A short history of the International Peace Bureau: 1990 – 2017*

Written by Colin Archer, IPB Secretary-General (retired)

The end of the Cold War ushered in a particularly complex decade. Loss of peace movement momentum due to the end of East-West confrontations and the immediate nuclear threat was accompanied by a diversification of focus. Human rights, social development, gender, environment and other causes all absorbed activist energies and favoured new coalitions and political formations. These issues were highlighted by a remarkable series of major UN Summits, culminating in the Millennium Declaration and ultimately the Sustainable Development Goals (2015).

When the Berlin Wall fell, amid much talk of a peace dividend, few thought that armed conflict would evaporate, though for a while euphoria was widespread. New crises emerged in the 1990s, but in geographically limited areas, such as Rwanda, the Balkans, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan – and usually within states rather than between them. The UN published its vision in the path-breaking Agenda for Peace (1991), but overall the role of the UN in the peace field was disappointing, mainly owing to the reluctance of major states to tackle challenging problems and to give the UN the resources and authority it needed.

This period was undoubtedly the era in which IPB’s role as general peace movement federation and network achieved its greatest blossoming. Not only did the number of member organizations rise above 300, but the range of partnerships and cooperative global projects was without precedent. The more members there were, the more projects were presented to the Board  and Secretariat for endorsement and support. These ranged from international opposition to the Gulf War (1991) all the way through to the Global Campaign on Military Spending (2014 onwards). Along the way we can highlight participation (still ongoing) in international formations such as the World Social Forum, the Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum, the European Network Against Arms Trade, the No to War, No to NATO! campaign, and related efforts to mobilise peace forces against the militarization of the European Union.

This profusion of initiatives is too dense to be fully analyzed in the present narrative. However there are a number of major programme areas which follow a roughly chronological sequence:

  1. World Court Project on nuclear illegality: 1990-1996 (building on large amounts of earlier work, especially by lawyers)
  2. Hague Appeal for Peace and Global Campaign for Peace Education (1996-2003)
  3. Human Security and Disarmament for Sustainable Development: (2003 – 2010)
  4. Global Campaign on Military Spending, incl. GDAMS (2011 – )

We shall also briefly outline IPB’s work on:

  1. Women and Peacemaking (2004-2005)
  2. The Making Peace photo-exhibition (2010-2017)
  3. Human rights and conflicts work (throughout)
  4. Peace history – diverse projects (throughout)

It is worth recording that in this period – which coincides with the present writer’s term in office – IPB maintained its pattern (almost unbroken apart from the two world wars) of annual conferences, often combined with business meetings such as the Assembly or the Council. For reasons of cost and practicality, these were mostly held in Western Europe, though there were exceptions: Toronto, Moscow, Alexandria, and Washington DC. In most years the organization was also involved in many other international gatherings or events – either as sole/co-organizer, co-sponsor, speaker or participant. Each conference then tended to generate further new projects…

One particular set of events is worth a special mention. In 1991-92, various commemorative gatherings were organized for the centenary of IPB’s founding, including a reception and evening of speeches in Berne, an exhibition organized at the Palais des Nations by the League of Nations Archives Service, the presentation to the UN of the Lawyers’ Appeal against Nuclear Weapons published in 1987 by Seán MacBride, the international launch in Geneva of the World Court Project, and a multi-site centenary conference held in Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn.

Programme 1. World Court Project (WCP) on nuclear illegality: 1990- 1996

Despite the end of the Cold War, those engaged deeply in the nuclear issues knew that – even with substantial reductions on the way (INF 1987, START 1 1991) – the risk to life on earth was far from removed. The numbers of deadly warheads would remain in the thousands; and the deterrence rationale, with its accompanying promise of power and dominance on the world stage, was far from shaken. With far fewer demonstrators on the streets, it was time to press ahead with an alternative route – one that had already been sketched out and then thoroughly researched by the international lawyers who in 1988 banded together under the banner of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). It was time to take the nuclear question to the World Court. (Dewes and Green, 2002). The work of the 1985 London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal, chaired by MacBride, was one of the major milestones in this process. IPB’s contribution took several forms:

