Image of soldier holding a gun
Ordinary people’s views on war and peace. Photo ©

SutoriMedia licensed under CC0 1.0 and adapted from the original

September 2018

As violent conflict continues to afflict many parts of the world, the British Council marks the International Day of Peace by launching new research on global attitudes to conflict, which throws up some surprising results.

‘Positive Peace’

New research from the British Council and International Alert reveals the extent to which people view political and economic inclusion and better education to be fundamental to reducing the drivers of violent conflict.

The rise in political instability and violence in recent years has prompted policymakers to look for new, long-term solutions to today’s security challenges. The UN has launched its ‘Sustaining Peace’ agenda, which places new emphasis on efforts to prevent conflict and sustain peace, while the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16 has recognized the fundamental link between stability and inclusive development. 

Underlying these agendas is the principle of ‘positive peace’ – which refers not just to the absence of violent conflict (‘negative peace’), but the attitudes, institutions, and structures that enable societies to manage conflict peacefully. This requires a focus on peacebuilding, to rebuild trust and restore relationships that serve the needs of the whole population, thereby creating the necessary conditions to prevent violent conflict from reoccurring. 

One of the key implications of the ‘positive peace’ approach for international peace efforts is that achieving sustainable peace requires not just an understanding of the political positions of opposing elites, but also of what peace and conflict look like to society as a whole.

Achieving sustainable peace requires not just an understanding of the political positions of opposing elites, but also of what peace and conflict look like to society as a whole.

The Results

The Peace Perceptions Poll 2018, conducted by the British Council and International Alert, in partnership with global research agency RIWI, helps provide this insight. Launched to mark the UN International Day of Peace on September 21, it asked over 110,000 people in 15 countries in varying states of peace and conflict about their perceptions of peace and conflict .  It aims to provide information for political leaders and senior policy-makers aspiring to deal with the root causes of conflict, and to build people’s capacity to resolve disputes peacefully, as a critical approach to preventing and responding to violence.

The research found that terrorism and criminal violence are people’s top security concerns globally, and that there is strong public support for the peacebuilding approach to conflict prevention. The highest response to a question on the most effective way to create long-term peace was ‘dealing with the reasons why people fight in the first place’ (27%), followed by ‘supporting societies and communities to resolve conflict peacefully’ (26%).

Across the world, ‘lack of jobs and ability to provide for one’s family’ was seen as the main reason that would push people to violent action. This was followed by a ‘sense of injustice’ and a ‘need to improve one’s social status’. 

Political and economic inclusion was widely regarded as fundamental to peace and security – 83% of global respondents said having political influence was fundamental for peace and security, with 90% saying the same about access to economic opportunities. Where people felt they had less political influence, they predominantly blamed it on ‘corruption and bribery’ in politics. This was most strongly felt in South Africa, Ukraine and Nigeria.  Those who thought they had more political influence attributed it extensively to social media and technology, which ranked top, with 28% choosing it.   Interestingly, those who felt they had least access to economic opportunities lived in middle- to high-income countries, including Hungary, Ukraine, the UK, Lebanon, the US and South Africa.  

Young people across all countries saw ‘access to education’ as the factor which best represents a peaceful society, reflecting the important role that education has to play.

Young people across all countries saw ‘access to education’ as the factor which best represents a peaceful society, reflecting the important role that education has to play in providing young people the skills they need to integrate into the economy and support post-conflict reconstruction. Education also makes a valuable contribution to peacebuilding by teaching values that help build more peaceful societies, including peace, democracy, justice, tolerance, and freedom of expression. Asked where their governments should spend more to promote peace, respondents’ top response was ‘dealing with the reasons why people fight in the first place’, followed by ‘teaching peace, tolerance and conflict resolution in schools’. 

By shining a spotlight on the views of wider society, the Peace Perceptions Poll brings a valuable new dimension to the international policy debate. In an age dominated by civil conflicts rooted in poor governance and income inequality, understanding what peace and conflict means in practice to a wide cross section of society is essential to developing more effective solutions. 

Christine Wilson, Portfolio Lead, Research, British Council

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