Australian attitudes to peace and war

Defence War Public opinion Australia

Two recent research publications, the International Handbook on Peace and Reconciliation, and the International Handbook on War, Torture and Terrorism, published by Springer, have provided extensive information on the important issue of Australian attitudes to peace and war. The above two publications follow on from an earlier four-volume work, State Violence and the Right to Peace, published by Praeger, which also examines attitudes to peace and war. All of the above works have been published as part of the GIPGAP research project, the first-ever global survey of the attitudes of ordinary citizens to issues of peace and war.

GIPGAP, or Group on International Perspectives on Governmental Aggression and Peace, is an international consortium of scholars from a range of disciplines who have been working over the past five years on the project, under overall co-ordination from Boston University.  The survey has extended to every continent on the globe, with Australia being one of those countries participating in the survey. What sets this research project apart from others is that there is no shortage of expert opinion on issues of peace and war – but this research project seeks to analyse the views of ordinary citizens, for better or worse.

It is difficult to overstate the complexity of views on peace and war, and especially so when we look at Australia.  Australians generally like to project a peace-like image, in that we like to think of ourselves as relaxed, friendly, egalitarian, and outgoing. Yet the historical reality is that Australians have been very ready to become involved in military conflicts, in instances where the conflicts have very little to do with us. Moreover, the underlying reality is that our country was founded upon conquest and settlement, and indeed much of our national identity (ANZAC) centres upon the remembrance of war.

It is interesting from an Australian perspective to see how the research results have been organized.  The earlier work, State Violence and the Right to Peace, was organized on a geographical basis, and thus the analysis of the survey results for Australia is located within the volume dealing with Asia. However in the more recent International Handbooks, a more geo-political approach has been taken, with the results for Australia analysed in concert with other Anglosphere countries, such as the UK, USA and Canada.

Clearly an understanding of the results would require a detailed reading of the relevant chapters in the above publications. However it is possible to comment upon three overall trends in the results:

Firstly, I would suggest respondents from Australia indicated a wide understanding of the nature of peace. For centuries, it has been recognized that peace involves more than the mere absence of violence. Social justice is an important element within peace. What was surprising was the number of respondents who recognized this element within the nature of peace. This is not cause for self-congratulation, but it is cause for hope.

Secondly, I would suggest respondents indicated a strong desire for peace, a strong desire for a public commitment to peace, and a marked unease with the extent to which Australia has been seemingly so eager to enter into armed conflict. What is evident from this is that within Australia there seems to be a large degree of democratic deficit at play – in that our political leaders in Australia and indeed in other Anglosphere countries either are not aware of this sentiment and/or do not reflect this sentiment in policy decisions.

Thirdly, I would suggest that the results indicate that within Australia, and indeed within other Anglosphere countries, there is a need for a strong policy commitment to peace education, and for education for a culture of peace. It is true that most respondents indicated a strong desire for peace, although respondents were still ill-informed on the achievability and practicalities of peace, the dynamics of disarmament, the extent to which Australia is mandated to support peace and a culture of peace, and the need for global governance.

In a sense, with the advent of globalization, all of the material in the six volumes published through the GIPGAP project is of relevance to Australia. As global citizens, we are all inter-related. I suspect that the most useful chapters may be those which give a theoretical overview of issues such as peace, war, terrorism, reconciliation, and the right to peace. However the eight chapters dealing specifically with Australia will be of special interest to readers.  Publications details are listed below.

Malley-Morrison, K., Mercurio, A., and Twose, G. (Eds.) (2013) International Handbook of Peace and Reconciliation. New York: Springer.

Malley-Morrison, K., McCarthy, S., Hines, D. (Eds.) (2013) International Handbook of War, Torture and Terrorism. New York: Springer.   

Malley-Morrison, K. (Ed.) State Violence and the Right to Peace. Santa Barbara: Praeger Security International.

Dr James Page is Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of New England, and Australian co-ordinator for the GIPGAP research project

Publication Details