘shades of meaning’. The first, and most common, refers to material, physical welllbeing; you can check on someone’s ‘shalom’, their okay-ness, their all-rightness. This is shalom ‘marked by the presence of physical well-being and by the absence of physical threats like war, disease and famine’ (p.13). The second is just social relationships between people – the absence of war or poverty, for sure, but more than that, ‘the presence of positive and good relations as marked by justice. (p.15). As an example he cites a prophecy in the book of Isaiah, about God’s restoration of the land:


‘Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,

and righteousness abide in the fruitful place

And the effect of righteousness will be peace,

and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever’ (Isaiah 32: 16-17 [version?]).


Yoder identifies a third cluster of uses around shalom: a moral or ethical meaning of ‘straightforwardness’, acting with integrity and honesty rather than deceit, blame or guilt (p15-16). Together, he argues, these three shades of meaning have a continuity: ‘shalom defines how things should be’ – a way in Israelite society of referring to material world, relationships and character as all right, as okay (16). Peace is ‘okayness’ [ref].

Yoder argues that the New Testament idea of ‘eirene’, the Greek word usually translated as ‘peace’, is used in much the same way, with one distinction: it is used theologically to talk about God (as ‘the God of peace’) and the good news of God for all humankind (‘the gospel of peace’). In particular, Jesus’ death and resurrection is said to bring peace between God and humanity, and peace between people (Jew and Gentile united in Christ), and even ecologically. Thus Christ’s death and resurrection has transforming power, setting things right between old enemies (p21). Swartley extends this analysis, suggesting that peace in the New Testament is pluriform: not achieved through power and violence, but through repentance transforming enmity into friendship, pursued non-violently through actions such as blessing and loving one’s enemies (Swartley, p1-26).

Thus, for Yoder, Biblical peace is ‘the result of things being okay... things being as they should be; when things are not that way, no amount of security, no amount of peacekeeping in the sense of law and order and public tranquility will make for peace... only a transformation of society so that things really are all right will make for Biblical peace’ (p.22). This is a vision of ‘positive peace’ at the far end of the spectrum of a ‘negative peace’ that can work to the advantage of the powerful.


International Relations theory


The richness and multiplicity of the conceptualisation of peace within Biblical studies is offered as a contrast to show that ‘peace’ is far broader than the antonym of war. For political geography, however, arguably a more immediately relevant debate to follow about the meaning of peace is that within International Relations theory, a body of scholarship that emerged after World War 1 explicitly to understand the inter-state system in order to guide the pathway to peace. This is particularly relevant for our discipline, both because many geographers also seek to understand violence in the international system, and because we often engage with its literature. Here, I lean particularly on the work of Oliver Richmond. His two recent books, The Transformation of Peace, and Peace in International Relations, are the first attempt to thoroughly trace the development of the concept of peace within a discipline that too often assumes it.

Richmond’s basic contention is that peace ‘is rarely conceptualised, even by those who often allude to it’ (p2). What theorisation of peace that does occur is usually hidden away in discussions of war, but peace is usually discussed in ways that disguise that it is essentially contested (p.5). For Richmond, this is problematic for a number of reasons: it is ironic in a discipline whose raison d’etre is to understand the obstacles to peace; it may be that may be that peace discourses are a form of ‘orientalism’, actors who know peace creating it for people who do not; and because ‘[c]oncepts of peace may also be used as a tool of war, used to justify, legitimate, and motivate a recourse to war’ (p.13). Therefore he seeks to problematise the concept: ‘to take note of who describes peace, and how, as well as who construct is, and why’ (p.7).

Richmond analyses and summarises the meaning of ‘peace’ in the major strands of IR theorisation. For idealism, generally associate with the early decades of the discipline before World War 2, peace meant a future world of complete social, political and economic harmony: desirable but effectively unobtainable (Richmond 2008, 14). Its main rival, realism, posited an anarchic world in which peace was not possible, but where war could be held off through the maintainence of order by a powerful hegemon or international system. Peace was thus confined to ‘a limited temporal and geographically bounded order’ (p.14). As such realism ‘offered an important set of tools to understand security frameworks for states’, insights which ‘are an important part of any discussion of peace’ (ibid, 56), but because it was unable to move beyond the politics of fear it had little else to offer for the positive development of peace.

