Dunant, Galtung or the Generals: Give Peace a Chance

Grave of Henry Dunant. Photograph Source: Produnis – CC BY-SA 3.0

In a major square in downtown Geneva are two dominant symbols of today’s representation. In the middle of Geneva’s cultural center, La Place de Neuve, stands an imposing statue of a soldier on horseback, the General Guillaume-Henry Dufour, a leader of the Swiss army in the 19th century. At the north-east side of the square is a small bust of Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross. Each time I pass the square I ask: Why is General Dufour given the prominent place in the square while the humanitarian has a small recognition as if an afterthought? (Although Dufour had several distinctions – engineer, noted topographer and a member of the Red Cross founding committee – it is the General Dufour on horseback who dominates the square.)

The military dominates more than just La Place de Neuve. Defense spending continues to balloon disproportionally to other national budget items around the world, even in neutral Switzerland. Prestigious military academies continue to prepare eager soldiers for battle. Eminent strategic and security studies departments continue to prepare motivated students to enter professions dealing with how to wage war. Heavily funded research and development sections in private companies continue to invent sophisticated armaments for future use. Self-proclaimed experts continue to analyze battle plans in the media to give enthusiastic audiences blow by blow descriptions of current battles. Well researched historians continue to walk battlefields to re-enact legendary confrontations.

War and its ecosystem dominate so much of our lives. While today’s war between Russia and Ukraine has significant differences between traditional conflicts – some Ukrainian soldiers are trained out of country, Russian recruits are hurried into battle with little or no training, artificial intelligence has replaced many of the planners and commentators – the imbalance between war and peace remains the same.

Simple comparisons between resources and interest for war and peace are obvious. Peace does not pay dividends. As an example of peace’s limited resources: The United Nations General Assembly did establish the University for Peace (UPeace) as a treaty organization in 1980. Its mission is “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.” How many people have heard of UPeace? Can you name any famous alumni? It’s never listed as one of the world’s top universities. (UPeace’s main campus is in Costa Rica, which abolished its army in 1980.)

Besides UPeace, there are a number of peace institutes around the world, but they cannot be compared to military academies such as West Point, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, The Institute for the Study of War in China, or the French Military Academy in Saint-Cyr.

Within academia, another example of the domination of war over peace would be the study of war. The study has a long tradition going back to Sun Tzu’s Art of War dating to the 5th century BC. Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) or Clausewitz’s On War (1832) are other classics often cited of how one should rule by using force, power and fighting.

What about peace literature and peace studies? Peace studies is a very recent phenomenon compared to Sun Tzu, Machiavelli or Clausewitz. Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist, is credited with being the creator of the discipline of peace studies. Galtung founded the Oslo Peace Research Institute (PRIO) in 1959. He also established the Journal of Peace Research in 1964.

In addition to his role in academia, Galtung has been involved in different peace mediations. His most noteworthy success was in the 1990s resolving the territorial conflict between Peru and Ecuador. Galtung was able to change the disputed territory into a binational park, ending violence that had erupted between the countries in 1941, 1981 and 1995. While most people can tell which countries won World War II, few can locate Galtung’s Park of Peace in the Cordillera del Condor region in the Andes that was the scene of conflict between the two countries.

Most people claim they would prefer peace to war. Scenes of death and destruction in Ukraine horrify. So if peace is preferred to war, why aren’t similar resources allocated? There are plenty of Ministers of War or Secretaries of Defense. Why aren’t there Ministers of Peace or Secretaries of Conciliation?

As I said, each time I pass La Place de Neuve I wonder about priorities. Henry Dunant was the founder of an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize three times (1917, 1944, 1963). Dunant himself won the Prize in 1901. Johan Galtung is a hero. His mediation saved thousands of lives and changed the relationship between two hostile countries. I try to imagine a huge statue of Dunant or Galtung in downtown Geneva, just as I try to imagine a small bust of Dufour somewhere in a small corner off the square. War or peace? Which dominates the other?

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.