ISSUE 59 SPRING 2009

Peace Matters Index

the role of scientific community in preventing war

ONLINE contents


- militarisation of Britain
- more than a t-shirt
- the role of scientific community
- absolutely pacifist
- can the greens stay nonviolent ?
- afghanistan: a misread war
- george lansbury anniversary
- work to do – adrian mitchell






- complete issue pdf






A key problem in the advancement of wider engagement in conflict resolution and a decrease of enthusiasm for armed solutions is a better understanding not only about the effects and causes of war but of the many strategies of preventing violent conflict. Armed conflict is not inevitable.
People Building Peace is a ‘feel good’ book but in a much deeper sense than ‘feel good’ usually implies. It is about the proven nuts and bolts of peace making, of conflict prevention. It tells how without recourse to violence people around the world have transformed hazardous situations and improved their lives. These efforts may not make many dents in the nuclear arsenals but your knowledge of them and your promotion of these efforts and underlying values might.

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How can nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders and institutions, educational and scientific communities, business firms, and the mass media usefully contribute to the prevention of deadly conflict? How can their capacities be mobilised in societies where violence threatens? It is crucial to identify and support those elements of civil society that can reduce intergroup antagonisms, enhance attitudes of concern, social responsibility, and mutual aid within and between groups - and to provide the technical and financial resources they need to operate effectively.

The scientific community provides understanding, insight, and stimulating ways of viewing important problems none more important than deadly conflict. It can generate new knowledge and explore the application of such knowledge to urgent problems in contemporary society. Human conflict and its ongoing resolution - thereby averting mass violence - is a subject that deserves major research effort. High standards of inquiry must be applied to this field, involving many sciences functioning in collaborative ways.

Several interesting and potentially useful approaches have emerged. Among these is the neurobiology of aggressive behaviour that gives insight into how cells, circuits, and chemistry mediate such activity. Related to this is research into the biomedical aspects of individual violence. Research into child abuse and its effects on subsequent development also has relevance in understanding aggression, as do other factors influencing pro-social and anti- social child and adolescent development.

Behavioural scientists do experimental research on simulated conflicts, including negotiations not only in simulated circumstances, but in real-life situations as well. The Cold War stimulated systematic inquiry into the origin and resolution of past conflicts and ongoing efforts in relation to contemporary ones, including the study of intergroup and international institutions and processes pertinent to large-scale conflict. All of this facilitates research specifically focusing on war and peace including ways to diminish the likelihood of nuclear war by arms control, crisis prevention, reducing the risk of accidental or inadvertent nuclear confrontation, and improvement of relations among the nuclear nations.

The scientific community has contributed much to coping with the nuclear danger. During the decades of the Cold War this community sought ways to reduce the number of weapons greatly, and especially their capacity for a first strike; to decrease the chance of accidental or inadvertent nuclear war; to find safeguards against unauthorized launch and against serious miscalculation; and to improve the relations between the superpowers, partly through international cooperative efforts in key fields bearing on the health and safety of humanity.

A prominent example of international scientific cooperation during the Cold War was the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, recognized in 1995 by the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the world of the twenty-first century, it is crucial to understand incentives for cooperation, obstacles to cooperation, factors that favour cooperation, and strategies that tend to make cooperation useful and effective. Such cooperative agreements in security matters are the means to a variety of peaceful ends, but centrally involve reducing the risk of catastrophic war.

To some extent, the scientific community can provide a model for human relations that might transcend some of the biases and dogmas that have torn the species apart throughout history, and have recently become much more dangerous than ever before. Science can contribute to a better future by its ideals and its processes, as well as by the specific content of its research, and all these must be brought to bear on the problem of human conflict.

From People Building Peace 2. Eds Paul van Tongeren et al. Lynne Rienner. 2005.

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