By 1940 realism had displaced idealism, which was undone by the Second World War. The main challenge to realism became liberalism: the hope that a well-managed, inter-state system could obviate armed conflict (2008: chapter ?). Marxism emerged as an important challenge to both realism and liberalism, seeing peace as achievable with social justice and equality between states following massive social upheaval (2008, chapter 3). Critical theory posited an emancipatory peace, emphasising justice for marginalised actors achievable through ideal forms of democracy (chapter 6), an approach developed through post-structural theorisation that critiques the universalising of critical theory and is more sensitive to the ways in which discourses and institutions of peace can perpetuate exclusion and injustice (chapter 7).

Richmond concentrates his analysis on what he describes as ‘the liberal peace’: that likeminded states co-exist in an order of democracy, market capitalism, human rights, development, and civil society, maintained by states through force. This empowers an epistemic community legitimately able to transfer knowledge of this peace to those who don’t have it (p.209). It is a form of victors’ peace, reliant on dominant states and the hegemony of the state system, but makes strong claims to be emancipatory, and is also regarded as possible. It is peace-as-governance, universal and obtainable if the correct methods are applied by a plethora of actors working on an agreed peacebuilding consensus (p.183).

The liberal peace is hybrid, drawing on varied strands of theory and practice: realist, liberal, and emancipatory, and has different elements. Some are conservative: unilaterialist, top-down, such as the interventions in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; more orthodox elements, represented by bodies such as the UN, stress sensitivity to local culture, while emancipatory elements, often pursued by NGOs, valorise bottom-up development, closer and more equal relationships with local actors, and may be more critical of coercion and conditionality of the first two (p 214-5). These different actors and different elements may reinforce or contradict each other, but the project has become powerful and pervasive. It has effectively displaced (at least in policy circles) earlier realist models that saw no hope for democratic peace outside of a few besieged countries, and utopianism that espoused a desirable peace but unobtainable general peace, and liberalism that saw limited peace as possible for some territorially-bound units. The liberal peace is the most ambitious form: a hegemonic discourse and practice created by peacebuilding consensus that creates multiple levels and institutions of governance by external actors (p223).

Richmond’s work is not without its flaws. He concludes with a call for IR engagement in peacemaking where local decision-making processes determine the political and social processes and norms to be institutionalised; the aim should be to install indigenous peace that includes a version of human rights, the rule of law, and representative political process [page no]. In other words: local peace as long as at its heart it enshrines Western concepts of human rights and democracy. Furthermore, he adds that there should be international support and guidance on technical aspects of governance and instituion-building that does not introduce hegemony, inequality, dependency or conditionality(p.164). This is extremely hard to envisage.

Nonetheless, International Relations theory and Biblical studies force us to ask continually ‘[w]hat is peace, why, who creates and promotes it, for what interests, and who is peace for?’ (Richmond 2008: 16), and point to rich positive conceptions of peace. They help us focus on the question of how peace has been conceptualised within geography. An exhaustive study of the topic is beyond the scope of this paper, so instead two indicative ‘snapshots’ of how peace has been discussed in the literature will be viewed: geographical reflection on the aftermath of World War 2, and three recent edited collections on ‘geography and peace’.

Snapshot 1: World War 2


The agendas within political geography in the first half of the twentieth century were set by imperialism and European great-power competition. Conceptions of peace within the discipline were variously marked by an acceptance of the rules of this game, or the attempt to transcend them. The end of the second world war occasioned an outpouring of geographical contributions to thinking about ‘peace’, and I will consider some of these here.