  1. MacBride Appeal to/by Lawyers: This had been launched in 1987 as an IPB initiative, and by 1992 the signatures numbered over 11,000 – including large numbers of very senior judges, law professors and the like. It was presented to the UN at a special ceremony as part of the WCP launch.
  2. WCP launch 1992: the centerpiece of this programme was a major IPB-organized symposium held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, at which many of the central figures (lawyers, diplomats, activists) made thoughtful and indeed inspiring contributions. An International Steering Committee was constituted and the formal decision was taken to pursue the submission of a request, via one or other of the UN’s organs, of a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an Advisory Opinion on the legal status of threat or use of nuclear The genius of this idea was that under Art.96 of the UN Charter, it could not be vetoed by the Security Council/ P5.
  3. From Hiroshima to the Hague: IPB secretariat had prepared a draft text of this book in the late 1980s, and the new Secretary-General was able to offer this to his colleague Keith Mothersson, a central figure in the UK-based World Court Reference Project to work on. The result was a very well-received volume that set out the basics of international humanitarian law as they relate to nuclear weapons, and mapped out a mobilization strategy that the WCP found extremely helpful. Particularly original was Mothersson’s idea of Declarations of Public Conscience which would offer testimony of the ‘dictates of the public conscience’ referred to in the celebrated de Martens Clause. Many thousands of these were collected (notably by George Farebrother of WCP UK) and solemnly handed over, along with a mass of supporting material, to the ICJ officials during the hearings.

This work was far from the only contribution made by IPB to the wider anti-nuclear cause. IPB participated on a regular basis in the annual commemorative conferences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in many similar events around the world. Furthermore, all through this period (and beyond), it has devoted substantial resources to the NGO presence around the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences and the PrepComms. This has involved lobby work, reporting back to the grass roots membership, and putting on side meetings. Similar work was done at the (permanent) Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, although this was gradually abandoned after it became clear that the negotiations had run into the sand. At NPT side events,  many new NGO initiatives were devised. Among the most important was the setting up in 1995 of Abolition 2000, a global anti-nuclear network partly based on the earlier collaboration between the WCP partners. Among the principal projects of Abolition 2000 was a remarkable collaborative effort to draft a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention laying out all the commitments that signatories would have to adhere to once agreeing to eliminate their nuclear weapons. This was used as a basis to convince NPT member states that a credible legal path was available for the fulfilment of that Treaty’s disarmament promise. This and the ICJ ruling should be considered important precursors to the work of the International Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), laying the groundwork for the UN Ban Treaty of 2017.

Programme 2. Hague Appeal for Peace and Global Campaign for Peace Education (1996-2003)

The intense inter-disciplinary cooperation engendered by the World Court Project was one of the key factors in the development of what came to be known as the Hague Appeal for Peace (HAP). Another was the imminent arrival of the end of the century – indeed the Millennium – and the centenary of the 1st Hague Conference of 1899, in which IPB had played a prominent role. A third reason was to mark the end of the UN Decade of International Law (1990- 99). It was decided to organize a major global gathering in May 1999, and for obvious reasons the venue had to be The Hague. The Congressgebouw, now called the World Forum, is situated across the square from the building which at that time housed the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and not far from the International Court of Justice – a better location for a gathering focusing at least in part on international law would be hard to imagine. Preparations began already in 1996, with meetings bringing together the 3 WCP partners plus the World Federalist Movement. The coordination of the project consisted of several levels but the 4 offices, together with a dedicated HAP staff team, formed the core decision-making group.

This was by any standards a mighty project. People of all walks of life from over 100 countries gathered in the Congress Center in response to an appeal launched by the 4 organizations: IPB, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), and the World Federalist Movement (WFM). During the five-day gathering, participants discussed and debated – in over 400 panels and workshops – mechanisms for abolishing war and creating a culture of peace in the 21st century. The organizers asked if “humanity can find a way to solve its problems without resorting to arms; and is war still necessary or legitimate given the nature of weapons currently in arsenals and on drawing boards worldwide; and can civilization survive another major war?”

