"There will always be conflicts in this world - social, political and economic conflicts. We must ensure that these conflicts are dealt with sensibly and solutions found that do not restrict the freedom of people." It was with these words that the former Hessian minister president, Albert Osswald, handed over the foundation deed of PRIF to the interim board - Prof. Dr. Ernst-Otto Czempiel, Dr. Hans Nicklas and Dr. Dieter Senghaas - on 30 October 1970. Just one year before, in his inaugural speech, Osswald had asked Hessian colleges and universities to develop a programme for an institute of peace and conflict research. The willingness of local government to promote peace research found most resonance at the Philipps-Universität in Marburg and the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. The City of Frankfurt also supported plans to set up a peace research institute. So, in summer 1970, an 11-strong scientific commission was able to draw up a programme detailing the tasks and organisation 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 ad Ann Arbor who are likewise oriented around structural research and with whom intensive cooperation is sought."
On the basis of this document, the Hessian regional government resolved on 22 July 1970 to set up the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt and on 15 September, it adopted its constitution. Since PRIF was founded at the start of the détente process between east and west, the work of the institute concentrated mainly on research into the east-west conflict, the armament dynamics, the arms control and disarmament. During the seventies and eighties, the research programme was modified and expanded to include the north-south dimension and its interaction with the east-west conflict. Now was also time to turn the knowledge gained from the basic research into practical political advice. The radical change in the international system at the start of the nineties meant that the PRIF research profile needed to be redefined. In an era of basic international, social, economic and technological change, the adopted programme in 1991 concentrated on the "Theory and Practice of Cooperation - Europe’s Contribution to Peace". This also included research into global and regional developments which could influence the peace process in Europe. Hence, the accent on research into the causes of war was moved more towards the analysis and formulation of the conditions for peace as a lasting, non-violent option for interstate and domestic conflicts.
In 2000, PRIF entered its fourth scientific development phase. Based on the research programme, "Antinomies of democratic peace", the task is to examine the apparently obvious notion that democracies are inevitably peaceful and that the promising peace strategy is to pursue democratisation based on the western model under all circumstances. Democracies’ ability to maintain peace and the inherent dangers must therefore be analysed extensively and new negotiating options for peace made available internally and externally. This is in line with peace research’s task to reflect self-critically on the thoughts and actions of democracies.
With this research programme, PRIF has undergone an evaluation process in order to be included into the Leibniz Gemeinschaft, a German science association that comprises about 86 research institutions of outstanding quality and importance. In December 2004, the evaluation commission of the German Science Council assessed PRIF’s work on the basis of a written documentation and a number of presentations. The commission approved PRIF as a center of excellence and recommended its inclusion into the Leibniz Association. On November 19th, 2007, the "Bund-Länder-Kommission" (commission of federal and state representatives) determined PRIF’s inclusion into the Leibniz Association starting from January 1st, 2009.