Peace was a key problem for classical Anglophone geopolitical thought. A clear example of working with a realist conception of peace is provided by the Dutch-American geographer, Nicholas Spykman. He began a 1942 essay with the words, “There will be peace after the war in which we are now engaged” (Spykman 1942, 436) . The banality of this expert geopolitical prediction notwithstanding, it reflects a negative view of peace as simply the absence or cessation of armed combat. Spykman was concerned to deduce how geopolitical knowledge could ensure that a post-World War 2 USA got the better of ‘The Geography of the Peace’ (Spykman 1944). With fellow realist Halford Mackinder, peace was a resource that could be ‘won’ in a zero-sum competition with others (Mackinder 1943).1 Spykman’s was not the type of ‘peace’ that would be envisaged by Europeans seeking to radically rewrite the rules of the game by tying France and Germany together in a political and economic union to make future conflict unthinkable (Luttwak). Rather, it meant the accrual and deployment of military power in strategic alliances to prevent rival states challenging the hegemonic position of the USA – a position achieved by the use of force for the appropriation of economic resources. Peace would be temporary and fragile, and did not involve justice between states. Indeed, Spykman’s belief that “Because of [the] absence of a supreme government, international society remains a dynamic system in which states engage in a struggle for power unrestrained by higher authority” (Spykman 1942, 436) is as clear a statement of classical realism as you can find in the geographical literature.

Although the agendas of political geographers at this time were set by imperial competition, they did not all follow realists like Spykman and Mackinder by ending there. Other geographers asked not ‘how can we understand the rules of the game to create a fragile peace that maintains our position?’, but rather, ‘how can we re-write those rules to create a more enduring peace?’ These drew on a mixture of idealistic, liberal and socialist conceptions of peace.

In the conclusion to his 1934 Association of American Geographers’ presidential address, Wallace Atwood declared that the ‘supreme responsibility’ of geography was to help stamp out ‘the damnable practices of war’ and foster a ‘world wide enthusiasm for peace’ as a ‘binding cement making war absolutely impossible’ (Atwood 1935: 15-16). This was classic 1930s idealism: war would end if the countries of the world would only understand each other better, and geography is a subject that can contribute towards this like no other.

Another contribution is Griffith Taylor’s 1946 book, Our Evolving Civilisation: An Introduction to Geopacifics: Geographical Aspects of the Path Toward World Peace. His final chapter suggests the division of Europe into four parts, each with sufficient timber, fuel, food and iron to survive (figure 1). Here, idealism like Wallace’s has been shattered by the war, and replaced by a liberal concept of peace: peace by separation, creating a new framework of states that get on with their own business and cautiously engage each other through peaceful diplomatic relations (Taylor 1946, chapter 13). His proposal to solve the geographical problems of peace by dividing warmongering Europe up into autarkic units was both naïve and myopic: naïve, in that it did not take proper account of the ideologies of nationalism, and myopic, in overlooking the role of other world powers, such as his own USA, in imperial competition.

In his 1943 Outline of Political Geography in the ‘Plebs Outlines’ series for the National Council of Labour Colleges, Frank Horrabin provides a more cogent critique of imperialism from a marxist perspective. A socialist and a Labour member of parliament for Peterborough, he used political geography to understand and critique imperialism and to convey his ideas to wide public audiences. His Outline is arguably one of the greatest political geography texts ever written. Horrabin traces the geography of the development of human civilisation from isolated ‘hearths’ to the whole earth, by the development of sea travel, and eventually mass production capitalism propped by the uneven expropriation of resources, leading to the imperial acquisition of territories. He observed that whilst in his day economic interdependence was striking compared to other ages, this has not been matched by political interdependence. Indeed, as rampant nationalism around the world, climaxing in the world war shows, the opposite is the case. But nationalist ideologies are only invented to mask the greed of Nazi gangsters, or Wall St or City of London plutocrats, after a share of the Great Scramble [need some refs here]. Britain, the USA and Germany alike are imperial powers exploiting the world for greed.

