On 26 October 2020, the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF/HSFK), a member of the Leibniz Association, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1970, PRIF today is one of the leading peace research institutes in Europe. The institute analyzes the causes of international and domestic conflicts and seeks ways to solve them – basic research is closely linked to the transfer of knowledge to politics, media and society.
In the founding years, the Institute initially focused on basic research on the East-West conflict, i.e. primarily on arms control and questions of foreign and security policy. “We had to fight for recognition for years, especially in the conservative public”, summarizes Prof Harald Müller, former director of PRIF: “The Hessian CDU feared the emergence of a ‘hotbed of left-wing ideology’ and demanded budget cuts, while the Stasi simultaneously classified PRIF as an ‘agent of imperialism’”, Müller continues.
In the 1980s, PRIF advocated a return to the policy of détente and oriented its research more toward practical politics. Policy advice became increasingly important, for example in the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministries of Defence and Development. During this time, PRIF opened up not only to politics but also to the public, Harald Müller continues: “The emergence of the peace movement in Germany enabled PRIF to position itself in public discourse. For example, in the debate about the West Runway at Frankfurt Airport, in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and above all in the debate about nuclear weapons in Europe, we mediated between activists and politicians and provided orientation knowledge.”
With the end of the Cold War, the world had to be looked at anew in the 1990s, and international relations had become more complex. The central research interests, research into the causes of war and arms control were now joined by the conditions and institutions of peace.
In the light of the Iraq war, PRIF examined in the 2000s the antinomies of democratic peace, the peacefulness of democracies among themselves on the one hand, and their readiness to militate against autocracies on the other. The Institute warned of a new, sharp competition among the great powers.
In 2009, PRIF succeeded in making the great leap into the Leibniz Association – from then on, the institute was co-funded by the federal government as a research institution of national scientific importance. PRIF expanded, continued to network nationally and internationally, and projects were increasingly launched with partners in various regions of the world.
For professor Nicole Deitelhoff, who took over as head of PRIF in 2016, joining the Leibniz Association was central to the institute’s further development: “At the time, it was very courageous to move from a small state institute to the Leibniz Association list. At the end of last year, we were successfully evaluated for the third time by the Leibniz Association Senate. So the courage has paid off.”
Under Deitelhoff’s leadership, further research topics were added, including research on terrorism, radicalization and extremism. In addition, questions of polarization and social cohesion also moved more into focus. According to Nicole Deitelhoff, however, the institute is still primarily known in the scientific environment: ’I would like to change that, so that in the future we are no longer just an institute for experts, but an institute that is also known outside the scientific community.”
Deitelhoff’s team is working intensively on this and is implementing various formats of citizens’ dialogue in Frankfurt. Because at its core, PRIF also sees itself as part of Frankfurt, despite all international cooperation. The anniversary motto “Peace begins with us”, which emphasizes the possibility of preventing and fighting conflicts on a small scale, in the immediate society, in order to be able to deal with large, global conflicts more effectively, also stands in this context.