BOGOTÁ – The Framework Agreement for the End of the Armed Conflict in Colombia that has just been announced by President Juan Manuel Santos is a historic landmark for his country and all of Latin America. It is also a tribute to diplomatic resourcefulness and negotiating skill.
The agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the FARC, came after long years of failed attempts by Colombian governments of all political shades to reach an accommodation with the last, and among the most odious, guerrilla movement to have operated in Latin America. Never before has the FARC – a monumental apparatus of terror, mass murder, and drug trafficking – agreed to discuss disarmament, its fighters’ social and political reintegration, victims’ rights, an end to drug production, and participation in “truth and responsibility” commissions to examine the crimes committed during a half-century of conflict. But now it has.
Back in the days when I was practising for my driving test came the moment to overcome my first tunnel. There are lots of these in Switzerland, and they tend to be rather long… My teacher warned: “Don’t look at the wall, or you’ll crash right into it; focus on the middle of the lane instead”.
Indeed, one of our many cognitive biases is to focus too much on immediate dangers, while losing sight of the way out.
The US Congress was contemplating the wall and forgot about the lane when it voted to cut all of the funding for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 17 February.
If you aren’t familiar with USIP yet, I recommend you take a look at their excellent publications series, or at this praise of their field work by Anthony C Zinni, a former commander in chief of the United States Central Command.
Meanwhile, a wave of support for USIP’s work has spread in the hope of persuading the Senate to vote otherwise. Two senior staff members argue here that it makes a lot of economic sense to invest in peace and conflict prevention rather than pay for the wars these efforts contribute to avoid. As Anthony Zinni puts it, “the institute’s entire budget [$43 million] would not pay for the Afghan war for three hours“.
Last autumn, a study by Media Tenor and the Institute for Economics and Peace measured peace reporting in international media. Their detailed case study of Afghanistan demonstrates that media coverage has been focusing on defence and crime, while neglecting news of progress in critical areas needed to build lasting peace.
Lack of visibility is a real problem when it comes to persuading busy non-experts to give you money. On the face of it, “I trained 20 people in negotiation skills this month” doesn’t sound quite as decisive for national security as “I killed an insurgent today”.
Building peace is not spectacular. It’s slow and a lot hard unrewarding work. But it’s still the most efficient way out of the tunnel. Good luck and a lot of courage to our colleagues at USIP!
On Thursday 3rd of December, the Parliament of the World’s Religions opened the doors of its 5th parliamentary session in Melbourne, Australia. The first session took place on 1893 at the World Exposition of Chicago. The parliament waited 100 years to host its second parliamentary session and since 1993, the inter-religious body has met every 5 years.
At its first meeting, the assembly wanted to promote a better understanding of different cultures and already called for peaceful relations between all religions. They also called for a common understanding of faith, exemplified by Indian Hindu delegate Swami Vivekananda’s call: “if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will hold no location in place or time; which will be infinite, like the God it will preach; whose Son shines upon the followers of Krishna or Christ, saints or sinners, alike; which will not be the Brahman or Buddhist, Christian or Mohammedan [Muslim], but the sum total of all these”.
After 100 years of inactivity, the assembly has started to play a proactive role in what is called para- or indirect diplomacy; ensuring that different religions and populations exchange views and opinions on global affairs with a religious perspective; the final goal being peace. For example, in 1999 the assembly focused on HIV/AIDS. This year, the parliament will focus on the rights of indigenous people and on climate change.
The swisspeace conference focused non-state actors and featured brilliant speakers with first-hand experience with the topic. We listened to a former IRA fighter and various academics that had conducted dialogue between non-state armed groups (NSAG) and governmental forces.
On Tuesday, 3 November I will attend the Swisspeace Annual Conference. The topic is “Rebels with a Cause? Understanding and Dealing with Non-State Armed Groups During and After Violent Conflicts.”
The Swiss NGO has invited some high-level speakers that have field experience in negotiation with non-state actors, such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and our partner Small Arms Survey. For more information on non-state actors, you can check the ISN keyword on our website that contains a lot of publications.
Then on the following Thursday, I will attend the annual conference of UNO-Academia on “Collective Security and Maintenance of International Peace and Security: What are the Stakes?”. UNO-Academia is a network between all the Swiss universities that gathers research on UN-related topics.
According to the program, academics will be joined by policymakers to develop a comprehensive approach on the above mentioned question. For a short summary of the concept of “Collective Security”, you can check out this story from ISN Security Watch partner World Affairs Journal by Peter Beinart. The conference will be preceded by a roundtable discussion in which I have been invited to speak: “Youth Meets the United Nations: Which Role for Youth in the United Nations?”.
Of course, I’ll update you next week with the outcomes of these conferences. If it happens that you are also taking part in the same conferences, it would be a pleasure to meet you there.