Table of Contents


William J. Burns

Andrew Carnegie turned his efforts to the cause of international peace at a critical historical juncture. At the beginning of the last century, the last great surge of the Industrial Revolution was transforming the global economy, bringing with it unprecedented ease in international trade, travel, and communication. There was a palpable sense of possibility about a more peaceful, interconnected future. Carnegie was far from alone in his belief that “the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization,” might finally lay within humanity’s grasp. To advance that aspiration, he endowed a series of institutions that inspired a global peace movement, and which remain vital voices today.

Beneath the surface, however, the foundations of the international order that prevailed in the nineteenth century had been cracking. The rise of new great powers challenged the geopolitical primacy of established players. The same technological advances that had been cause for such optimism were revolutionizing humanity’s capacity for conflict. By 1919, the year of Carnegie’s death, a catastrophic world war had left behind devastation of unimaginable scale, and his optimism was buried under the weight of violent great power competition and humanity’s failure of imagination.

A century later, we find ourselves at another rare inflection point, full of promise and peril. The wave of optimism that peaked at the end of the Cold War has receded, leaving foreboding currents in its wake. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed that history was moving inexorably in the direction of democracy and free markets—that we’d reached the “end of history” and could leave behind the dangers of great power conflict. The bipolar world seemed transformed by the emergence of a nascent Pax Americana. That moment of euphoria ultimately proved as fleeting as Andrew Carnegie’s hopes in the early days of the last century, with troubling undercurrents again foretelling a tsunami of disruption.

Indeed today, the world is more crowded, complicated, and competitive than ever before. Great power competition is back. The technological revolution is reshaping how we live, work, and fight. And the global economic and political center of gravity is shifting from West to East.

The pace of change is eclipsing responses at every level. The extraordinary peace and prosperity that the world has enjoyed for the last seventy years shows signs of erosion, as the dislocations of globalization become more acute and rising or resurgent powers chip away at the international order. All of these challenges are compounded by a profound erosion of faith between citizens and their leaders. Populism and authoritarianism are on the rise; democracy’s global march has slowed, and even reversed, as the prospect of cooperation framed by international law withers on the vine. Once again, trend lines seem to be heading toward massively destabilizing collisions.   

Advancing the cause of international peace in this new era, and against these headwinds, is a daunting task, and it’s one that demands the renewal of diplomacy—one of the world’s oldest, yet most misunderstood, professions. No country will be able to navigate difficult global currents on its own, or by force alone. That’s especially true for the United States, which is no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical block.

It’s sometimes fashionable to dismiss diplomacy in today’s world: nonstate actors wield increasing international influence; heads of state and senior officials can interact easily and directly; and diplomats and embassies have lost their traditional monopoly on access and information in foreign capitals. It can often seem that diplomats are like village watchmakers living in a smartwatch world. But if we’re going to rise to the challenge before us, it’s diplomacy that must be our tool of first resort.  

Diplomats are translators of the world to capitals, and of capitals to the world; they are early warning radars for troubles and opportunities, and builders and fixers of relations. All these tasks are as vital as ever. And all of them demand a nuanced grasp of history and culture, a hard-nosed facility in negotiations, and the capacity to translate national interests in ways that other governments can see as consistent with their own. These are the same core qualities that made for successful diplomats a century ago, and for centuries before.

Of course, to be effective, diplomacy needs to adapt and modernize. Timeless skills need to be brought to bear upon more timely priorities, and countries need to focus more on the issues that matter most in the twenty-first-century challenges like the technological revolution, or climate change. The pace of advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and synthetic biology will only increase in the years ahead, and already these developments are outstripping the ability of states to maximize their benefits, minimize their downsides, and create workable international rules of the road. Climate shifts threaten to upend societies around the globe and spark new conflicts over resources. Diplomacy must do more—with much more urgency—to grapple with these increasingly significant drivers of insecurity.

The world has finally become the “neighborhood in constant and instantaneous communication” that Carnegie envisioned just before the First World War, but it has not become the peaceful world that he imagined. Diplomacy will be a crucial tool in making progress toward that end, but it will only be effective if our societies can also grapple with the disconnects and dislocations that are driving the world toward crisis. In the United States, that requires bridging the gap between the U.S. public and a Washington, DC, foreign policy establishment that has been far too undisciplined in how it spends American blood and treasure. Around the world, it means working to soften the displacement and loss that has accompanied globalization, and working to harness its benefits to create more broad-based prosperity. It also means adjusting the international order of the past half-century to give new players and rising powers a seat at the table, and a stake in the preservation and renewal of its institutions.

