Interestingly, peace is one of the few concepts in the discipline of International Relations (IR) that has not been conceptualized within a grand theoretical context. Manchester University Professor Oliver P. Richmond’s most recent book, The Grand Design: The Evolution of the International Peace Architecture, introduces the International Peace Architecture (IPA) concept to scholarship, which needs a structural and composite basis for peace-related concepts, theories, and policy analyses. IPA is an epistemological framework proposal that captures the evolving nature of peace over the history of the international system. This ‘architecture’ includes various forms of diplomacy, conflict resolution, and mediation with specific moral/ philosophical backgrounds that develop organically and evolutionarily. It refers to an intricate structure of addressing challenges and making peace to preserve the very nature of the international order. The concept of IPA mapped out throughout the book is key for elucidating the conditions for mitigating and averting major systemic, regional wars, less frequently local wars, and other conflict dynamics.
Richmond’s substantial contribution is the product of his constant critical assessments of the peace concept within the major IR theories. Richmond contends that IR struggles in the context of peace studies to comprehend long-term processes and transformations (p. 46). He proposes IPA as a historical concept to explain the evolution of international peace practice from the 17th century to the present. Incorporating insights from archaeology, ethnography, and sociology, the author has identified six consecutive layers and stages. The sixth stage is a dynamic process that architecture is currently going through, which has not yet materialized and faces various challenges. In its most basic form, the first stage includes the 19th-century geopolitics, conference diplomacy, and balance of power system; the second stage includes the early 20th-century attempt to establish multilateral institutions and conventions; the third stage includes the welfare state and economic/social rights response to the socialist/subaltern challenge; the fourth stage reflects liberal peace focusing on human rights, democracy, and global civil society, the fifth stage reflects the neoliberal state-building efforts of the 2000s, and the sixth stage reflects the transnational movements of the digital international relations era. Moreover, each stage itself is the target of counter-peace challenges analyzed thoroughly.
The evolutionary process illustrates the IPA’s response to challenges from realist geopolitics, liberal approaches, later neoliberal peacebuilding, and finally the forms of government of the digital age. According to Richmond, the necessity to address existing challenges prompts the creation of new stages as the architecture loses its capacity to successfully practice peace (p. 36). Richmond agrees that Western and liberal forms of hegemony are inherent in the IPA (p. 8). The difficulties that architecture faces are significantly determined by subaltern reactions to that state.
The book consists of 2 main chapters and 10 smaller chapters. Each chapter starts with a preliminary extract from peace agreements, governmental/archival documents, or classical texts to track IPA stages. Throughout the book, the theoretical analysis is accompanied by direct quotations from such sources. This formulation is supported by a strong theoretical sense and empirical dynamics. However, the research adopts a macro-scale perspective rather than a micro-analysis. The author underlines that his notion is a historical-political formulation rather than an institution, system, or constitutional framework and is unconstrained by any levels of analysis. The author’s plot shows that IPA is a distinct concept from system or order, but the system can accelerate or limit the development of IPA.
The research is significant for current IR coverage since it examines the potential of sixth-stage IPA to adapt to the forms of war and violence that are taking shape in today’s world. Richmond argues the IPA is being hindered by conservative forces in the UN General Assembly and Security Council since they consider that advancing in a progressing direction would be detrimental to their interests and status in the current international hierarchy (p. 184). According to Richmond, as the institutions and norms of the fifth stage lose their legitimacy, many states and societies no longer trust the global North or the UN. The author asserts that in international architecture where the sixth stage is evolving, peace would no longer rest on the negotiation of a central liberal constitution or stabilizing a neoliberal order (p. 189). Throughout the text, the liberal peace of the West appears to suffer from ideological overtones and contradictions. In that context, chapter 9 offers thought-provoking analyzes of possible development scenarios for the sixth stage.
When developing the IPA, Richmond adopts an integrative methodological approach. The book analyzes concepts, systems, techniques, and institutions. However, it omits in-depth case studies. It addresses the concept of peace from a structural and historical perspective. As a result, the research’s critical process tracing aspect grounded in historical and archaeological logic comes to the fore at the expense of the empirical component. Although there are some connotations about the progressive conception of history in the book, there are also points that break the progressive paradigm, such as the signal to return to the first stage after the fifth stage (pp. 115-181). The methodological structure was chosen to allow readers to explore the overall evolution of the architecture, understand its internal tensions and failures, and take a step toward final reform. Richmond’s research represents a shift in these aspects from the conventional study of diplomatic history, for example, the book does not give particular weight to leaders or thinkers.
Many of the book’s arguments, as the author points out, contravene the approaches of mainstream IR theory related to the concept of peace (p. 30). Richmond brings together the realist, liberal, and even critical paradigms that the IR theory literature puts in opposing camps. With its intense interdisciplinary tones, the book aims to meet the need for an advanced theoretical read in peace studies and IR. An average level of IR theories and diplomatic history background is required to get the maximum benefit from the book. In other words, the book is not appropriate for a quick read, so background knowledge is required to be familiar with the references and concepts. Additionally, Richmond’s broad historical narrative would maximize its scientific contribution by guiding micro-scale case analyses. Therefore, there is a need for collateral studies that demonstrate how to apply IPA in conflict resolution case studies.