The stellar cast included hundreds of civil society leaders and representatives from 80 governments and international organizations including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Wim Kok of The Netherlands, Queen Noor of Jordan, Arundhati Roy of India, and Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala, Jody Williams of the United States, José Ramos Horta of East Timor and Joseph Rotblat of the United Kingdom. (https://www.peace-ed-campaign.org/about/)

Over 100 NGO networks were mobilised to contribute funds, speakers and participants. In the end it was estimated that close to 10,000 persons had participated. For a demonstration this is not such a large total – but for an international peace movement conference it was probably unprecedented, either before or since. With such numbers it was impossible to draft an overall conference statement on the spot. Therefore it was decided to prepare the text in parallel with the organising process, and publish it at the conference. The resulting document, The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century (Hague Appeal for Peace 1999), has 50 chapters divided into 4 sections, reflecting the main axes of the conference programme:

  • Root Causes of War/Culture of Peace
  • International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and Institutions
  • Prevention, Resolution and Transformation of Violent Conflict
  • Disarmament and Human Security

It remains an impressive and highly relevant road map for peacemaking to this day.

The challenge for the organising group was how to follow up the event and use the momentum generated by this unique and exciting gathering. To engage in depth in each of the 50 areas highlighted would have required a budget of gargantuan proportions. It was decided that peace education would be a highly appropriate focus, since by its nature it touches on all areas of peace work. In addition, it was one of the areas where many examples of good practice existed, but where there was no over-arching global campaign. In this case the aim was to persuade governments and education authorities to introduce peace education into the curriculum at all levels. This was the task that the Global Campaign for Peace Education (GCPE), led by the dynamic IPB President Cora Weiss, set itself – and which indeed, it is still working on today. The first phase of the Campaign lasted from 1999 to 2004. Its accomplishments are listed as follows:

  • Established a website providing
    1. peace education curricula, translations of curricula in various languages
    2. a channel of communication for international network
  • Developed partnerships to disseminate information and resources to over 15,000 people
  • Published teacher training manuals
  • Organized annual conferences with international peace educators (2004 was held in Tirana, Albania)
  • Partnered with Ministries of Education in Africa, Asia, Europe, New Zealand and South America
    • Formed a unique partnership project with the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs to integrate disarmament and peace education programs in both formal and non-formal settings of Albania, Cambodia, Niger and Peru which have been adopted by each of their Ministries of Education
    • Conducted over 200 workshops and presentations in classrooms, communities, national and international

Subsequently the GCPE has been coordinated by various organizations; at present it operates independently. Its newsletter offers almost certainly the most comprehensive survey of peace education projects around the world. IPB’s role in the GCPE took several forms:

  • Pre-Conference: IPB organized an ambitious Preparatory Conference on peace education in Geneva (in part at the ILO, in part at the International School). The main papers from this event were published by IPB as a bilingual book (Grossi, 1998).
  • Post-Conference: IPB’s Geneva HQ was chosen as one of the two organising centres for the Campaign, the other being New This work involved the usual range of campaign resources and activities: campaign kit, website, brochures in several languages, presentations at conferences in numerous cities, networking among campaign members, and advocacy towards governments. It also took on the ambitious task of reaching out to the youth themselves, through schools and youth organizations. IPB published a very effective handbook (The Hague Youth Agenda, 2000) which was greatly appreciated.

But world events have a habit of disrupting the best laid plans of campaign groups. On September 10, 2001, IPB staff organized a literature stand at the prestigious World Conference on Education, run by UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education. The next day the Twin Towers were attacked and the world seemed to spin on its axis. Nothing in the peace world was ever quite the same again.

Programme 3. Human Security and Disarmament for Sustainable Development: (2003 – 2010) 

The 9-11 attacks constituted a turning point of great significance. They re-framed the concept of ‘enemy’ for the western world and became the justification for two major wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. They thus provided a new impetus for US-led military strategies, forces, interventions…and spending. The post-Cold War drop in military expenditure levels was reversed. At the same time, rising powers, especially in Asia, were getting into the military game in a big way. The US is now the largest, but far from the only, big spender. We are now in a globalized war economy.

In the post 9-11 period, the IPB Secretariat began a gradual shift away from peace education and took up the theme of Human Security as an alternative perspective on counter-terrorism. This change in organizational priorities was evident during the major 5-day conference entitled Towards a World Without Violence, held in Barcelona in 2004. One full day of this ambitious gathering was devoted to the Economy of War.

