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Beyond Mediation: The Integral Role of Non-Governmental Approaches to Resolving Protracted Ethnic Conflicts in Lesser-Developed Countries

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OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution

Beyond Mediation: The Integral Role of Non-Governmental Approaches to Resolving Protracted Ethnic Conflicts in Lesser-Developed Countries

By David Baharvar

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In a time of historical crisis, it is the reproduction of society, not states, which is at stake.

Deiniol Jones, Cosmopolitan Mediation

The Insufficiency of Track One Third Parties as Peacemakers

'Track One Diplomacy' is a term used to describe official government-to-government negotiation among instructed representatives of sovereign states (McDonald, 1993). Governments are finally responsible for negotiating, signing, and ratifying treaties and other agreements that may be necessary to seal a peace between adversaries. Yet in most cases of ethnic or sectarian conflict, Track One alone will not necessarily identify, include, or allow a full and fair hearing for all of the antagonists in a conflict (Berkovitch, 1996, 167). This is because in ethnic conflicts in particular, one side or another often denies the legitimacy of the other side's existence, especially if the other side is a nonstate actor such as a rebel or seceding group. Ethnic conflicts frequently center around "dissensual" issues over values (Berkovitch, 222) and often involve the possibility of one side's extinction (Montville, interview), which may lead to terror being a central aspect of the conflict (Collin Marks, interview). Such conflicts, I believe, are most often rooted in a lack of communication between people on both sides of the conflict and, as a result, warped perceptions of what the other side stands for and what threat they really pose.

Third party officials, whether they represent governments or international bodies, are unsuited to deal effectively with conflicts that involve society-wide actors and issues because of the political relationships to which they are bound. For instance, the status that recognition might give to an antagonist, as well as the predominant philosophy and law in international relations regarding noninterference with national sovereignty (McDonald, interview), may preclude an official intervener from recognizing and addressing the most significant party to a conflict. For example, the Organization of African States (OAU) could not act to mediate in the Nigerian civil war except to denounce the secession of Biafra in 1967, for just such a reason. The OAU was constrained by the very nature of its membership and its reason for existing as an international organization--namely, to promote and support the existing state structure in Africa at the time (Princen, 204).

Arguably, there is no such thing as a "neutral" or impartial intervener in international diplomacy (Saunders, interview) because all official third parties have an interest in "who wins" an ethnic conflict. A powerful state intervener such as the United States can and does use its political, economic, or military leverage -- "carrots and sticks" -- to improve its ally's position in a conflict and to partially impose agreement on the leaders of the conflicting groups. In some sense this may be described as a hybrid between mediation and arbitration (Sunoo, interview), but in any case, it does not necessarily aim to address the underlying causes of an ethnic conflict. To illustrate, the US role as "mediator" in the Camp David Accords, while it simultaneously provided arms and military funding to Israel, arguably contributed more to the militarization of the conflict (Junes, 51-52) than to addressing underlying societal issues such as the mutual disdain between Jews and Arabs (Montville, interview).

Even Norway, a self-styled "neutral" small-state actor (Lieberfield, 203) was arguably not a truly effective peacemaker, contrary to the belief of many scholars, in its most famous mediation case, the Oslo Accords. According to Jones, the Oslo Accords claimed to recognize all of the parties and to take communicative action. But examining the details of the agreement brings to light what was arguably a form of continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian nation. This was a flawed application of domestic-type facilitation in an international conflict (Jones, 146, 150-151), one which in retrospect did little to reduce the underlying ethnic tension between Palestinians as Jews that we still see manifested today.

Neither is the UN nor regional organizations effectively able to incorporate the concerns of the people on all sides of ethnic conflicts, because as touched upon before, they are beholden to protect the existing state system. Such an orientation is part of their mandate and is not likely to change (Princen, 204). Some might disagree, arguing that certain bodies within the UN, or at least certain figures such as the Secretary General, have the impartial moral standing and central position in the international diplomatic network to effectively mediate between groups (Berkovitch, 84). But in practice, both UN peacemaking teams and the Secretary General have (so far) been only marginally successful as mediators in ethnic conflicts, largely because they rarely have a long-standing relationship with either of the parties. Even though the Secretary General can demand that parties negotiate, he has historically had little influence over the actual process of negotiations. Such has been the case with Kofi Annan mediating between government officials from Sierra Leone, from India and Pakistan, and in the context of other ethnically related conflicts (McDonald, interview). Furthermore, it is not always clear whether agreements will be honored by each side's constituencies because identity groups do not always have as cohesive a leadership structure as states. Similar problems have been encountered by the would-be mediators of various regional diplomacy organizations around the world.

