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The following is a book review by Dr Julie Matthews of Steve Killelea’s ‘Peace in the Age of Chaos: The Best Solution for a Sustainable Future’.

Killelea regards himself to be lucky rather than special. Lucky because he was born into a prosperous and peaceful country, and lucky because these conditions allowed him to flourish and become a successful businessman and entrepreneur. But what is special about Killelea is his desire to make a difference and the depth of his compassion and sincerity. He is well aware that hard work, vision and opportunity in one location can be productive, while in another, it is simply a necessity for survival.

The first-person narrative of this book is disarmingly frank. Personal encounters bring stark clarity to the tragic lives of those who suffer the effects of war and violence. Absorbing accounts link Tolstoy to Ghandi, to Buddhist precepts on peace, and Killelea’ visits to various Peace Centers around the world. Unpalatable details about current global conditions are connected to Killelea’s personal insights and his efforts to put them into practice. Indeed, the Global Peace Index and the Institute for Economics and Peace, established in 2008 mark a remarkable achievement – namely to identify what creates peace by distinguishing and measuring the factors and policies that make countries peaceful.

Killelea reminds us that we tend to study the causes of war and how to resolve conflict rather than to study peace, happiness and sustainable flourishing.  Most studies of peace are based on a notion of ‘negative peace’ and end up as studies of war and conflict. He pointedly notes that trying to understand peace by only studying wars is rather like trying to understand health by only studying illness. To expand the definition of peace beyond its ‘negative’ definition, namely the absence of violence and conflict, we need to include measures of economic and ecological performance, happiness, inclusion, resilience and adaptation to change.

For the most part the book delivers an informative and engaging background through which to understand the development of the Global Peace Index. Generated in 2007 from a project which aimed to identify precise and comparable indicators of peace, the index allows nations to be ranked by levels of peacefulness. The Index is now based on eight groups of indicators : 1) Well-functioning government, 2) Sound business environment, 3) Equitable distribution of resources, 4) Acceptance of the rights of others, 5) Good relations with neighbors, 6) Free flow of information, 7) High levels of human capital, and 8) Low levels of corruption.

Peace in the Age of Chaos, details a great many interesting insights and useful arguments, as well as debunking many persistent myths. For instance, the index shows that in 2019 as many countries had increased in peace, as have declined. Killelea wryly observes that the popularity of negative news and the electoral benefits of fear-based politics have led us to assume that the only counter to violence is more violence or that the best way achieve peace is to prepare for war. The index also challenges the assumption that military spending is economically productive. Calculating the economic impact of violence on the global economy to include the cost of homicides, judicial proceedings and incarceration brings the real cost of violence on productivity to light.

Global Terrorism Index, 2013 also uses statistical and mathematical tools. It indicated that most terrorist acts occurred in countries with high levels of state sponsored terrorism or conflict. Focusing specifically on connections between religious belief and peace, the 2014 report found that corruption, political terror, group grievances, economic inequality, and political instability were more significant in determining levels of peace than religious belief. The report disputed that there is a link between terrorism and refugees.

The book provides a theoretical basis for its understanding of peace through a succinct and readable account of systems theory. The emphasis on the dynamic, changing nature of systems is helpful and hopeful, because it emphasises how societies and organisations, be they national or international, change overtime through mutual feedback loops and interactions with one another and with ecological and environmental systems.

Steve Killelea’s book is somewhat like his life – courageous and uncompromising.

In the absence of the possibility of an overarching god-like view on the nature and extent of global peace, one can only admire Killelea’s passion and commitment to making the world a more peaceable place.  He is not anti-military, or anti-establishment; indeed, his pro-capitalist, business orientation adds weight to the argument for positive peace on grounds that it is more economically productive than war. This being the case, Killelea asks why violence is so frequently escalated by leaders. He concludes with the observation that they simply do not know any better. If his assessment is correct, one can only hope that the peace index delivers the ideas and the tools necessary to ensure that ‘humanity’s future does not resemble its past’ (p283).

This review of the Peace in the Age of Chaos book originally appeared in Social Alternatives, Vol. 40 No. 1, 2021.

Find out more about ‘Peace in the Age of Chaos’.