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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

Peace and Security after the Cold War

By Kirthi Jayakumar

Gender focal point officers belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) attend a training session aimed at advancing gender equality, women, peace, and security in Somalia. on October 21, 2015. AMISOM Photo/ Omar Abdisalan

The words “peace” and “security” are often used together in common parlance, especially given that it is a regularly used term in documentation generated by the United Nations (Wæver, 2002) as well as news reports and academia. The terms are part of several international documents – arguably more only in conjunction than individually – that were drafted and adopted after the Second World War. As a result, treaties, conventions and policy documents that were drafted after the World War sought to avoid similar violent conflicts in the future. In articulating peace as a priority, the founding documents of the United Nations used the words “peace and security,” and tasked a whole organ – the Security Council – with the job of either maintaining or restoring “peace and security” (UN Charter, 1945).

However, the Cold War changed the narrative completely, even though the larger goal of avoiding violent conflict like the two World Wars was achieved, there was no peace in the world, either. As Raymond Aron put it, “peace impossible, war unlikely” best captures the world during the Cold War (Hassner 1997: 14). The state of peace had given way to hostility and proxy wars at a smaller scale, thus altering what the world knew to be the defined scope of war and peace. Instead of pursuing peace and an end to all violent conflict, states were pursuing security: through the arms race, through alliances, and through proxy wars on ground. In this process, the concepts of “peace” and “security” also came to be bound in an interesting relationship.

Understanding Peace and Security

The term “peace” as defined by Johan Galtung (1994, 1996), is more than the mere absence of violence. It refers to, as Galtung explained, a combination of both negative and positive peace (1964). Security, as defined by Williams (2012, 5), is “most commonly associated with the alleviation of threats to cherished values; especially those which, if left unchecked, threaten the survival of a particular referent object in the near future.”

In an oversimplified explanation, one could say that peace and security are related – except, as Galtung (1988, 61) says, “only disagreeing on some basic points right at the beginning.” There is no denying that peace and security overlap, given that a threat to one disturbs the other. Ole Wæver (2002, 54) alludes to the fact that scholars consider the use of the phrase “international peace and security” as “typical UN pleonasm,” but proceeds to suggest that such a usage may not entirely be false – especially considering the nuanced interactions between the two. With the end of the Cold War, one of the most significant shifts in the concept of security was the dismantling of the original referent object. The state was no longer the referent object, as individuals took center-stage, and in places, the state became the threat, too. This is not to mean that traditional security issues no longer exist, but rather that the more pressing security issues have emerged within states (Flynn and Farrell, 1999) – either through instability, violent conflict, or the oppression and suppression of specific groups of people.

An intersectional idea of security to build a bigger picture of peace

In the aftermath of the Cold War, security came to be understood through an individualistic lens, with the birth of the concept of “Human Security.” The term was used in a report by the United Nations Development Program in 1994, and expanded the concept beyond the traditional understanding of security that related to the state as the referent object. Human security, per the report, has “two main aspects” which include “safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease, and repression” and “protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life” (UNDP, 1994: 23). Peace has also evolved from negative to positive (Galtung, 1969) – in that there is no longer an aspiration to arrive at the mere threshold of “no war,” but to go beyond and to create means for human advancement. Put together, the larger goal of human security ties in with the goal of positive peace – which in turn has resulted in an intersectional idea of both, peace and security.

Filling the gap between negative and positive peace

One of the common elements across countries during the Cold War was the priority to avoid war at all costs. The US and the USSR remained hostile with each other during this pursuit, and other nations chose to align or remain non-aligned – but all with the key priority of averting inter-country war. Consequently, as Jahn et al. (1987, 39) explained, “security came to take the place of peace in the traditional sense of war prevention” and eventually “settled in between negative and positive peace” (1987, 43). This trend continued in some of the world’s conflict zones following the Cold War.

Peace in general, refers to, as Galtung (1969) explained, a combination of both negative and positive peace (Galtung, 1964). While it is not entirely wrong to believe that positive peace is not a realistic idea, it is agreeable that the goal is to arrive to as close to a state of positive peace as is possible. The journey from negative to positive peace takes place through the way in which security operates. If the emphasis remains on the traditional notion of security, then, the outcome is negative peace. On the other hand, if the emphasis shifts to a more modern idea of security that accommodates both state and human security, the outcome is positive peace.

Prioritizing military security over human security: The sacrifice of justice and a fractured peace

Among the many dimensions of human security, social justice, human rights, and the rule of law are priorities (Annan, 2001). In security rhetoric, the “most vulnerable individuals who need protection from violent conflict” are a priority (McIntosh and Hunter, 2010: 4). According to the World Report on Violence and Health (World Health Organization, 2002), a criminal justice approach is vital to protecting human security – where the approach goes beyond the mere presence and enforcement of laws punishing acts of violence. The report indicates that it is essential to prosecute violence with the larger aim of security in place – where the deployment of punishments would not only lead to social protection from the immediate perpetrator, but also a deterrent effect that would prevent others from taking to violence (World Health Organization, 2002).

States tend to focus on military security, as opposed to human security. Defined thus, security then becomes centered on managing threats through actions that are representative of a partial commitment to “punish unless the demands are met” (Baldwin, 1997: 15). It contradicts positive peace as an idea aspiring to dismantle structural and direct violence (Pontara, 1978). It is important to recognize, as Tavares (2008, 109) noted, the threat in itself is an “expression” of the intention to harm, while violence is the “observable materialization of that threat.”

When states avoid justice altogether, it produces a state of near-constant trauma. Johnson (1999) indicated that trauma creates a basis for the continued pursuit of aggression because it keeps aggregating the existing differences on ground, and maintains the divisiveness among belligerent groups.

The future of the relationship between peace and security

With the end of the Cold War, violent conflict became regional and / or intra-state conflict (Harbom and Wallensteen, 2007). As Tavares (2008) explains, it is essential to understand the broader regional context and the prevailing conflicts of a region before attempting to understand the individual security dynamics of a single country. It is patently clear that any approach to attaining peace and through a strategy of security will involve regional collaboration and action.

Articles 52 and 53 of the UN Charter emphasize that regional organizations are empowered to “manage peace and security” in region where there are threats to peace and security, through “pacific settlement and enforcement of peace.” The future of the relationship between peace and security lies in an approach involving regional collaboration and strategizing. Peace and security must work in conjunction in terms of the strategies pursued and implemented. A heavy emphasis on military security with scant regard for human security is detrimental to peace. Carefully structured approaches toward human security in a bottom-up fashion with appropriate policies aiming at achieving the common vision of a future of peace need to come together to address violent conflict and threats to peace.


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