The Hopeful Alternative - A Global Peace System

By Patrick T. Hiller (republished from “Seeing Systems” by Northwest Earth Institute)

Let’s face it. We screwed up. Humans screwed up. We are facing a planetary crisis which we created in a fragment of the earth’s existence. Most of us are living and promoting lifestyles that are incompatible with sustainable life on earth for all living beings, we have built social systems where the status quo accepts social injustices, and, to top it off, we have invented the horrendous institution of war. Yes, we invented it. War is not part of human nature, nor is it inevitable.

It’s an old story, but it’s no longer the only story. Another is in the making, although most educators, the media, and even presidents don’t know about it. It is a story told by historian Kent D. Shifferd, who, in his book From War to Peace refuses to submit to the narrative of inevitable war and its consequences for humans and the environment. On the contrary, he demonstrates that a real, active, alternative paradigm is emerging, where issues of peace, justice and sustainability are strongly interconnected — the Global Peace System.

In contrast to the advocated and perceived military security offered by the prevailing international system, the peace system provides greater justice, economic well-being and ecological security. The Global Peace System is not a static end-product of a peaceful world, but a dynamic, imperfect process of human evolution which leads to an increasingly nonviolent world with more equality.

Large shifts have taken place in terms of global collaboration, constructive conflict resolution and social change. Numerous, undeniably demonstrable trends leading us toward the evolution of a Global Peace System are already evident.


The concept of the Global Peace System is grounded in the “recognition of some very real, revolutionary historic trends that began in the early nineteenth century with the appearance of the world’s first peace societies and then in the twentieth century with the development of international institutions aimed at controlling war, the evolution of nonviolence as a real-world power shifter, the rise of global civil society, the growing permeability of the old national boundaries, and a number of other trends.”1 Initially Shifferd considered 23 trends; currently the Global Peace System is made up of 28 trends in the major areas of global collaboration, constructive conflict transformation and social change.2


The world has gotten smaller — certainly not a surprising statement, and one which commonly accompanies the catch-all term “globalization.” For many of us, globalization means the merging of global markets and trade driven by transnational corporations or supra-national trade bodies, as well as instantaneous communication through the internet. This neoliberal scenario has created both proponents and opponents. The smaller, globalized world, however, offers far more.

Looking at global collaboration we might think of the United Nations which was founded — just like the League of Nations before — as an entity whose goal to prevent war by negotiation, sanctions, and collective security was revolutionary in the long history of warfare. We can also look at how individuals like Jody Williams harnessed the power of global citizen-diplomacy to help the international community agree on the global ban on land-mines. There are also stories of unarmed civilian peacekeeping in conflict zones such as that of the Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan, which is not only nonviolently standing between conflicting parties, but taking part in dialogue processes to reconstruct the social fabric.

Global collaboration also allowed Puhuy, a Pataxo Indian and one of the leaders of the International Indigenous Commission, to share his voice at the 1992 Rio Summit which ultimately led to a dramatic directional shift toward the elimination of toxins in production technologies, the development of alternative energy and public transportation, reforestation, and a new realization of the scarcity of water. Rotary International, one of thousands of international non-government organizations — albeit a very large one — is a global collaboration whose members aim to advance international understanding, goodwill, and peace.


As expressed by many win-lose metaphors, “conflict” is warlike and violent, explosive, a struggle, an act of nature, a communication breakdown and more. At the same time, there are positive metaphors that now portray conflict as an opportunity, a bargaining table, a dance, as making a quilt and much more. It is in our own power to view conflict in a negative, a neutral or a more positive light. What we do know, however, is that there now are many forms of constructive conflict transformation which do not contain violence and which lead to more sustainable and positive outcomes for all.