His concluding chapter is entitled ‘World plan – or world chaos’. Capitalist imperialism has squandered many of the world’s resources whilst leaving others underdeveloped: the geography of capitalism is essentially a geography of chaos, and this chaos leads, inevitably, to war. The only solution of the problems of a New Order is the Socialist solution” (Horrabin 1943: 120) – but socialists must learn to think in wider terms than the capture of power in own frontiers. They must return to an internationalism informed by political geography: national sovereignty must go – just as tribalism in Africa did. All empires must go, and instead proper planning is needed to reorganise the world into a federation based on geographical realities (figure 2). Against the pessimism of Taylor’s mistrustful, isolationist autarkies, Horrabin’s socialist concept of peace is of one that will only be secured with a just reorganisation and redistribution of the world’s resources into a unified (federated) world community.

Thus, the period of classical geopolitical thought saw geographers debate how the discipline might make a genuine contribution to ‘winning of the peace’. But interrogating their use of peace in the way that Richmond does for IR theory uncovers an array of very different conceptualisations – realist, idealist, liberal and marxist. Each writer advocated ‘peace’, but their varying concepts could result in a ‘peace’ as far removed as Spykman’s hyper-militarisation and Wallace’s disarmament.


Peace in recent political geographical literature


In the previous section I demonstrated how geographical thinking about World War 2 conceptualised peace. In this second snapshot, I will consider how three important modern publications have handled ‘peace’.

Firstly, Pepper and Jenkins’ groundbreaking 1985 book, The geography of war and peace, demonstrates how the threat of nuclear annihilation with the ‘Second Cold War’ galvanised geographers to do something about ‘the dearth of geographical studies… concerning the problems of peace and the threat of war’ (Pepper 1985: 1). The emphasis is, as they acknowledge, largely on war (Pepper 1985: 3). The contributors barely conceptualise peace: it is simply the opposite of superpower war - projections of the damage done by nuclear attacks, the spaces and places where war is denounced and nuclear weapons banned, and the like.

Secondly, Flint’s 2005 edited collection on The geography of war and peace, likewise maintains the emphasis firmly on war: only four of the nineteen substantive chapters fall in the section, ‘Geographies of peace’ (Flint 2005). But there is more of an attempt to think about the meaning of peace. Flint, following Galtung, observes in his introduction that peace is, ‘not only the absence of war, but also the possibility of maximising human potential’ (Flint 2005: 7). Herb has an excellent section explaining that peace scholars and activists see peace as ‘more than the absence of war’, embracing ‘the conditions necessary to bring about a nonviolent and just society at all levels of human activity’ (Herb 2005: 348-350). But this is an exception: in an impressive historical overview of literatures in which Mamadouh suggests that geography is now widely seen as ‘a science for peace’ (Mamadouh 2005: 41), there is no attempt to explain what peace is.

Most recently, in 2009, Annals of the Association of American Geographers produced a special issue on ‘Geographies of peace and armed conflict’ (Kobayashi 2009). That this leading journal chose this topic to launch the format of an annual special issue is encouraging, as is the placing of ‘peace’ first in the title. There are a number of important contributions, some of which I will refer to later, but in most cases ‘peace’ is left undefined, or assumed simply to be the absence of armed conflict. The type of peace assumed is a liberal version, of the absence of armed conflict and the development of good diplomatic relations between states in a state system. Surprisingly, the editorial introduction itself leaves ‘peace’ undefined, which is indicative of [the weaknesses of the discipline as a whole as I have been arguing.]

Subconclusion: conceptualising peace


As the disciplines of peace studies, IR, and Biblical studies demonstrate, peace may be conceptualised in a variety of different ways, each of which does very different political work for very different visions of the good life. The two snapshots offered here of geographical work on the aftermath of World War 2, and recent edited collections on peace, show not only a continued emphasis on war as opposed to peace, but a common failure to think conceptually about peace. I contend that the first step in repositioning geography as a subject for peace is to think critically on what we have meant and continue to mean by the word.

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