The world is changing. The Covid pandemic, the US-China rivalry, Brexit and the rise of populism in world politics have all signified that we are in a period of profound transition in international politics. Many scholars and practitioners have warned that the United States and China could fall into the “Thucydides trap”—opening up the possibility of military conflict between the most powerful state and a rapidly rising power in the international system. Others argue that change will be even more fundamental and that the current order will give way to an unprecedented era of disorder, conflict and chaos. How to understand “change” as well as the possibilities for “peaceful change”, historically, theoretically, and empirically is an imperative task for scholars and policy makers in the decades to come.
Change is a challenging and enduring topic in the international relations (IR) discipline. So is peace. In fact, the discipline of IR as we see today originated in the inter-War debates on peaceful change in Europe and the later Post-War theoretical and policy challenges especially by American realist scholars. The peaceful end of the Cold War galvanized the interest in the theme, especially by constructivists and critical theorists. Today there is a major push in IR to make the discipline truly global, drawing lessons from different countries, civilizations, and gender and racial groups, a move that has major implications for diversity in IR. Reforming global governance institutions peacefully is part of this discourse. Peaceful change has been a major theme in the foreign policies of many countries, e.g. Gorbachev’s USSR, Deng and his immediate successors’ China, Nehru’s India, and Europe’s Helsinki process. Many states especially small and middle powers in all regions of the world adhere to the notion of ‘peaceful co-existence.’ For instance, South Africa and Brazil have consciously highlighted the peaceful change aspects of their foreign policies. Small states in Europe and elsewhere pride themselves as promoters of peaceful change. Yet, we do not have a dedicated scholarly program or a publication venue to analyze these themes that have major implications for human survival on the planet.