University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Conor Seyle

In recent decades, we’ve seen significant growth of social science knowledge on the causes of violent conflict and the conditions for conflict prevention. As a result, the field of peace studies is increasingly reaching a consensus on what predicts peace. We know that higher per-capita GDP, more education, the inclusion of women and religious or ethnic minorities in the public life of a society, and many other specific indicators are associated with stable peace.

Today the challenge for evidence-based practice in supporting peace is less a lack of knowledge about what leads to peace and more a challenge of understanding how all the different predictors fit together. Agencies, foundations, and individuals seeking to prevent war or build sustainable peace can look at the diversity of research findings and struggle to answer the question of what this means for practice. How can this research be brought together to provide a coherent lens that helps us understand what causes conflict and how to prevent it?

The governance and peace research project of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the One Earth Future Foundation attempts to answer this question. Our argument is that, at the end of the day, all predictors of peace or conflict can be understood as a question of governance.


“Governance” refers to the myriad ways that human social groups agree to make and enforce decisions and resolve disputes. Governance is broader than government. Although governments are one of the primary institutions for making and implementing public decisions, there are many other mechanisms that communities use to structure the group and make collective decisions. Our analysis of the diverse predictors of peace links these mechanisms to governance and the systems of decision-making, dispute resolution, and social interaction that structure human society.

Research identifies two critical elements that link governance systems to peace. One is system capacity, which refers to the resources and strengths of institutional structures. Governance must have sufficient security capacity (in terms of the resources devoted to military and police forces) to prevent the formation of armed groups within the area governed and deter incursions by hostile militaries. Capacity is broader than security, though. Social capacity (programs and resources for the provision of social goods) also appears to be important in predicting peace. Social welfare support, particularly a robust commitment to education and health care, are directly related to reduced risk of armed conflict. The capacity to provide social goods is an important role for governance systems and helps to sustain peace.

The second critical way that governance leads to peace is through institutional quality. Governance systems promote peace when they are inclusive, participatory, and accountable. Inclusive systems incorporate all social groups into decision-making procedures and provide for the equitable receipt of system benefits and resources. Inclusive systems offer mechanisms for all stakeholders to voice their concerns and grievances. Participatory systems go beyond structures of decision-making to encourage social, political, and economic engagement of all groups within society. Accountable systems operate according to formal rules and have systems in place by which the decision-makers can be held liable for violations of these rules.


The governance lens ties together findings in peace research literature that otherwise may be seen as discrete. Governmental systems that allow for full and equitable participation of all social groups in public life are more peaceful. States with higher rates of education and gender equality are also more peaceful. So are states with higher per-capita GDP and greater levels of trade and economic growth. Peace is most likely in democratic systems with high levels of social service provision; full inclusion of ethnic and religious groups in decision-making; and high levels of economic opportunity and development.

All of this suggests that peacebuilding policy should focus on supporting good governance — at the state and international level and within civil society and the private sector. The One Earth Future Foundation is working to put this approach into practice in programs addressing maritime piracy and political instability in Somalia. Good governance is a pathway toward a more peaceful world.

Conor Seyle is Associate Director of the One Earth Future Foundation.