The International Peace Movement

Historically speaking the international peace movement has approached its object of attention from three (intimately related) points of view. Initially, the peace movement concentrated on how to end wars. However, over time the principle gained ground that to prevent wars was at least as important, if not more so, as ending wars. Thus, two additional approaches evolved: to put a stop to the apparent inevitability of war, and to advocate peace as the ground condition for social development and economic prosperity, and vice versa: a steady increase of wealth from which all the social classes would benefit, would, or so one hoped, make it unnecessary to go to war ever again.

1814 (Vienna Congress)-1899 (Hague Peace Conference)

From left to right: the first three images show the opening pages of the documents regarding the Vienna Congress treaties of 1814-1815 as collected in Treaties of accession and of subsidy, between Great Britain and other powers. Far right: Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna.

This first period was dominated by a Christian-ethical stance, which originated in the religious backgrounds of the prime movers of these initial stages, the Quakers in England and Scotland and the Presbyterians in America. Other aspects that were important in the development of the peace movement during the 19th century were the rather more mundane considerations on trade, politics, federation-thinking and the improvement of the social and economic circumstances of the poor.

In 1889 the Interparliamentary Union and 1891 the International Peace Bureau were founded. Their establisment originated in a wish to come to closer ways of collaboration between politics (read: the elite) and the masses in order to further peace. From left to right: Fredrik Sterzel's study of the inter-parliamentary union, front and back of Yéfime Zarjevski's history of the inter-parliamentary union and the proceedings of the 1843 peace convention.

In direct reaction to Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace was founded in London in 1816, and similar peace societies were formed across Europe and in America. Though not exclusively pacifist, these societies were greatly influenced by Quakers and other pacifists, as were the series of international peace congresses which the societies began to hold from 1843. The main emphasis was on arbitration between states as an alternative to war, but there was increasing concern about militarist influences on the young tending towards acceptance of war as not merely unavoidable but even 'noble'.

The first World Peace Conference, organized in London in 1843, marked a turning point in the way the advocates of peace were able to organize themselves and from around 1870 onwards the original Christian stance was supplemented with a quest for more fundamental human values. These were eventually to be collected under the heading Human Rights as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights accepted by the United Nations 10 January 1948.

1899 (First Hague Peace Conference)-1919 (Versailles Peace Treaty)

The 1899 Hague Peace Conference (see also the chapter on the Peace Palace) proved to be a turning point in international relations. A resolution to establish the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and, in the wake of this decision, to build a 'Temple of Peace' to accommodate this institution changed the face of pacifism for good.

In the years up to and including the First World War there was a particular emphasis on the development of legislation that could be used to settle or prevent armed conflicts. This resulted in the establishment of bodies such as the International Court of Arbitration (the predecessor of the PCA), the Permanent Court of International Justice (after 1945: the International Court of Justice) and the League of Nations (predecessor of the UN). Three major figures in these years were William Stead, Bertha von Suttner and Alfred Hermann Fried. The Peace Palace Library has several letters from Fried to Von Suttner in its collection. His admiration for Von Suttner is further expressed in the commemmorative issue of Die Friedenswarte für zwischenstaatliche Organisation, dedicated to her.

From left to right: Bertha von Suttner herself, around 1900, her book Die Waffen nieder!, first presented as a novel and later as a fictional biography, and the play Die Waffen nieder! by Karl Pauli, based on Von Suttner's book.

Anti-war publications appeared on both sides of the front. Left, The British Army at War, collecting British eye-witness accounts from the front. Right, Ein Volk klagt an, collecting German letters from the front.


After the Second World War the truly global nature of the quest for peace was embodied in organizations like the United Nations (successor to the League of Nations). In recent times the influence of various smaller non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations has become more and more visible. The process of de-colonization, too, has helped to stress the relevance of economic and social development as a crucial ingredient for the quest for peace.

next: Hugo Grotius