UN Photo_Evan Schneider

Book Review: Give Peace a Chance

When we talk about giving something a chance, we usually mean giving it an opportunity. But chance can also refer to the probability or likelihood of something happening. In Give Peace a Chance, David A. Hamburg and Eric Hamburg—father and son—use both meanings. The book's title is taken from the famous John Lennon song, asking for an opportunity to use nonviolent means to resolve conflict. This book is not so much a plea to end ongoing conflicts but an analysis of how to prevent mass violence before it erupts. It thus offers an elaborate response to the question of what we can do to reduce the chances for violence and increase the chances for peace. This is done in the form of a personal and, at times, intimate conversation with David Hamburg, making the book compelling and easy to read for a nonexpert audience, while offering insights for seasoned conflict prevention and peacebuilding practitioners.

Hamburg is a distinguished scholar in the field of medicine. His work originally focused on stress research but evolved into the study of human aggression. This led him into the study of human evolution, for which he set up a research station in Tanzania with Jane Goodall to observe the behavior of chimpanzees. From this experience, Hamburg gained insights into group thinking and the causes of intergroup aggression. Since then, his work has been devoted to identifying tools and mechanisms to reduce the probabilities of outbreaks of mass violence. For fifteen years he led the Carnegie Corporation in New York, where he established and co-chaired with Cyrus Vance the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict.

The book takes us through what the authors see as the pillars of prevention: education, early warning, democracy, development, human rights, and arms control. The discussion of each one of these pillars involves entertaining personal anecdotes involving famous scientists, politicians, diplomats, and civil society leaders from all corners of the world. Of the six pillars, Hamburg especially emphasizes education: "There is a sense in which this whole book is about education," he says. Along with the need to educate children and the youth, he stresses the need to educate leaders, not only those active in politics but also those in other sectors of human societies, giving them the skills to understand the nature of conflict and minimize disputes. According to Hamburg, these educated leaders will be key to developing constituencies for preventing armed violence.

Hamburg sees the practice of conflict prevention as the process of identifying valued common goals and fostering collaboration among different actors to reach those goals. In that sense, the whole book appeals to the idea of not only strong multilateralism but also multiactor collaboration to achieve greater peace and security. A good example is Hamburg's own experience developing a program to foster exchanges among scientists from the United States and the Soviet Union, which evolved into a diplomatic initiative that helped ease tensions during the Cold War.

The need to develop mechanisms to overcome in-group bias and promote intergroup cooperation is a persistent theme. Issues such as health—a common value appreciated by all—can be used as an instrument to promote collaboration, enhance interaction, and build confidence among different groups. According to Hamburg, "a strong constituency for preventing deadly diseases has emerged. This has led to improved rates of immunization, better diet and exercise practices, reduced cigarette smoking, and in turn, to diminishing the casualties of a variety of diseases." He suggests we could use a similar approach to preventing armed conflict by addressing social vulnerabilities and risk factors that could lead to violence. This is an idea worth giving a chance to.

Published by Building Peace

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