A New Source of Skills for Crisis Prevention and Management

14 Nov

Editor’s note:  The following is from Gord Breedyk, currently in residence at GAPW where he is exploring ways that the UN can connect with his own work at Civilian Peace Service Canada. GAPW has long been supportive of this civilian-based initiative and plans to stay connected longer term. We need more of the skills and competencies that Gord and his team help to assess. 

I have recently been given the privilege of working with Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) including observing and learning from UN meetings.  These meetings have ranged from Security Council briefings on Gaza, Mali, Syria and Ukraine to committee deliberations on: Human Rights; Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control; Interstate Arbitration and Enforcement of Decisions; Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support; International Law and Asymmetric Warfare; Women Redefining the Terms of Peace Negotiations; the Peacebuilding Commission’s response to Ebola; the Power of Entrepreneurship; and a Report on the Economic and Social Repercussions of the Israeli Occupation. And this is but a tiny sample of all the meetings taking place in a relatively typical fall week at the UN.

Hugely impressive to an outside observer is the breadth and depth of subject matter deliberated by UN delegates; also the overall dedication, civility and mutual respect  practised by most of them,  often despite deeply held and contradictory views, and often despite  significant frustration at the apparent inability of the UN as an institution to a) prevent what often seem to be relatively predictable catastrophes and b) adequately deal with them once they do materialize financially, operationally and, yes,  politically.

For example (paraphrased), “Why bother rebuilding Palestine …it may be destroyed again in months or years?,” two delegates recently asked the Commissioner General for UNRWA. The Commissioner answered, “It is a human imperative to rebuild – we must.”

Rebuilding is one thing. Prevention, even transformation of conflict-related threats that can minimize destruction is quite another. But where is the capacity and skill needed to prevent and mediate conflict going to come from?  We feel that the UN would be well-served by engaging Accredited Peace Professionals as a supplement to the UN’s own recent commitments to involve more civilians in its operations.

Like well-trained doctors, lawyers, engineers, soldiers, etc., Accredited Peace Professionals are practitioners in the field of international negotiation, mediation, arbitration and diplomacy. These practitioners are held to high professional standards through rigorous assessment of values and competencies in the peace field and, once qualified, formally accredited as meeting the required standards.

To quote Cameron Chisholm of the International Peace & Security Institute (IPSI): “Doctors are educated in both theory and practice before they ever enter the operating room. Why should peacebuilding be any less professional?”  And he goes on to say “It shouldn’t be!”

How would Accredited Peace Professionals supplement Peacekeepers and other UN capacity?  Whereas  UN Peacekeepers are primarily military professionals providing (increasingly complex) mandated peacekeeping services in areas of conflict, Peace Professionals are accredited for competencies and values in preventing, mitigating and transforming conflict in all aspects. As with any other profession (including the military) these professionals will have met the standards relevant for their peace/mediation vocation.  In other words, Peace Professionals have demonstrated skills in areas that Peacekeepers struggle to address as part of their increasingly complex mandates.

What difference could this additional assessed capacity make?  The UN and its agencies could benefit from the skills and energies of hundreds, ultimately thousands of highly trained, thoroughly assessed Accredited Peace Professionals, persons focused on reducing the number of violent conflicts and the levels of conflict (where they still occur) and, significantly, minimizing the impact on civilians including damage to their infrastructure.  Such professionals would also ease demands on UN and member state resources.  A reduction in civilian lives lost and/or in the numbers of IDPs and refugees would more than offset the cost of deploying Accredited Peace Professionals.

Civilian Peace Service Canada (CPSC) has developed and piloted an assessment and accreditation methodology that has withstood academic and professional scrutiny. Its rigour ensures dedicated and competent professionals ready for service in peace and mediation related fields. We are now looking to significantly grow the number of Accredited Peace Professionals to meet the growing capacity gaps at the UN and elsewhere. (More on this at: www.civilianpeaceservice.ca).

We are aware and supportive of the need expressed in different UN settings for more gender balance in areas of mediation and other peace processes.  But there is a broader need as well.  We simply don’t have enough capacity to handle all of the crises (and threats of crises) that are the focus of so many UN briefings and discussions.   Accredited Peace Professionals can help fill this gap.

Gordon Breedyk, Civilian Peace Service Canada

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