Annual Conference of the Federation of German Scientists

Between Destabilization and Pluralization: Peace amidst Global Power Shifts

Arnoldshain – 6–8 December 2013

What is the state of world peace and what are its prospects at a time of shifting global power? This was the ambitious question which the Centre helped to explore in a conference devised by Professor Lothar Brock, Senior Expert Fellow at the Centre, and held jointly with the Federation of German Scientists (Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler), the Protestant Academy Frankfurt (Evangelische Akademie Frankfurt), and the German Foundation for Peace Research (Deutsche Stiftung Friedensforschung). Entitled ‘Between Destabilization and Pluralization: Peace amidst Global Power Shifts’, the conference, held at the Martin Niemöller House in Arnoldshain from 6 to 8 December 2013, brought together expert scholars and practitioners from the field of peace politics.

The conference took as its point of departure the positive outlook of the 1990s in regard to the possibility of civilizing world politics and the fact that, as we enter the twenty-first century, renewed shifts in the international balance of power are putting these kinds of Western-liberal models of world order and global cooperation under increasing pressure.

The first session opened with a critical assessment of the European Union as a peace order. One recurring theme throughout the conference was the role of civil society and its failure to fulfil scholarly expectations that it would become the driving force of a more civilized, democratized world-polity during the 1990s—not just in the European context, but within an emerging global public sphere.

The tension between certain recurrent geopolitical trends and the growth in strength of global governance became apparent in a number of the sessions, a case in point being the stark contrast between the notion of a re-militarization of world politics and the normative development of international law. The discussions pointed to the continuing expansion of US drone warfare as a warning of the emergence of increasingly repressive elements in contemporary world politics. Assessing the post-Cold War peace-dividend, participants from the fields of peace and conflict research and international law explored topics such as international norms against war, norms regarding the protection of civilians during conflict (‘responsibility to protect’), the International Criminal Court and its African critics, and non-violent approaches to conflict-management. One area of tension that made itself felt across the board was the contrary pull between peace and justice.

Against the backdrop of growing criticism of Western approaches to world politics, and the impact this is having on cosmopolitan endeavours, participants considered various examples of cooperative infrastructure aimed at promoting peace. Entities such as the United Nations, regional orders, subnational initiatives, and church-based peace and development networks were assessed in terms of their capacity to address urgent global challenges.

Despite the many competing and contradictory trends in world politics documented by participants, the conference closed on a positive note. Peace-based infrastructure at a variety of levels was noted to be displaying a growing resilience and it was felt that, although still rudimentary and imperfect, such infrastructure could help obviate conflict—not only amongst major powers but also within world society.

Venue: Martin Niemöller House, Arnoldshain