The Peace Island Concept

by Douglas Yates, Ph.D.

Posted on August 5th, 2010

Every summer I teach in an experimental program at Jeju National University in South Korea designed to promote a pacifist philosophy known (in its English translation) as the “peace island” concept. The peace island concept is based on the idea that islanders have inherently peaceful traditions and customs of solving problems through dialogue and negotiation that are useful to larger, more warlike neighbors on the mainland.

What is Culture of Peace?

In 1999 the United Nations General Assembly defined the culture of peace as the "values, attitudes and behaviors that reflect and inspire social interaction and sharing based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, all human rights, tolerance and solidarity, that reject violence and endeavor to prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation and that guarantee the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the development process of their society" (UN Resolution A/RES/52/13).  Yes, I know. That really could be written more clearly.  But it’s the official definition. To make sense out of its byzantine phraseology a little history of peace studies may be useful.

“Since war begins in the minds of men,” declared UNESCO’s constitution in 1945, “it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed.”  This requires a long process of education for the transformation of consciousness.   During the Cold War peace and conflict studies emerged in the academic world, inspired by the works of men like Johan Galtung, a Norwegian mathematician and sociologist who developed the idea that peace may be more than just the absence of overt violent conflict (or “negative peace”) but also includes a range of relationships where nations and other groups involved in conflict have collaborative and supportive relationships (which he called “positive peace”).

By the 1990s peace and conflict studies courses shifted their focus from international conflict and towards complex issues related to political violence, human security, democratization, human rights, social justice, welfare, development, and producing sustainable forms of peace, so that when UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan launched the International Year of Culture and Peace in 2000, he recognized Galtung’s thinking by declaring: “True peace is far more than the absence of war. For there to be peace among nations, there must also be peace within them, along groups and individuals.”

Invoking a notion of a culture of peace as a positive set of values, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura declared the same year: “Peace cannot be guaranteed exclusively by political, economic or military agreements.  In the final analysis it depends on the unanimous, sincere and sustained engagement of peoples.  Each one of us, no matter what our age, sex, social position, religious affiliation or cultural origin is called upon to create a peaceful world.  Peace can only be achieved through our behavior, attitudes and everyday acts.  The culture of peace is the universal culture that is shared by all peoples.”  This intention was manifested in the program of action designed by the delegates designed to bring about a culture of peace. (UN Resolution A/RES/53/243)


  • to foster a culture of peace through education

  • to promote sustainable economic and social development

  • to promote respect for all human rights

  • to ensure equality between women and men

  • to foster democratic participation

  • to advance understanding, tolerance and solidarity

  • to support participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge

  • to promote international peace and security.

The concept of the culture of peace is not only concerned with war and violence but especially with their origins.  Many individuals, groups, organizations and institutions around the world have been inspired to help promote this new concept.  They are working to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, promote sustainable economic development and the respect of human sights, encourage freedom of expression and democratic participation, help protect the environment, facilitate access to education, and improve women’s status.

What Does This Have to Do With War and Peace?

In order to promote meaningful and lasting change in the world, it is essential to change societal norms, particularly those norms from the dominant “culture of violence,” to change political structures which emanate from that culture of violence, and finally, to change the international environment.

For example, one of the social norms perpetuating warlike behavior is the idea that conflicts should be settled by superior force.  This is a norm which aims as resolving disputes by creating winners and losers.  But in the culture of peace a different norm is promoted whereby conflicts should be resolved by dialogue, negotiations and non-violent cooperation for common goals.  In the culture of violence domination is valued more than nurturance, and this norm is based upon and perpetuates male domination.  But in the culture of peace women’s voices are considered to be as important as those of men, and the nurturance of children is valued more than domination.  In the culture of violence social cohesion is based on images of an enemy, whereas in the culture of peace social cohesion is based on tolerance, solidarity, and mutual obligations.

Now, that may all sound very nice and good.  But how can we change societal norms?  To accomplish this, says UNESCO, the international community needs to promote quality education for all as a central vehicle for preparing the instilling the skills and attitudes necessary to defuse and recognize potential conflicts and to actively promote a culture of peace and non-violence.  The main tool for changing social norms is education.  For example, educators need to teach children about respecting and understanding diverse faiths, religions and ethnical beliefs.  By helping young people do develop ethnical decision-making skills and nurture a sense of belonging and community, educators can forge attitudes conducive to building peace through teaching tolerance and mutual understanding.  Through education people can also be introduced to rights-based approaches to gender equality. There is a need to strengthen efforts to remove hate messages, distortions, prejudice and negative bias from textbooks and other educational media and to ensure basic knowledge and understanding of the world’s main culture, civilizations and regions.

In order to effectuate societal change, it is necessary to alter sociopolitical structures from the authoritarian hierarchical society to democratic participation with a civic society that enables free advocacy for the pursuit of human needs.  Also, the culture of violence seeks to control the flow of information through secrecy and propaganda, while the culture of peace advocates open communication with transparency, accountability, and pure journalism through: (1) training journalists and media professionals in non-partisan and independent reporting techniques in conflict areas; (2) supporting the establishment of the necessary conditions for independent media by providing expertise to national authorities seeking to adapt their media legislation to internationally recognized standards of freedom of expression, peace and tolerance; and (3) assisting the media in covering elections. There is a need to expand access to information and communication technologies to bring the benefits of all levels and means of education to girls and women, the excluded, the poor, the marginalized and those with special needs in a lifelong perspective.  In the culture of violence minorities are excluded from political decision making, whereas the culture of peace assures human rights and inclusion of all groups in the political process.  Recognizing that promoting human rights is fundamental to building a culture of peace, it is necessary to make the standards and principles of international human rights law known and understood as widely as possible.

Finally there is a necessity to implement change in governmental policies that help establish a new global environment which is characterized by international security rather than competition for armed superiority, and which promote sustainable and equitable development rather than the exploitation of people and resources.   This is exemplified by the UN General Assembly’s establishment of International Peace Day to be observed each September 21st, “as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day” (UN Resolution A/55/282).

As this whole line of Galtung-type reasoning suggests, there is a need to tackle the root causes of violence.  The emblematic UN policy to create world peace, according to this model, was the UN Millennium Declaration (UN Resolution A/55/L. 2) passed in September 2000.  This resolution, usually remembered for its provisions for increased development assistance, really had peace as its goal: “We are determined to establish a just and lasting peace all over the world … through the promotion of certain fundamental values” which are freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility (Art I, sec. 1)  In order to translate these shared values into actions, the resolution identified peace, security and disarmament as the key objectives. The Millennium Declaration resolved to ensure compliance with decisions of the International Court of Justice, provide the UN with resources needed for conflict prevention, peacekeeping, post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction.  But it also resolved to create a global system “conducive to development and the elimination of poverty.” (Art. III, sec. 12)  It is now largely forgotten that it was to create world peace that the UN has resolved “to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day” (Art. III, sec. 19).

This editorial expresses the opinion of the author. It does not reflect the opinion of the American Graduate School in Paris.

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