Individuals like Father Daniel Berrigan, whose commitment to organized peace activism not only led to countless arrests and prison sentences for civil disobedience, but whose actions also contributed to the process of nuclear disarmament, have demonstrated how pro-active nonviolence is not only a preferable but also a more powerful force for transforming conflict. Nonviolence has even been scientifically proven to be a more effective form of dealing with social conflict in many different contexts. Conflict transformation is also illustrated by the story of UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, who created common ground between unyielding and uncommunicative negotiators from Iraq and Iran during the First Persian Gulf War over a “confidential” breakfast. These practices and theories have created and informed the field of peace and conflict studies which is now found in hundreds of colleges, universities and schools providing peace education courses, as minors, majors and graduate level degrees.


How do we find a way to understand, accept or bring about social change, if all societies and cultures are so fluid and ever-changing? We can start by looking at those kinds of changes that go against long-held practices and beliefs which often were originally considered unchangeable. Take slavery, for an example. This human-invented practice was used worldwide, deeply embedded in economies and even sanctioned by religious scriptures. Nowadays slavery is outlawed globally and those who engage in any form of this practice are considered savage and usually operate within the realm of illegality. The abolition of slavery was certainly one of the historically more significant changes; however, not all changes are so drastic. We should look at the many subtle and less subtle developments that have been directly contributing to the evolution of the Global Peace System.

Just look at the institution of war itself. Once considered necessary for the health and security of a nation and glamorized by the heroic sacrifices of its soldiers, we now bear eyewitness to the stories of the so-called “Winter Soldiers” — veterans from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq who debunk the myth of war as a glorious and noble enterprise. In fact, these stories and the increasing public awareness that US warfare, in particular, is a corporate-driven endeavor hollowing out national economies, shows that Neo-imperialism may be in its final stage. Nations that try to police the world eventually go bankrupt. Regions of long-term peace, like the European Union, North America and Scandinavia, have shown us that peace can actually be self-perpetuating.

In addition, human consciousness has evolved to a higher level as evidenced by many political and social movements aimed toward defending women’s rights, elimination of racial segregation, and the humane treatment of prisoners, to name just a few. We also no longer consider capital punishment as an acceptable crime-fighting and prevention strategy. Worldwide only 58 countries maintain capital punishment, 95 have outlawed it, and 35 maintain it but have not carried out an execution for at least ten years. It is generally considered immoral punishment and is no longer accepted in many parts of the world.

Once confined to the fringes of consumerist societies, the modern environmental movement is not only a necessary, but an increasingly popular response to our planetary crisis. is a prime example of an inspiring, energetic movement allowing millions of people to connect worldwide and solve the climate crisis through public actions and online campaigns. The latter, along with other modern communication technologies which have been evolving faster than most users can keep up with, have increased transparency of government and corporate actions. These new forms of communication are force multipliers for the work of peace, justice and environmental protection.


We see that the Global Peace System is not only an abstract, wishful concept, but a reality exemplified by numerous global trends. These trends demonstrate that there is an alternative story in the making. While they do not achieve peace as a perfect end-product, these trends are dynamic processes creating a more just and peaceful world. They show us that different societies and humanity as a whole are experimenting with alternatives to war and violence. Peace, like war, is a reality in the lives of humans. Key components in this transformational process from war to peace involve recognizing the reality of the trends, teaching them and understanding the Global Peace System concept as a whole. Finally, we need to embrace the reality of a Global Peace System not as a signal for complacency, but as a call to action to participate in the creation of the new paradigm of a world without war, allowing us to shift our attention and resources fully toward issues of justice and sustainability.

This article is republished from “Seeing Systems” by Northwest Earth Institute - to learn more, click here.

Patrick T. Hiller is the Director of the War Prevention Initiative by the Jubitz Family Foundation and adjunct faculty at the Conflict Resolution Program at Portland State University. His writings and research are almost exclusively related to the analysis of war and peace and social injustice and, most often in the form of structural violence and power dynamics with an emphasis on human dignity, solidarity among all peoples, equal participation of all peoples, the role of the governments and the promotion of peace.

Figure 1:

Global Peace System. While all are connected as part of the evolving system, each trend is significant in itself. Several might seem familiar and obvious, yet they are rarely looked at in terms of an evolving system of global peace. We can see them in stories, many stories.

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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 19: Special Edition - The International Day of Peace