"There will always be conflicts in this world – social, political and economic conflicts. We must ensure that these conflicts are handled with reason and rationality and that their solutions do not restrict the freedom of people." It was with these words that the former Prime Minister of Hesse, Albert Osswald, handed the foundation deed for PRIF over to the interim board – Prof Ernst-Otto Czempiel, Dr Hans Nicklas and Dr Dieter Senghaas – on 30 October 1970.
Planning, Defining the Programs and Establishment
In his inaugural speech just one year prior, Osswald had called on the institutions of higher education in Hesse to develop a program for an institute of peace and conflict research. The state government’s intention to promote peace research found most resonance with the Philipps-Universität in Marburg and the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, with additional support coming from the City of Frankfurt. And so, in the summer of 1970, an 11-member-strong academic commission drafted a program detailing the tasks and organization of the planned research institute:
"The Peace Research Institute Frankfurt examines the causes, resolution and possibilities of controlling conflict. The institute’s research is not limited to the analysis of the conditions of conflict, but, on the basis of such investigation, it aims to develop innovative transformation and solution concepts, in which abating violence, increasing social fairness and political freedom can be combined with the international system and individual societies. Using the knowledge-guided concept of peace, PRIF analyses the causes of selected international conflicts, which are rooted in the social behaviour of the conflicting partners and their interaction. Such structure and process analyses aim to produce systematic and cumulative results, on the basis of which the behaviour of conflicting partners can be made transparent, explained and predicted. Consequentially, the understanding of conflicts can be extended and in a way changed, enabling a progressive, peace-promoting concept of foreign policy and international politics. The foundation helps ensure that the knowledge gained from peace and conflict research plays an effective role in the public arena and especially in political culture. PRIF’s research tasks take on different levels of approach. The main approaches are as follows:
- International system structures as universal and regional conditions for conflict (conflict potential produced by interaction structures and distribution patterns, for example the flow of information, capital and trade; analysis of the extent of interdependence, communication opportunities, technology, international organisations, international stratification).
- International politics: situation-specific conflict potential and conflict processes (armament/disarmament, economic interests, development problems, security issues, socio-historic antagonism).
- National conflict potential and the social conditions of conflict (national and cultural behaviour traditions, socio-economic systems and rule, class and group-specific interests, public opinion and mass media, socialisation).
- Foreign policy decision processes and strategies (influence from social forces and administrations, external influences, diplomacy).
All levels of approach are relevant to the creation of transformation programmes and models of conflict control. The complexity of these research subjects necessitate long-term investigation. Hessian scientists together with scientists from home and abroad and from various disciplines, primarily from the areas of political sciences (international relations), sociology, economics, social psychology, international law, education, applied mathematics and statistics work together in an interdisciplinary cooperation. This research plan makes PRIF different from other federal programmes, which, for example, look for more direct and relevant assistance in decision-making, who deliberately see peace and conflict research as just a sub-area of their mandate or who only deal with certain areas of conflict research. Internationally speaking, PRIF stands alongside other institutes in Oslo and Ann Arbor, which are likewise oriented around structural research and with whom intensive cooperation is sought."
On the basis of this document, on 22 July 1970, the state government of Hesse resolved to establish the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, adopting its constitution on 15 September of the same year.
Commencing with the Détente Process
Since PRIF was founded at the start of the détente process between the Soviet Union and the West, its initial work mainly concentrated on research into the Cold War, armament dynamics, arms control and disarmament.
Conflict Research for Political Applications
During the seventies and eighties, the research program was modified and expanded to include the North-South dimension and its interactions with Cold War dynamics. It was now time to transform the knowledge gained from basic research into practical policy advice.
Europe’s Contribution to Peace
The radical change in the international system at the start of the nineties meant that PRIF’s research profile had to be redefined. In an era of fundamental international, social, economic and technological change, the program adopted in 1991 concentrated on the "Theory and Practice of Cooperation – Europe’s Contribution to Peace". This also included research into global and regional developments that could influence the peace process in Europe. With this, the research focus shifted from the causes of war to an analysis and formulation of the conditions for establishing peace as a lasting, non-violent option for interstate and domestic conflicts.
Democracy and Reflections on Democratization
In 2000, PRIF entered the fourth phase of its development. Based on the research program, "Antinomies of Democratic Peace", the task turned to examining the seemingly self-evident notion that democracies are inevitably peaceful and, as such, that any promising peace strategy should pursue democratization based on the Western model. This entails conducting in-depth analyses of the ability of democratic states to maintain peace along with the associated dangers, an undertaking that stands to uncover new options for negotiating peace both domestically and externally and is in line with the objective of peace research to critically self-reflect on the thoughts and actions of democracies.
2009: Membership in the Leibniz Association
With this research program, PRIF underwent an evaluation process for inclusion into the Leibniz Association. At the end of 2004, the evaluation commission from the German Council of Science and Humanities assessed PRIF’s work on the basis of written documentation and a number of presentations. In spring 2005, the commission approved PRIF and recommended its inclusion into the association. On 19 November 2007, the "Bund-Länder-Kommission" (commission of federal and state representatives) determined that PRIF would be included in the Leibniz Association as of from 1 January 2009.
The New Program “Peace and Coercion”
With the conclusion of the former research program “Just Peace Governance” in 2017, PRIF commenced work on a new program titled “Peace and Coercion”. Within this program, PRIF analyzes the ambivalent tensions that exist between peace and coercion. It adresses how the practice of coercion affects the creation, preservation and endangerment of peace.
The First Evaluation as a Leibniz Institute
PRIF’s first evaluation as a Leibniz institute was carried out in December 2012, the results of which were released the following June. The review board presented an excellent evaluation that fully praised and supported the direction that the institute had taken since its admission into the Leibniz Association. The decision to maintain joint funding for PRIF followed in the autumn.