Andrew Carnegie and President William Howard Taft, center, in front of the Pan American Union Building, Washington, DC, 1910. (Library of Congress)

It would be easy to look cynically at those tasks and view them as impossible hurdles—after all, we are a hundred years on, and have yet to eliminate that “foulest blot.” But while those hundred years witnessed unspeakable horrors, they also saw extraordinary progress for peace and the welfare of humankind. The peaceful end of the Cold War showed us that diplomacy and leadership still matter, and that human agency remains decisive. That agency will always have limits, and we will always be subject to powerful forces of history—but trend lines can bend, and even the strongest headwinds are not impossible to overcome.

The essays in this volume represent just such an effort. They tackle some of the toughest questions facing the world today, and make the case for a more peaceful world when the future of that project is once again uncertain. At a time when four out of five victims of violence in the world suffer from criminal or state-sponsored violence rather than from formal conflicts, it’s vital that we wrestle with issues of governance—and the social, economic, and political deficits that fuel instability and sow the seeds of alienation and extremism. At a time when cyber conflict threatens to upend traditional notions of war, it’s vital that we devise rules of the road that can capture technology’s promise and limit its risks. At a time when the bloom has fallen off the rose of international law and justice, we ought to keep alive—and demonstrate the promise—of norms and processes that can manage disputes and hold accountable those who commit abuses. And as we take stock of efforts to promote peace throughout the past century, it’s vital that we draw out the lessons of what we got right, and what we got wrong. In taking up questions like these, the scholars that have contributed to this volume have demonstrated the continued relevance—and growing importance—of Andrew Carnegie’s charge.  

Even idealists like Carnegie knew that peace and stability are not static phenomena. As the international landscape continues to shift, so too must our thinking and action. I remain hopeful about a day when, as Carnegie put it, “the poison of the past is exhausted.” And I am confident that the renewal of diplomacy will be essential to that journey. 

Crown Prince Harald and King Olav of Norway congratulate American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. after he receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. (Getty Images)


Thomas de Waal

The word “peace” has fallen out of use in today’s political discourse. Politicians are more likely to invoke the harder-edged notion of “security” to counter threats and deal with conflicts. The world’s top philanthropists prefer to invest their money in causes such as global health than in projects associated with peace. “Peace” is included in only one of the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals and only in the context of the ambition to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.”1

This does not need to be the case. Peace, even if understood only in negative terms—as constituting an absence of conflict—is a key determinant in curing or preventing all the threats and challenges set out in those goals, from chronic diseases to child poverty to environmental degradation. The World Bank estimates that “conflicts . . . drive 80 percent of all humanitarian needs and reduce gross domestic product (GDP) growth by two percentage points per year, on average.”2

Presented with greater ambition, peace can be regarded as the supreme human right and the harmonious condition that underpins everything else in a healthy world. Periodically, public thinkers in the modern age have tried to articulate this more positive idea. In his Nobel Lecture of 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. declared,

So we must fix our vision not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war.3

King’s words were unusual. Why the instinctive caution in talking peace? The twentieth century overused, misused, and tarnished the word. Maybe Neville Chamberlain and Leonid Brezhnev should take the blame. The invocation of “peace for our time” in 1938 by the British prime minister coming from a meeting with Adolf Hitler at one of the darkest moments in European history still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.4 During the Cold War, the leaders of the Soviet Union appropriated the word and repeated it ad nauseam. Brezhnev, the man who had crushed Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring in 1968, announced in 1981 that “the Soviet Union and its allies are more than ever the chief buttress of world peace.”5 No wonder that, as quoted in this collection, Czech dissident Václav Havel spoke of how “for forty years, an allergy to that beautiful word has been engendered in me as in every one of my fellow citizens”—an allergy Havel sought to overcome.

In the year 1900, the world breathed a different air. International peace was the declared goal of a global movement. The two Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, attended by all the big powers of the world, undertook to build a new international framework outlawing conflict and won several successes in banning certain types of warfare.

The Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was the biggest funder and one of the main champions of that peace movement. He died in August 1919, cruelly disappointed by the bloodshed of the First World War, but leaving behind a series of institutions he had endowed with the express goal of achieving international peace.

This collection of essays comes out a century later, at a moment of global turbulence—albeit not one as grave as 1919. Following on from a series of Carnegie “Peace Conversations” in The Hague, it is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, assisted by the Carnegie UK Trust, and published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It is thus a collective endeavor that reflects on the legacy of Carnegie’s vision, the meaning of international peace a century ago and now, and the new context in which conflict persists in the world.

Carnegie and his fellow peace activists put their hopes in the “realm of reason,” believing that the European Enlightenment project was on the verge of triumph and that war could be abolished altogether. Just as mankind had outlawed dueling between individuals, Carnegie told students at St. Andrews University in 1905, so the march of progress could consign conflict between nations to history.6 After the peace conferences, Carnegie funded the building of a “temple of peace,” the splendid Hague Peace Palace, inaugurated in 1913 and still home to the Carnegie Foundation, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the International Court of Justice. In December 1910, he sent a letter to the trustees of the newly launched Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in which he famously told them to use its revenue to “hasten the abolition of war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.” When that goal was achieved the board should decide which are “the next most degrading remaining evil or evils” that they should combat.7

The peacemakers’ optimism was crushed first by the apocalypse of the Great War of 1914–1918 and then by the botched peace of 1919. In his essay, Jay Winter sets out in painful and poignant detail the many flaws of the Versailles Treaty of 1919, how it failed to establish a peaceful order in Europe and only set the clock ticking toward a new war two decades later. Versailles excluded the defeated and ignored the aspirations of non-Europeans. By crippling the German economy, it condemned Europe to economic depression. The settlement of 1919 was “a house built on insecure foundations, which gave way under the pressure of the world economic crisis of 1929 and the arrival of the Nazi regime in 1933.”

In the chaotic 1920s and 1930s, the Carnegie institutions struggled to make their case against the strong headwinds of protectionism, nationalism, and economic depression. In 1945, the so-called Carnegie men, the liberal internationalists Nicholas Butler, James Brown Scott, and James Shotwell, had a better chance to promote their vision. They had been sidelined in the crafting of the 1919 treaty but were more deeply involved in the construction of a new postwar settlement and the United Nations. As Frédéric Mégret records, the Nuremberg Trials were a brief moment where international justice was given respect and “crimes against peace” were prosecuted. Yet this internationalist moment is more generally regarded as a postwar era. As the Cold War quickly took hold, peace was again an elusive goal.

Drivers of Conflict in a New Era

The end of the Cold War in 1991 was another sunny postwar moment, but, a quarter of a century later, gloomy clouds have gathered again. The contemporary world is characterized by new kinds of disorder. Echoes of the more savage world of the First World War era have returned.

Three broad trends driving contemporary conflict and violence emerge from the essays in this collection. The first is national leaders’ determination to defend the primacy of state sovereignty in defiance of international multilateral organizations. The second—somewhat contrary—trend is the increased capacity of nonstate actors in the modern world, such as warlords, drug barons, terrorists, and money-launderers, to cause conflict and instability. A third trend is how technology, especially advanced information technology, has reduced human agency, made the world much smaller, and facilitated asymmetrical warfare, in which a few individuals can cause massive disruption.

The first trend is one that Andrew Carnegie and the generation of 1900 would have recognized—even if the international organizations that Carnegie dreamed of then did not yet exist. This is the modern story of how power in the world is concentrated in the hands of nation-states, which compete with one another over territory and the world’s resources. In so doing, they insist on the absolute right—one might say fetishization—of state sovereignty. States’ deployment of nuclear weapons against one another is the most dangerous, if not the most salient, outcome of this phenomenon.

This is not 1914 revisited. As Rachel Kleinfeld and Robert Muggah note, levels of state-to-state conflict in the world are now at historic lows. The world’s big powers confront one another by other means, whether that be proxy war in third countries, punitive trade tariffs, or digital subversion. What’s more, the nation-states of the early twenty-first century are probably weaker than at any time in modern history, and arguably are making a last stand against a long process of global integration (how else to explain the quixotic isolationist politics of Brexit?). But the states are making a loud noise in the meantime. In the last few years, in their different ways the governments of Brazil, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the United States have fostered global disruption in the name of their “national interest.”

