Book review: Peacemakers – Building stability in a complex world by Peter Dixon

Reviewed by David Wong

book reviewWritten from a primarily Christian perspective, but also applying widely accepted international principles, “Peacemakers: Building stability in a complex world by Peter Dixon” explores the nature and causes of conflict and the options for intervention before going on to suggest how people can involve themselves in working towards peace, stability and reconciliation as third parties in 21st century violent conflict, particularly those of an intra-state nature.

With a previous career as a Royal Air Force pilot and a current mission of peacemaking and reconciliation through Concordis International in war-torn Africa, the author offers an insightful perspective on conflict and peacemaking. Combining an assortment of theories of international relations and first-hand experience in military service and peace-building, it is not another academic read that serves only to lengthen the reading lists of students and scholars of international relations. Instead, it offers both intellectually stimulating arguments and plain applicable wisdom that persuade scholars and practitioners alike.

The starting premise of the book is to help us develop a deeper, useful and more varied understanding of war and violent conflict. This falls very much within the tradition of war studies in the ilk of Quincy Wright and Karl Deutsch, the latter once writing, ‘War, to be abolished, must be understood. To be understood, it must be studied.’

What differentiates this book from others in the same genre is its fresh perspective. Although the nature and causes of the 21st century conflicts examined – which include ethnic, cultural, religious, ideological, resource and inequity elements – are no different from those already predicted by such scholars as Paul Kennedy, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye back in the early 1990s, or even Hedley Bull’s warning way back in 1977 of the rise of neo-medievalism, Dixon offers a Christian perspective from which one can analyse conflict and its justification and explore the effective ways in which third parties can engage in helping to bring peace and reconciliation to warring sides.

Some of these perspectives include the re-examination of the criteria or legitimacy for war based on the Just War tradition, Christian pacifism to war, and how Christians can use the Just War paradigm to weigh up a particular course of action. Dixon also seeks to answer the questions why we should work to bring peace and stability, and how we can or should get involved. It is in answering the latter question that he brings his own first-hand experience and insights on intervention in violent conflicts to bear. In revisiting several types of intervention – both military and non-military – he examines the pros and cons and the reasons for each, where initiatives fall short, and the factors leading to those failures. This is followed by an exploration of different forms of peacemaking, not least from a Christian perspective, and the implications of a more comprehensive meaning of peace, or shalom, in peacemaking.

Drawing from Concordis’s work in Africa, he spells out the need for a concerted peacemaking effort and lists the necessary steps towards building sustainable peace. In this regard, he introduces and discusses the concept of relational peace-building, with its ultimate aim of finding the ‘holy grail’ of reconciliation, the meaning and challenges of which Dixon expounds on with finesse and pragmatism from both the secular as well as Christian perspectives.

Echoing General Sir Richard Dannatt’s praise: ‘As a work of extraordinary relevance in today’s troubled and volatile times…’, I would suggest this is the book for such a time as this – a turbulent era in which people search relentlessly for peace only to find peace most elusive, primarily because few have understood the relational way towards sustainable peace.

David Wong is Senior Researcher at the Relationships Foundation and is currently completing a PhD at the Judge Business School, Cambridge. Prior to this, he was the Director of the Centre for Knowledge & Business Leadership at the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute, an independent research institute based in Kuala Lumpur.

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Category: News and Reviews

November, 2009

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