The success of the event (there were 1000 participants) encouraged a major review of IPB campaigning priorities. This identified a crucial gap  in the international peace movement landscape. It is important to note that up to this point there had been no international campaign network on the issue of governmental military spending. Substantial amounts of research had been done (and continues to this day) among academic institutions and some NGOs, and there had been many general denunciations of the size of the commitment to the military and the opportunity costs. But there had been no intentional, structured global campaign linking pressure groups and protesters.

The first stage was the creation in 2005 of the Disarmament for Development (D for D) campaign. It was ‘designed to reflect widespread public concern at the rapid rise in global military spending and the evidence that weapons seriously impede sustainable development’. The title was a more pro-active variant on the UN term ‘Disarmament and Development’ which implies conceptual and policy linkages in both directions. IPB identified 3 ‘baskets’ of concerns: 1) Military expenditure versus social spending; 2) Effects of militarism on development; 3) Justifications for military expenditure. Two books were published to provide an intellectual toolbox for campaigners around the world: Warfare or Welfare? (Archer and Hay-Edie, 2006) and Whose Priorities? (Archer, 2007). Both books provide examples of creative campaigning by NGOs and other civil society organizations that have taken up these issues. More recent IPB publications focus on specific ‘opportunity costs’: (1) the links between military spending and the Development Agenda of the United Nations (SDGs), as well as (2) the challenge of climate change. This latter publication picks up on an IPB theme from a quarter of a century earlier: the militarism and the environment project, set up to challenge the governments at the Rio Summit 1992, who were busy establishing new norms to protect the environment, but deliberately ignoring the impact of the military. These studies in turn were followed by Nuclear Weapons at What Cost? (Cramer, 2009). This book builds on both Atomic Audit (Schwartz, 1998), and Audit atomique (Barrillot, 1999), which analyze the data on the financial costs of nuclear weapons programmes in US and France. IPB’s work was the first global analysis. A more recent addition to the campaign literature is the GCOMS Handbook (2018).

Programme 4. Global Campaign on Military Spending (2011 – )

IPB’s work on military spending drew on a long history of objection to misuse of public funds for war and war preparations.* In addition, the diplomatic initiatives over several decades to raise issues relating to the disparity between defence and human security budgets appeared to offer some hope of buy-in from at least some governments. (Archer and Hay-Edie, 2006). In 2009, during the IPB conference in Washington DC, discussions were held with key figures in the US movement, notably at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), regarding plans for a Global Day (now Days) of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS). Meanwhile, IPB staff began forging links with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – especially around alignment of the GDAMS date/s with the publication of SIPRI’s annual military spending statistics. The following 12 months allowed time for the necessary groundwork to be done, and in 2011 IPB and IPS jointly launched the first round of GDAMS. In 2014 the IPB was ready to further expand the initiative to become a year-round effort: the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS).

GDAMS actions initially took place during a single day, and subsequently during a short period in April-May — normally including the U.S. Tax Day and the SIPRI data release, both of which help draw public attention to the issue around the world. Over time, new partnerships have been formed and new issues incorporated. In particular, the Paris Climate Change agreement (COP21), and (also in 2015) the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN, have offered important opportunities to make the link to other global challenges. By the end of 2015 it was becoming clear that a third area would also be requiring major investments: humanitarian crises. This issue was addressed in the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul.

Most peace movement work on military expenditure has taken place in the developed world, especially Europe and the USA. This is due to a number of factors: democratic space is vital for the flourishing of critical peace movement work; these were in any case the big-spending countries; and civil society in poorer countries has tended to focus on national independence and development, not militarism. However since 1990 new peace-related currents have – for a range of reasons – emerged in the Global South. Here the intensification of globalisation (which has promoted both privatised and state-run arms production) has generated new critiques and modes of resistance. (Siddiqa, 2016).

