The world is changing. The Covid pandemic, the US-China rivalry, Brexit and the rise of populism in world politics have all signified that we are in a period of profound transition in international politics. Many scholars and practitioners have warned that the United States and China could fall into the “Thucydides trap”—opening up the possibility of military conflict between the most powerful state and a rapidly rising power in the international system. Others argue that change will be even more fundamental and that the current order will give way to an unprecedented era of disorder, conflict and chaos. How to understand “change” as well as the possibilities for “peaceful change”, historically, theoretically, and empirically is an imperative task for scholars and policy makers in the decades to come.
Change is a challenging and enduring topic in the international relations (IR) discipline. So is peace. In fact, the discipline of IR as we see today originated in the inter-War debates on peaceful change in Europe and the later Post-War theoretical and policy challenges especially by American realist scholars. The peaceful end of the Cold War galvanized the interest in the theme, especially by constructivists and critical theorists. Today there is a major push in IR to make the discipline truly global, drawing lessons from different countries, civilizations, and gender and racial groups, a move that has major implications for diversity in IR. Reforming global governance institutions peacefully is part of this discourse. Peaceful change has been a major theme in the foreign policies of many countries, e.g. Gorbachev’s USSR, Deng and his immediate successors’ China, Nehru’s India, and Europe’s Helsinki process. Many states especially small and middle powers in all regions of the world adhere to the notion of ‘peaceful co-existence.’ For instance, South Africa and Brazil have consciously highlighted the peaceful change aspects of their foreign policies. Small states in Europe and elsewhere pride themselves as promoters of peaceful change. Yet, we do not have a dedicated scholarly program or a publication venue to analyze these themes that have major implications for human survival on the planet.
GRENPEC (The Global Research Network on Peaceful Change) is a newly established research network organized by a group of leading scholars and prominent institutions worldwide, focusing on the study of peaceful change at the international, regional, and domestic levels. We conceive the notion of peaceful change varying along a continuum from minimalist conceptions stressing international change and transformation without the use of military force and war, to maximalist ideas that entail not only the absence of war, but also the achievement of sustained non-violent cooperation for creating a more just world order.
The goal of the network is to encourage scholars to engage these two challenging topics together, especially the causes, sources, mechanisms and consequences of peaceful change at the international, regional, and domestic levels. As an emerging and promising research program, the study of “peaceful change” has generated substantial academic and policy interests among IR scholars and practitioners. This is especially pertinent as we are in the throes of a new round of systemic conflict involving rising China and established powers, such as the US, as well as non-traditional security challenges such as the Covid-19 and climate change induced disasters.
The rise of new centers of powers and pressures generated by globalization have brought forth the need to understand peaceful change an urgent necessity. Nations spend tremendous energy and resources on military security through the acquisition and use of arms. The attention devoted to security through peaceful means and peaceful change is minimal. For instance, we have limited understanding of the conditions under which a rising power like China be accommodated as a global power without war. We also have limited understanding of how and when regions transform into peaceful orders or the reverse happens. As scholars with an interest in peaceful change, we are making important research contributions, but most of our works remain in our specialized domains. This research network is a loosely organized group of scholars and institutions worldwide who are engaged in the study of peaceful change at the international and regional levels. It will make new initiatives and linkup existing projects so as to publicize them and bring them together in a platform freely accessible to all.
A special panel on the subject was held at the International Studies Association (ISA) conference in Toronto in March 2019 when the network was inaugurated. Some 25 scholars attended this inaugural meeting. Please see the list.
Two types of partnerships are possible: 1. Institutional; and 2. Individual scholars who work in this area. We will publicize new research projects that emerge from this network members jointly and individually.