The role time plays in peace-building efforts

By AR | 22 Jul 15

Time for Peace: The Essential Role of Time in Conflict and Peace Processes | UQP

Belgian social and political scientist Luc Reychler’s Time for Peace: The Essential Role of Time in Conflict and Peace Processes explores the often overlooked way in which our relationship to and understanding of time affect peace-building efforts. More often than not, the book shows us how our misunderstanding of and lack of sensitivity towards the role of time in conflict prevention hinders our utopian dream of achieving a global sustainable peace.

The vast majority of Time for Peace is dedicated to exploring the various dimensions of time and temporal behaviour as well as how the use, misuse and abuse of time may hamper or assist peace building and conflict prevention.

This “temporal landscape” is explored in great depth and ranges from ecological time (recognising that certain actions will have environmental impacts in the future) to demographic time (understanding population changes over time) to political, economic and diplomatic time, which involves understanding the importance of timing in decision-making as well as the potential harm caused by delayed or hasty decisions to act.

These dimensions of time are further explored with the help of two case studies that are chosen as examples of “temporal deficiencies” that resulted in disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 military intervention in Libya.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the lack of preventative measures taken, a slow official response and the failure to mitigate the impact of global warming, which contributed to the severity of the hurricane, were the key temporal failures. This was permitted to happen because, in Reychler’s words, “the time and concerns of the residents of Boston are much more important than the time of the African-Americans in New Orleans [if we compare it to] the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 that left three people dead”.

While Reychler’s analysis of various dimensions of time is impressive in its breadth and cross-disciplinary inquiry, a temporal analysis of many of the case studies did not always yield particularly unique evaluations of peace-building failures.

With the example of Hurricane Katrina, a human rights based critique of the Government’s response to the tragedy seems just as likely to reveal that the failure was in part due to a perception that the lives of the predominately African-American population in New Orleans were worth less than those of other Americans. It is not entirely clear what the temporal assessment reveals that could not be explained through other approaches to analysing the response to Hurrican Katrina. Similarly, Reychler’s use of the term “qualitative life expectancy” to essentially mean “quality of life” adds little to his argument other than emphasising that even this common concept is deeply rooted in our relationship to time.

Yet, this is perhaps exactly the point of the temporal understanding of peace building – that temporal attitudes characterise all aspects of life. The pervasiveness of temporal concerns comes to the fore towards the end of Time for Peace, where a methodology for discerning a more effective attitude to understanding time – or an “adaptive temporament” – is developed.

This involves an extensive series of matrices that assess how well key actors in peace-building initiatives understand the potentially violent consequences of temporal misconduct, the degree to which sustainable peace requires equal respect for the time of others, and the ways in which the rich and powerful experience time very differently to the weak and poor.

While the book generally appears to be written for a readership of peace-building practitioners – particularly where the detailed methodology for assessing attitudes to time surfaces – Time for Peace serves as a useful introduction to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the ubiquitous role of time in conflict and peace processes.

Time for Peace: The Essential Role of Time in Conflict and Peace Processes is now available from UQP.

Feature image: Peace cranes on the GPO steps as part of a Melbourne vigil for Japan, which suffered the effects of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in 2011.

Athena Rogers has a degree in International Studies from RMIT University and works for an international development organisation in Melbourne.