Despite these shifts, GDAMS/GCOMS partners are still primarily located in the Global North. There is however, strong participation in Asia – notably in Japan, S. Korea and the Philippines. A key element of the challenge of building this worldwide effort is to identify and support new partners in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The number of campaign events organised each year has usually exceeded 100, in 30 or more countries. A whole range of actions have been organized, including street protests/demonstrations, seminars, press conferences, media releases, videos, declarations, petitions, peace vigils, ‘penny polls’ and photo-shoots. Equally diverse are the linkages made with regional, national and local issues. These include the SDGs, humanitarian disasters, militarisation and drug wars in Latin America, the Eurozone crisis in Europe, nuclear weapons modernisation, the tendency towards militarism in Japan, the growing tension between South and North Korea and other issues.

A major milestone was the International Conference “Disarm! For a Climate of Peace” held in Berlin in 2016. Organized by the International Peace Bureau, it brought together a wide variety of experts and advocates from all around the world, with over 1,000 participants from 58 different countries. Four Nobel Peace laureates participated in the conference. Campaigning on military spending was the most prominent theme and was highlighted in detail in the IPB Action Agenda adopted at the conference. (Braun, R. et al, 2018) A follow-up conference is planned for 2021 in Barcelona.

Programme 5. Women and Peacemaking (2004-2005)

Following the Beijing Women’s Conference of 1995, IPB and the IFoR collaborated to publish an annual report on women and peacemaking activities around the world on the occasion of International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament (May 24). A more intensive programme was later set up to commemorate the centenary of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to IPB Vice-President Bertha von Suttner in 1905. The aim was to combine some historical reflection (and to make von Suttner better known) with support for women involved in contemporary peacemaking. The programme involved various conferences, exhibitions and events, mainly in Vienna, Prague and Eastern Europe, but also in Geneva. It was coordinated by Silvi Sterr.

Programme 6. Making Peace photo-exhibition (2010-2017)

Among the instruments used to commemorate the centenary of IPB’s own Nobel Prize (1910) was a major photo-exhibition, curated by Ashley Woods, featuring highlights from the peace movement’s work around the world over the last 100 years. It consisted of 100 large size panels, for display outdoors or indoors. It was shown to great success in many cities, including Geneva, Stockholm, Sarajevo, Basel, Tunis, Strasbourg, Rio de Janeiro and Toronto. In all, several hundred thousand people viewed the exhibit.

Programme 7. Human rights and conflicts work (throughout)

Having an extremely diverse membership based in over 70 countries meant that the Board and Secretariat were encouraged to take up burning issues relating to war and violence in many conflict zones. Geneva is a natural gathering point for those desperate to have their voices heard by governments, notably at the Human Rights Commission, the Sub-Commission and (more recently) the Human Rights Council. Thus it fell to the Secretariat to facilitate meetings, contacts with experts and diplomats, liaise with the media, and on occasion issue statements. In the latter part of the period the Board agreed to restrict this area of work in favour of a deeper engagement in the main project areas. However IPB did give support to the work of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and other related initiatives. One important highlight during the centenary of 2014 World War I commemorations was a major conference in Sarajevo in support of local peacemaking initiatives in the Balkans.

Programme 8. Peace history – diverse projects (throughout)

In the early 2000s, the centenaries of the Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to IPB leaders provided the organization with opportunities to both remember names that had been somewhat lost to the public memory, and to hold events in places with which they were associated. For example von Suttner (Vienna, Prague), Fried (Potsdam), LaFontaine (Mons), Gobat (Jura), Ducommun (Geneva), Bajer (Copenhagen) and of course the IPB itself (Oslo, Geneva).

Various publications were issued, and IPB representatives spoke at, or participated, in several Peace History conferences throughout this period, and at numerous other events, including the Nobel Peace Laureate Summits, held annually in various parts of the world.

It should also be noted that from 1992 onwards IPB has made its own annual peace award, the Sean MacBride Peace Prize. This is an opportunity to honour an individual or organization that has done outstanding work for peace, disarmament and/or human rights. These ceremonies have greatly enriched our annual conferences, and have attracted useful media coverage.

Transition: In 2017, with the retirement of Colin Archer as Secretary-General, the rue de Zurich office was closed; the archives deposited with the Geneva Graduate Institute; the library to the Centre Albert Gobat in Tramelan; and the coordination moved to Berlin. The GCOMS is now run by the Barcelona office. Activity continues on military spending, nuclear disarmament, and a range of other issues.

