Galtung's theoretical work proposes that there are four ways in which conflict can emerge: conflicts within a person or between persons; conflicts between races, sexes, generations, or classes; conflicts between states; and conflicts between civilizations or multi-state regions, such as the Cold War.
Galtung has held several significant positions in international research councils and has been an advisor to several international organisations. Since 2004 he has been a member of the Advisory Council of the Committee for a Democratic UN.
He has also written many empirical and theoretical articles, dealing most frequently with issues of peace and conflict research. His work is distinguished by his unique perspective as well as the importance he attributes to innovation and interdisciplinarity.
He is one of the authors of an influential account of news values which are the factors which determine what coverage is given to what stories in the news. Galtung also originated the concept of Peace Journalism, which is increasingly influential in communications and media studies.
Galtung is frequently referenced with regard to concepts with which he is strongly associated:
- Structural violence - widely defined as the systematic ways in which a regime prevents individuals from achieving their full potential. Institutionalized racism and sexism are examples of this.
- Negative vs. Positive Peace - introduced the concept that peace may be more than just the absence of overt violent conflict (negative peace), and will likely include a range of relationships up to a state where nations (or any groupings in conflict) might have collaborative and supportive relationships (positive peace).
He has also distinguished himself in public debates concerning, among other things, less-developed countries, defence issues, and the Norwegian EU-debate. In 1987 he was given the Right Livelihood Award. He developed the TRANSCEND Method described above.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union he has made several predictions of when the USA will no longer be a functioning superpower, a stance that has attracted some controversy. After the beginning of theIraq War, he revised his prediction of the "downfall of the US-Empire" seeing it as more imminent. He claims the U.S. will go through a phase as a fascist dictatorship on its path down, and that thePatriot Act is a symptom of this. He claims the election of George W. Bush cost the U.S. empire five years - although he also says this estimate was set a bit arbitrarily. He now sets the date for the end of the American Empire at 2020, but not the American Republic. Like Great Britain, Russia and France, he says the American Republic will be better off without the Empire.
Galtung has made predictions which have failed to materialize. For example, City Journal claims that in 1953, Galtung predicted that the Soviet Union's economy would soon overtake the West.