Tag Archives: Local Actors’

Redesigning Peace: Creative Learning from Diverse Local Actors, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Apr

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.  Czesław Miłosz

We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat. John Steinbeck

It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men. Mary Wollstonecraft

It isn’t enough to stand up and fight darkness. You’ve got to stand apart from it, too. You’ve got to be different from it.   Jim Butcher

In some ways, this was a hopeful week for the international community.  The images of Korean leaders greeting each other across the DMZ to start mapping out an end to the Korean War and the possible de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula were remarkable.   There is cause for skepticism here, including with regard to the intentions of the big powers to manipulate the current diplomatic opening, but it our hope that the international community can attentively accompany this still-fragile process rather than seek to exploit it for political “credit” or to enhance economic or military alliances.

At the UN, the president of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák set off a fresh series of High Level discussions on “sustaining peace,” yet another UN slogan at one level, but also an overdue opportunity to refresh and reset our security frameworks.  In diverse conference rooms (including the Security Council chamber), states and other stakeholders engaged in what Equatorial Guinea this week called the “redesign” of our collective peace and security architecture, getting out in front of armed conflict and its devastating impacts rather than waiting until defenses of state sovereignty give way to what are generally untimely and expensive pleas for peacekeeping operations and conflict-related humanitarian assistance.   As France put it on Wednesday, once the “gears of conflict” are set in motion, we must find the means to respond sooner and better.

In the end, the value of “sustaining peace” lies in its commitment to both use all the tools and actors at our disposal and to create the capacities and networks that we still need to fully honor our peace and security commitments; commitments considered by many – often tinged with anxiety – constituting what Poland called the “holy grail” of UN policy mandates. As such, one of the most hopeful events of this past week was a side session, hosted by Belgium’s Queen Mathilda, during which women from several African countries made the case for why mediation must command a higher profile in the UN’s conflict toolbox, but also why women are so often well positioned within their communities to adapt such tools to productive conflict prevention ends.

As the GA  High Level event made plain, we have tools still to build and, indeed, a culture of multilateralism still to firm up within which such tools can have power to shift our conflict dynamics.  As evidenced in a speech delivered on Tuesday by H.E. Michael Higgins, the President of Ireland, it is certainly justifiable  to express frustration with our collective incapacity to use the skills already at hand to eliminate violence and poverty, at the same time acknowledging the collective imperative to recover through new tools and urgent actions the “ring of authenticity” of the words we use in this policy space – and sometimes overuse –to lament armed violence and the inequalities and insecurities at community level which too often provide its “oxygen.”

When speaking of the need to overhaul our collective peace and security framework, a favorite term of SG Guterres (as is well known) is “prevention,” a term that is relatively easy to toss around but difficult to apply in practice within an institution where virtually every ray of sunshine is clouded in politics.  We have written much about this notion in earlier years, underscoring the degree to which “prevention” remains a pervasive driver of our family and community lives.  But we have also noted that it has not, except in fits and starts, translated into actionable policy at multilateral levels.  Diplomats who are properly scrupulous about the diet, health care, education and weather-appropriate clothing for their own children are infrequently able to bring those skills and insights into UN conference rooms.

We agree with what the ever-pragmatic Kazakhstan offered this week in the Security Council about prevention:  when we are able to truly implement it, prevention “works, saves lives, and is cost effective.”  And we do understand that drawing analogies from family life to multilateral policy spaces is fraught with difficulty.   Diplomats can be scrupulous with children on the (quite valid) assumption that they are not yet able to make good decisions for their own long term benefit.   With member states, the assumption is closer to the opposite, that states are able and primarily empowered to “handle their own business” until they demonstrate (and then admit) that they cannot manage those responsibilities themselves.  What states want (rightly so) is capacity support for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, but they mostly want it within a framework as noted by many states (and perhaps China most reliably) of full respect for national sovereign interests.

Such is the “dance” that the UN engages as it attempts to honor its diverse peace and security responsibilities.  Despite justifiable hope emanating from Liberia, Colombia and now the Korean peninsula, our peace and security architecture still prompts many to “throw up their hands” at the apparent inability of the system to end settlements in the West Bank, prohibit the bombing of civilians in Yemen and Syria, commit the governments of Mali and South Sudan to honest peace agreement implementation, find justice and relief for the people of Puerto Rico and Haiti, and much more.  The successes are real and most welcome, but the frustrations are numerous and patience with the existing system, at least in some quarters, grows thinner by the week.

But there were encouraging signs this week that we might be on the verge of the kind of renaissance that we have tried in our small way to point towards over several years – an integrated security framework that is as concerned with water as with weapons; as concerned with gender as with the prevention of genocide.  Such a framework is, in some significant ways, the “gift” of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an ambitious “blueprint” for a healthier and more peaceful future wherein by 2030, in our most optimistic expectations, the major triggers of conflict are tamed and the pervasive impacts of violence are healed.

The SDGs give special credence to two important, security-relevant insights to which we probably don’t give sufficient attention:  a practical (and enthusiastic) affirmation of the intrinsic value of multilateralism on the one hand, and the need to make good on our promises to the full integration of global actors on the other.   The first of these was well noted — often with caution—during the dizzying array of events held here in New York this week.  Indeed many states (and many other actors as well) worry  that a “new Cold War” brewing among the major powers, coupled with new concerns over fiscal austerity and the potential escalation of unresolved conflicts, threaten to unravel enthusiasm for behaviors conducive to effective multilateral policy, including as Ethiopia urged this week the reigning in of our “short sided pursuit of national interests.”

But it is the second of these that interests me most, the need to inspire hopeful actions in others, but also to acknowledge and extend the many good works that generally fly under the radar but contribute in their own way to more sustainable futures.  Of all the images of this past week, one of my favorites was the one of truck drivers assembled in formation under a Michigan overpass to deter someone apparently seeking to commit suicide.   Truck drivers, not known as a group for their policy savvy (certainly not when I was driving one), are seen implementing a solution to urgent human need as creative as most of what we routinely accomplish within our policy bureaucracies.   Indeed, these drivers reminded me a bit of the women mediators from Africa and those advocating for justice for Puerto Rico and from indigenous communities – people engaging in hopeful responses to despair or injustice, and likely capable of doing more if we would only set proper places for them at the table.

Despite some appearances to the contrary, there is practical virtue running all through our communities. If a “redesigned” peace architecture is to succeed we must find ways to highlight and enable more of that hopeful and creative energy.

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