Some comments on IPB’s role

Cooperation with professionals: IPB is highly unusual in being a general peace movement at the global level. As such it has found it important throughout its history to cooperate with professionals in many fields: including politicians, diplomats, journalists and religious specialists; educators, notably during the Global Campaign for Peace Education; economists during the Global Campaign on Military Spending; and lawyers. The latter played particularly crucial roles during the ‘nuclear illegality’ years (early 1980s – 1996).

A campaign platform: Among the IPB’s most important functions – arguably the most important of all – has been to act as a kind of creative platform or springboard for the development of new campaigns. This has worked on many occasions in the modern period: The European Campaign against the Arms Trade was born out of a seminar convened by IPB in 1987. The World Court Project was launched at the IPB’s centenary conference in Geneva in 1992. The Global Campaign for Peace Education was the fruit of the Hague Appeal for Peace conference-process (1999), and the Global Campaign on Military Spending – which emerged from IPB’s work on Human Security and Disarmament for Development – was launched by IPB in 2011/2014 and to this day it continues to coordinate a wide network of NGOs on this issue.

A bridge between the grass roots and the diplomatic level: From its very origins, IPB was focussed on achieving change at the governmental level. With the establishment of first the League and then the United Nations, the organisation had a natural focus for its lobby work. But it has always acted in dialogue and partnership with the grass roots groupings that make up its membership. The Secretariat has therefore had a foot in both worlds, and has had to adapt its style and language accordingly. The post-Cold War period saw some important changes in civil society modes of engagement with the international system – notably via the series of major global Summits that took place in the 1990s. It has been a struggle to get governments to accept NGO participation in disarmament treaty making, though important strides have been made by the humanitarian disarmament movement, and in this IPB played its part.

Evaluation: Sceptics sometimes have a tendency to look at the career of an individual activist, or of a social change organization, and ask if there have been any concrete achievements. Evaluation is a difficult exercise when the movement is amorphous and the goals far-reaching. (Overy, 1982). It is sometimes forgotten in such discussions that the peace and allied campaigners do have a long list of successes to report (from the abolition of slavery, via the Hague and Geneva Conventions and a long list of disarmament agreements, all the way through to the global ban on landmines). However, it is true that IPB’s most fundamental goals and demands have not been met. We have not abolished nuclear weapons, and certainly not war, armaments or mass violence more generally. But this is to miss the point. Successful social change depends on a whole range of factors coming together: the experience of affected communities, research, strategy and policy formulation, lobbying and mass mobilization, media exposure, political leadership, etc. IPB has contributed to all of these elements, and especially to the coordination of efforts across the very diverse worldwide peace family. Success in this area too has of course been uneven. At times, the divisions have been paralysing. But without both quiet diplomacy and vigorous advocacy, the voices, dreams and political demands emanating from the grass roots movement would surely not have found political expression at the international level.


One important conclusion we may draw, at the end of this necessarily compressed narrative, is that while diplomacy and international law are a crucial part of the process of making peace around the world, they are far from being the whole of that process. All manner of skills, professions, and traditions need to be drawn upon. Many would agree with the notion that the heart of the matter is essentially politics, since peacemaking in the broadest sense requires reaching decisions about how society is organized. But democratic politics takes place largely within national states. The problem comes when two or more nations fail to solve their differences – i.e. when the normal processes of diplomacy fail. At that point war is not far away, and international law is the main framework that we fall back on. Given the serious undermining of multilateralism in recent years, worldwide respect for international agreements is more vital than ever. Intra-state conflict requires a somewhat different approach.

The early IPB pioneers argued that the transition to a peaceful world required the systematic and universal adoption of both  the  mechanisms of arbitration/peaceful settlement of disputes and a set of legal agreements (treaties) to ensure that disarmament would proceed at pace and would in the long term lead to a world without weapons and armed forces. While events over the last 130 years have certainly not followed this plan, and a host of other issues have greatly broadened the scope of peace-making, IPB and its allies have steadfastly held to their long-term vision of the abolition of war.  IPB’s leaders and activists have adapted the focus to circumstances, certainly; they have engaged in broad educational, economic and political mobilizations rather than relying on law and lawyers, as in the early years. But they have never abandoned their faith in the possibility of a more rational and non-violent world – or in other terms, a planetary culture of peace.