Take three examples from 2019. In August 2019, the Indian government insisted that its decision to abolish the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir was the “internal affair of India,” despite its international ramifications and potential to enflame conflict with Pakistan.8 That same month, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insisted that the mass fires in the Amazon forests were an “internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries,” even as they speeded up global warming and sparked resistance from indigenous peoples.9 The Chinese government insisted that criticism of its massive surveillance operation to monitor and control the Uyghur people of Xinjiang Province was “interference in China’s domestic matters.”10

The strong international reaction to the first two of these events suggests that reports of the death of multilateral diplomacy may be a little exaggerated. Two distinguished diplomats and latter-day Carnegie men—William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Bernard Bot, former chairman of the Hague Peace Palace—here make an eloquent case for the necessity of diplomacy. Diplomacy needs smart individuals ready to be more innovative than ever before. It also needs strong international institutions. As Bernard Bot points out, the successful implementation of a peace agreement requires the long-term planning and commitment that only a sophisticated international body can provide.

The second broad trend is more contemporary. Nonstate actors have always waged war in the world—from Vikings in the eighth century to the mercenaries of the Thirty Years’ War—but their reach has never been so great. In her compelling overview, Mary Kaldor describes contemporary conflict as “a social condition or even as a mutual enterprise in which numerous armed groups gain more from violence itself than from winning.” There is no end in sight to protracted conflicts in Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo in which small factions, sustained by far-away patrons or plundered local resources, operate in places in which regular statehood has disappeared.

In other countries, a more robust state creates similar outcomes as a government colludes with or subcontracts enforcement to abusive actors, engendering systematic violence. In their sobering and data-rich essay, Kleinfeld and Muggah paint a shocking picture of the state of affairs in countries such as Brazil and Mexico, countries that are not “at war” as such but where levels of violent deaths match or even outnumber those in Afghanistan or Syria. The authors employ the term “privilege violence” to describe a vicious circle in which “politicians and security forces allow mafias, cartels, and gangs impunity, in exchange for campaign contributions, bribes, and help getting out the vote or repressing opposing electorates.”

The destructive power of nonstate actors is enhanced by a third trend, that of the growing sophistication and democratization of technology. A laptop and a smartphone are becoming the great equalizers of the world. They give some global citizens opportunities that were unthinkable a generation ago. Equally, a single laptop in the wrong hands can now disable a country’s electricity grid.

Cyberwarfare presents the most disturbing manifestation of this trend. In their ground-breaking essay, George Perkovich and Wyatt Hoffman describe this new phenomenon and what peacemaking might constitute if it is to be halted. Perkovich and Hoffman warn against hyperbole about cyberwarfare: after all, no one has yet died from it. This is conflict without violence (a mirror image of a phenomenon that Kleinfeld and Muggah describe, one of violence without conflict), but its worst may be yet to come. As they write, the challenge of “cyber peacemaking” is beyond the capacity of governments alone. And where cyber begins, other forms of warfare, in which humans rely on intelligent technology, are bound to follow.

Commencement Address at American University, Washington, DC. (Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Is There a Modern International Peace?

Global problems require complex solutions. The current growing global disorder in its many forms makes the case for a reimagined international peace project, albeit a very different one from that of a century ago.

If the word “peace” is to be revived as a political idea, it certainly needs to be handled with care. Even the committed peace activist Brendan McAllister admits to being squeamish about the word and, in his essay, admits to calling it “an exhausted platitude, used and abused by all sides in the conflict and, consequently, long past its sell-by date and best avoided.”

But, as McAllister himself is the first to volunteer, the idea can be revived if a proper enabling context is there—with attention paid to the “spaces between the words.” Periodically, attempts are made to posit the idea of peace as being more than merely the absence of war, or in McAllister’s distinction, shalom in place of pax. Johan Galtung, often called the father of peace studies in the 1960s, coined the term “positive peace” to make this point.11

In June 1963, then president John F. Kennedy attempted to flesh out the same idea in a famous speech at American University in Washington, DC. Reaching out to the Soviet Union with an invitation to de-escalate the nuclear arms race, Kennedy asked rhetorically,

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.12

Kennedy spoke of “a more practical, more attainable peace—based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.” The theme of “a gradual evolution in human institutions”—of support for a rules-based order—runs through this collection, even if many global trends appear to be working in the opposite direction. The less powerful nations in the world, especially in the Global South, will be skeptical of appeals for a new rules-based order if they see the rules being both made and broken by the world’s big powers.

