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Paris, November 2007

What is a Just Peace

While an old doctrine of Just War exists, surprisingly little conceptual thinking has gone into what constitutes a Just Peace. This book presents various viewpoints on this question.

Keywords: Development of methods and resources for peace | | |

Ref.: P. Allan, A. Keller, Oxford University Press, 2007

Languages: English

Document type:  Book

While an old doctrine of Just War exists, surprisingly little conceptual thinking has gone into what constitutes a Just Peace. This book presents various, and at times conflicting, viewpoints on this question of Just Peace from perspectives originating in political science, history, international law, political philosophy, cultural studies, and theology, as well as from a policy perspective. The book challenges a liberal perception of peace founded on norms claiming universal scope, and instead looks to negotiation for arriving at shared views that help build a consensus on what justice might mean in specific circumstances. Although some contributors explicitly outline and advocate specific cases for ‘justifiable violence’, it is made clear that alternative and non-violent ways to peace need to be contemplated, and conceptualized. Even though the path through justice is a demanding one, its accomplishment opens the way to a durable settlement accepted by the parties initially engaged in conflict. Clearly, the more ambitious goal of peace with justice can lead to smaller chances for success. It may even derail the whole enterprise and keep the flames of violent conflict alive through the search for ‘justice’, particularly because this concept is not necessarily the same for all concerned parties. Ultimately, an inter-subjective consensus needs to be built through negotiation with both parties to a conflict so that the concepts of shared history, and an often inextricable future, can be reached with a mutual understanding. In this collective process, it is more likely that a stable foundation can be created through recognition, renouncement, and rule, and thus a Just Peace can be achieved.


War has always been a problem that has plagued our existence, and begged for civility and restriction in its use. The idea behind engaging in war has often been based on assuring a place for peace in the not so distant future, whether the motivation was normative, as within the Just War Doctrine, or simply the hope that victory would lead to the end of organized violence. A group of scholars, intellectuals, and practitioners has been brought together in this volume to posit an alternative route, through justice, to what has thus far been elusive for humankind: a durable peace among and between peoples.

Why has peace been often unjust, and why has justice been more belligerent than peaceful? Frequently, peace or armistice has served only to put a temporary end to violence, and has left some or all sides feeling dissatisfied. Peace has also been an imposition on the part of the victors of conflict to the end of some notion of order, thus leaving the affected common people to draw their own conclusions without ever being consulted. It is for this reason that justice is often more properly envisioned as the image of a fighter with his sword rather than a balancing scale. In this chapter, Hoffman explores the complexity of how peace and justice might be wedded in international relations, and gives the reader sound starting points for thinking about this conceptual approach.

Allan and Keller posit that Just Peace should be defined as a process resting on four necessary and sufficient conditions: thin recognition whereby the other is accepted as autonomous; thick recognition whereby identities need to be accounted for; renouncement, requiring significant sacrifices from all parties; and rule, the objectification of a Just Peace by a ‘text’ requiring a common language respecting the identities of each, and defining their rights and duties. This approach, based on a language-oriented process amongst directly concerned parties, goes beyond liberal and culturalist perspectives. By moving beyond the idea of a peace founded on norms claiming universal scope, each side of a conflict has a place at the negotiating table to present their own perspective on what justice might entail. This inclusion into the decision-making process helps create the feeling of personal investment in the final negotiated product. In addition, negotiators need to work towards building a novel shared reality as well as a new common language to help foster an enduring harmony between previously clashing peoples.