Ernst Wolf was succeeded as IPB President in 1974 by Seán MacBride, who continued until 1985, giving way to Bruce Kent of British CND. The Presidents who have followed him are: Maj-Britt Theorin (Sweden), Cora Weiss (USA), Tomas Magnusson  (Sweden), Ingeborg Breines (Norway), Reiner Braun (Germany), Lisa Clark (Italy) and Philip Jennings (UK).

Various individuals have held the post of Secretary-General, among them Ulrich Herz (1967-71) and Rainer Santi (1986-1990) both from Sweden, and then Colin Archer (1990-2017) from the UK. The current incumbent (Executive Director) is Reiner Braun, formerly Co-President. Others who have devoted many years of work to the Secretariat include the late Arthur Booth (Chairman 1968-80), and a long list of volunteers.


1901 Frédéric PASSY, France (IPB Council Member)

1902 Elie DUCOMMUN, Switzerland (first IPB Secretary- General)

1902 Albert GOBAT, Switzerland (second IPB Secretary-General)

1905 Bertha VON SUTTNER, Austria (IPB Vice-President)

1907 Ernesto MONETA, Italy (IPB Council Member)

1908 Fredrik BAJER, Denmark (first IPB President)

1910 The International Peace Bureau itself won the Nobel Peace Prize

1911 Alfred FRIED, Austria (IPB Council Member)

1913 Henri LA FONTAINE, Belgium (IPB President)

1927 Ludwig QUIDDE, Germany (IPB Council Member)

1959 Philip NOEL-BAKER, United Kingdom (IPB Vice- President)

1962 Linus PAULING, United States (IPB Vice-President)

1974 Sean MACBRIDE, Ireland (IPB Chairman and President)

1982 Alva MYRDAL, Sweden (IPB Vice-President)



Archer, Colin, and Hay-Edie, David. (2006). Warfare or Welfare? Disarmament for Development in the 21st Century. IPB, Geneva.

Archer, Colin. (2007). Whose Priorities? A Guide for Campaigners on Military and Social Spending. IPB, Geneva.

Barrillot, Bruno. (1999) Audit atomique. Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix, Lyon.

Carter, April. (1992). Peace Movements: International Protest and World Politics since 1945. Longman, London/NY.

Cortright, David. (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas. Cambridge University Press

Cramer, Ben. (2009). Nuclear Weapons: At What Cost? IPB, Geneva.

Dewes, Kate. and Green, Robert. (2002). The World Court Project, in War and Health: A Reader, Ed. Taipale, I. Zed Books, London.

Gittings, John. (2012). The Glorious Art of Peace. Oxford University Press.

Global Campaign on Military Spending. (2018). GCOMS Handbook, Barcelona.

Grossi, Verdiana (ed.). (1998). Report of the Geneva Peace Education Conference, IPB, Geneva.

Hague Appeal for Peace (1999). The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century. New York

International Peace Bureau. (2000). The Hague Youth Agenda, Geneva.

International Peace Bureau. (2018). IPB Action Agenda, in: Disarmament, Peace and Development. Emerald, UK

Mothersson, Keith. (1992). From Hiroshima to the Hague, IPB, Geneva.

Overy, Bob. (1982). How Effective are Peace Movements? Harvest House, Montreal.

Santi, Rainer. (1990) 100 years of peace making. IPB, Geneva.

Schwartz, Stephen. (1998), Atomic Audit. Brookings Institution, Washington DC.

Siddiqa, Ayesha. (2017). Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. Pluto Press, London.

Wittner, Lawrence. (2009). Confronting the Nuclear Threat. Stanford University Press. (Summary of his 3-volume work The Struggle Against the Bomb.)


* This article is based on a chapter contributed to the 3rd edition of Nuclear Weapons and International Law, ed. Geoffrey Darnton, 2020. see: https://nuclearweaponsandinterntionallaw.com, and on a chapter contributed to the forthcoming volume (Nov. 2020) edited by the Global Campaign on Military Spending, entitled Military Spending and Global (in)Security: Militarising conflicts, climate change and people’s lives.

The IPB was founded in 1891. Details of its work in the decades prior to 1990 can be found in these two chapters; in some of the works cited above; and on the IPB website.