A new set of rules would require first of all stronger endorsement of institutions of international law than many of the powerful nations of the world—the United States, China, and Russia—have thus far been willing to give. This is the unfinished story that Frédéric Mégret tells in his essay, skillfully weaving together history and law. It is the story of efforts to build an international justice system in the modern era to deal with the world’s conflicts, of the resistance that project met from many of the big powers, unless it suited their interests of the moment; it is also the story of the many internal contradictions that project has faced, including instances where the pursuit of justice and of peace were not compatible.

Andrew Carnegie, a passionate believer in international justice as the panacea for world conflict, would have followed the modern chapters of this story with great interest. In some respects, he would feel vindicated. After all, the Hague Peace Palace he endowed is still home to two international courts that do indeed provide arbitration on highly contentious global disputes. As is told here, the Permanent Court of Arbitration gave a judgment in 2009 that broke the deadlock in the dispute over the demarcation of the boundary of the Sudanese province of Abyei.

The authors converge in describing a more hopeful phenomenon, a kind of global civil society that now exists in the form of nongovernmental organizations and civic groups—a much bigger movement than the small citizens’ groups Carnegie funded across the United States and Europe in the 1900s. This is the reverse side of the coin of the malign nonstate actors described above. This global civil society is a good place to start looking for drivers for peace, rather than agents of conflict.

Here Brendan McAllister, a veteran of the Northern Ireland peace process, a success story largely driven from below, makes a timely warning. If there is not continual reaching out, an instinct of inclusivity, peace processes can go only so far. In a merely technical and legal peace process, “there is a preoccupation with negotiating according to ‘positions, interests, and needs’ and designing agreements that focus on structures rather than strengthening relationships between opponents who must overcome deep enmities and work together to make peace sustainable. The chemistry of a peace process is as important as the physics.”

This returns to the lessons of a century ago. A civic movement advocating a broader kind of peace will only achieve so much if it does not reach out to marginalized groups across the world outside Europe and North America. A “democratic impulse” should also give voice to minorities and less powerful nations. Liberal internationalism is hollow without an accompanying commitment to tackle global economic inequality. The flawed peace of 1919 lives on as a warning of opportunities missed and the idea of international peace devalued.


1 Google’s Ngram data device, tracking incidence of use of certain words in publications over time, shows us how use of the word “peace” peaked twice in the twentieth century in times of war, in 1918 and 1942, but has declined since then. Use of the word “security” has climbed progressively and overtook “peace” in frequency in 1979. See

2 See “Fragility, Conflict & Violence: Overview,” World Bank, last modified April 2, 2019,

3 Martin Luther King Jr., “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964, accessed September 6, 2019,

4 “Neville Chamberlain’s ‘Peace for Our Time’ Speech,” Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, September 30, 1938, accessed September 6, 2019,

5 Leonid Brezhnev, “Report of the Central Committee of the CPSU to the XXVI Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Immediate Tasks of the Party in Home and Foreign Policy,” February 23, 1981,

6 “A Rectorial Address Delivered to the Students in the University of St. Andrews, October 17, 1905, By Andrew Carnegie,” New York Peace Society, 1911, p 4.

7 Andrew Carnegie, “Mr. Carnegie’s Letter to the Trustees,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 14, 1910, accessed September 6, 2019,

8 Stephen Brown and Christian Oliver, “Q and A: India’s foreign minister on Kashmir,” Politico, September 2, 2019.

9 Jair M. Bolsonaro, “Lamento que o presidente Macron busque instrumentalizar . . .,” Twitter, August 22, 2019, 6:36 p.m.,

10 Janosch Delcker, “Berlin and Beijing Clash over Lawmakers’ Visit,” Politico, August 13, 2019

11 “An Editorial,” Journal of Peace Research 1, no. 1 (March 1964): 2.

12 The speech and a recording of it are available at