The observation point at Sugarloaf Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro. (Grigoriy Sisoev/Sputnik via AP)

Aspirations for peace tend to be depicted negatively, as the absence of conflict. In many societies, peace is experienced as the order that follows the end of war, often called negative peace. Seen through this prism, peace is rarely studied independently or measured directly without the long shadow of its ubiquitous companion, conflict. It also leaves little space for peace to be pursued as a national meta-policy—as in Costa Rica with its national vision for peace, or Ethiopia with its newly-established Ministry for Peace.

It is important to acknowledge that negative peace, and the conflict resolution approaches associated with it, are critical when violence is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. While negative peace is reversible, it can endure, often with the help of an external third party such as a peacekeeping operation. However, if positive, self-sustainable peace is the desired outcome, there is a need for a more nuanced understanding that taps into the human potential for peace, rather than the overstated potential for war that continues to inform the ways we conceive of peace and security. Read more