Sunday, May 16, 2010

Building Peace Conference

Yesterday (Saturday May 15th) was the Building Peace Conference organized by the Oxford Network for Peace Studies, or OxPeace. OxPeace is a "a multi-disciplinary initiative to promote the focused study of the nature of peace, peacemaking, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, in Oxford. It aims to promote relevant research and teaching, and the inter-disciplinary cross-fertilisation of ideas, and to enable the sharing of research between Oxford academics and graduate students and those from other institutions in Britain and abroad, and with scholar-practitioners in the field." Keynote speakers were Professor of Peace Research Johan Galtung and Ugandan human rights lawyer Barney Afako. 

I'll be adding my notes from the conference over the next few days. Highlights from last year's conference, The Serious Study of Peace, can be found here.

Background (from the program):
There is growing interest in academic circles in the questions surrounding the nature of peace. This includes the making, keeping, and building of peace. Peace as a site for academic study raises unique questions and provides a distinctive shape to interdisciplinary endeavour, drawing on politics and international relations, economics, development, environmental studies, war and conflict, anthropology, psychology, law, ethics and theology to name only a few.

The focus on peace adds a fresh dimension to established disciplines and engenders a distinctive interdisciplinary synergy. It has produced an extensive, rapidly growing body of academic literature, and shows potential as a discipline in its own right, embracing all levels from senior research to undergraduate teaching. Much relevant research and teaching  is being done in Oxford. This Conference taps into some of this work, as well as providing a forum for sharing with colleagues from across the world.

Dr Liz Carmichael (St John's College, Theology)
Carmichael began with some introductory remarks about the history and purpose of OxPeace. She described OxPeace as held together by the idea of peace as a worthy academic focus. Its goal is to promote new centers, new institutes, and a new chair of Peace Studies at Oxford (for which they need funding). Carmichael emphasized the need to raise the profile and the study of peace at an elite institution like Oxford, which would lend credibility to peace studies as an academic field in its own right.

First Talk:

Professor Johan Galtung
After the Abolition of Slavery and Colonialism, War as a Social Institution: The Role of England.  An example of Applied Peace Studies

Johan Galtung is currently based near Geneva as co-Director of the Transcend Research Institute,  which he co-founded in 1993. A Norwegian sociologist and ‘father’ of academic peace studies, Johan Galtung founded the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) in 1959 and was its first Director 1959-69. He then became Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Oslo University 1969-78. He is a peace practitioner and prolific researcher, who has held numerous visiting professorships in Europe and the USA.

Galtung began his talk by urging Oxford University to become a “facilitator of solutions.” He described his role as “father of peace studies” in the 1950’s, where he worked to advocate peacebuilding, peacekeeping and peaceguiding. Over the years his work as led him to 10 findings, which he believes can help in the project of de-institutionalizing war:
1. The top will never abolish anything on its own – the top will never degrade itself.
2. Abolition never comes from bottom alone, it needs an enlightened element (often women play a pivotal role here).
3. Consciousness formation is crucial. Consciousness raising is often well performed by churches.
 4. There must be a vision of change, and spirituality can be used as a bridging concept, crossing divisions between religions of east and west. There must be emphasis on the linking of something out there to something in here. Heart and brain go hand in hand.
5. Need unlimited perseverance.
6. Cannot demand synchronicity, or implement change in all places at the same time. We need leading countries to provide the example.
7. Multilateralism (summit meetings) will generally lead to nothing. Galtung gives the example of the recent climate change summit as a failed attempt to implement change. Countries need to show the lead, especially now on the issue of nuclear weapons.
8 and 9. Sometimes heavy politics is necessary. “When someone has new idea, the first reaction is laughter, then suspicion, then a heavy politician who says ‘its been my idea all along’” There is a dialectic of success and failure.
10. There is a heavy price to any change. There will always be resistance from those who claim that if we don’t do this then someone else will. And every action will have often unforeseen consequences.

Galtung turned next to a “middle” position on what we would need to abolish war. After again emphasizing the role played by women, he says change will come from a variety of “middles”. The middle-aged – when they still have physical energy and have not yet solidified their ideas, although he acknowledges it is possible to be middle aged well into one’s 80s. The middle-sexed – who are not lost in narcissistic beauty concerns that take up too much time and effort in our modern society. The middle class – because the upper class is oblivious to problems, and the lower class is too concerned with its own.  The middle-towns – big cities have too many monuments celebrating the grandeur of their city, and growing up in this sort of environment seeps into a certain (righteous) view of world.  The middle-religious – somewhere between a hard religious outlook that is too uncompromising, and a soft religious outlook exemplified by groups like the Quakers. The Anglican church may be intermediary between these two extremes. Finally, middle-politics – that celebrates coalitions and seeks to find ideas that accommodate both sides. The idea of social capitalism or social democracy was itself such a coalition.

Galtung’s concluding remarks reflected on war as a tenacious structure, as opposed to solely dependent on particular actors. There is cooperation between countries in maintaining the war system, and history has shown that we tend to stop war just in time to avoid putting an end to the entire war system. Righteousness makes all players think their views are universal, but it is time for an "intellectual helicopter sweep" to view countries from above and see the larger picture.

Second Talk:
Barney Afako
Grappling with Peace: Reflections on some efforts to deal with violent conflict in Africa

Barney Afako, a scholar-practitioner of peacebuilding, is a leading Ugandan human rights lawyer and transitional justice expert. Currently based in London, he is an adviser to the peace process in northern Uganda and other peace processes in Africa. He is a leading scholar in transitional justice specifically.

Afako began by describing some of his experience in Uganda  working with  local people in small communities. He noted that these people are mainly interested in their futures and those of their children, not in punishing rebels and bringing them to trial. They bring into sharp focus the idea that justice is a much bigger concept than criminality and criminal justice. Therefore it is possible to have a primary focus on bringing an end to violent conflict without giving up the need for accountability. Afako described how he would constantly run into arguments to pursue and nurture the idea of international criminal justice, but this is a far too limited view. In approaching peacebuilding, one cannot escape hard dilemma’s, and one cannot always resolve these dilemmas. But we can try to be prepared to handle these dilemmas. Mediators and peacebuilding practitioners step into the space between law and the local (bridging the gap between international criminal justice and ordinary people). This is a no mans zone, but people who want to make peace need to stand here.

Afako also emphasized the dual role of the state and civil society in the peace process. The state’s influence is both inescapable and utterly crucial. Yes, the state exerts control over any part of peace-building, but it is important to understand that there is no space in which conflict takes place that is not under some aspect of control. Therefore mediators need to keep having conversation with many actors of the state, and this involves going to the top. They need to help states organize themselves to respond to conflict, as well as keep the state cohesive. On the other side, civil society is increasingly mobilized on issues of justice, and lots of people are engaged with peace process. Civil society needs to have a part in the peace process; it needs to be at the table. People in civil society will bring perspective to those around the table. So while it is critical to focus on state, it is important to also focus on people. People without the state will not work, and the state without people will not have support. A mediator needs to carry everyone.

Finally, Afako addressed the importance of looking deeper into any conflict to identify the structural concerns. He says we can’t take our eyes off the parties involved, but we also cannot afford to forget the structural issues. The process of peace goes beyond the signatures on a peace agreement. He advises mediators to keep abreast of social changes so that new conflicts don’t take them by surprise.

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