Another problem with Track One interveners is that the traditional motivation behind international mediation or facilitation is not necessarily peace-oriented. The writings of William Zartman, representative of traditional international mediation theory, portray it as a geo-strategically manipulative activity, the aim of which is not long-term conflict resolution but a self-interested strategy of advancement by all individual parties in a conflict, including the mediator (Zartman & Touval, 12,151-156). This involves a quest for short-term gain as opposed to a long-term strategy for peace or to save lives (Jones, 34, 52, 53). The value of neutrality or impartiality is questioned and even somewhat negated (Zartman & Touval, 15). In other contexts, the realist aspect of traditional international mediation theory has been criticized as "ideologically sterile" and unacceptably "passive." For example, it often dictates that a powerful outsider "wait" for the right opportunity to gain the most from a mediation, even in the face of loss of innocent life (Montville, interview).

Yet despite such problems, such a "power political" approach (as Jones describes, 157) constitutes the predominant attitude of diplomats toward international mediation: that is, maximizing the outcome for their government irrespective of the outcome for the other parties. This conception is reflected in former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's argument that international peace is achieved in a hostile international environment through a "concert of Great Powers," which can create regional power balances in unstable regions across the globe (Kissinger, ch. 31). Granted, many international conflicts may be managed and abated in this way and in this environment. But the resolution of the problems typically underlying ethnic conflicts -- terror, isolation, and ignorance between people -- is not of major concern in the traditional body of theory. Nor is providing ownership of the peace process to the people on both sides of the conflict themselves.

All in all, the nature of protracted ethnic conflicts is society-wide and not, in essence, a matter between governments. Common characteristics of protracted ethnic conflicts are the stereotyping and/or demonization of others and massive violations of human rights, particularly against civilians. Ethnic conflicts at their root involve clashes, or perceived clashes, of culture, which (to borrow Kevin Avruch's description in "Culture and Conflict Resolution") can be defined as socially constructed identity and meaning shared by a community, strongly influencing relationships between individuals and how they interpret the world.(1) Such conflicts are fueled by notions of identity, a concept of security, and a feeling of well-being. Fundamentally, therefore, the most appropriate "party" to deal with in protracted ethnic conflict situations is the identity group, not the nation-state or even the "governing structure," where there is one.

While the latter level is where Track One mediation occurs, such mediation is not enough. Identity is experienced socially and psychologically, not simply through the agreements of leaders. Intractable conflicts escalate to dominate, absorb, and direct much of the energies and resources of all communities directly involved, ultimately involving every aspect of inter-communal relations. (Montville, interview) In such circumstances, the primary goal of conflict resolution should be seen as changing the conditions of social intractability in communities. Unless dialogue and reconciliation with the "enemy" is part of antagonists' experience at many levels of society, no official agreement will truly resolve an ethnic conflict.

So what should outsiders do? Let's start with what they should not do. In the early stages of resolution, many deep-rooted human conflicts are not ready for formal mediation or negotiation by anyone. Each antagonistic group may or may not have organized leadership who has the legitimacy to represent them, and even if they do, such leadership will barely look at each other across a table, not to mention negotiate openly. Furthermore, many lesser-developed countries, when torn by ethnic conflict, are missing any effective legal mechanisms or formal set of institutions to handle such conflicts. Official negotiations would be premature in such a stage of conflict. Yet if no intervention of any sort takes place, then conflicts will likely grow. As any precedent for peaceful co-existence withers into a distant memory, incidents of violence will increase in frequency and duration.

Partly because of the multifaceted and complex nature of most protracted ethnic conflicts and the societal fragmentation they engender, attempts at peacemaking by domestic organizations of the country are often sporadic, uncoordinated, and lacking in resources. As a result, outside parties are faced with the dilemma of lending a hand or ignoring the issue. Naturally, many times they will opt for the former over the latter, even if the help they can offer is minimal. Yet in trying to make up for shortages of domestic resources, a critical mistake that outsiders have made in internal conflicts is to contribute to the disempowerment of local communities. For instance, outside humanitarian assistance agencies often begin to negotiate with the armed protagonists while the civilian population at large becomes increasingly passive. As external mediation becomes more dominant, local actors are further disempowered. Berkovitch describes Sri Lanka over the last 40 years as an example of such a case (Berkovitch, 158-169). Unfortunately, other examples abound -- in Indonesia, Angola, Rwanda, Liberia, etc. -- where international organizations (including NGOs but to a larger extent, government projects) impose fragile solutions rather than truly contribute to long-term peacebuilding.

Hence, while more approaches to conflict resolution are needed than just Track One mediation between leaders, outside organizations should not try to take the place of what internal peacemaking resources a divided society already has, and what can be developed further. What, then, should outsiders do? Dr. Joseph Montville, a former U.S. diplomat and expert in the psychodynamics of ethnic conflicts, stresses that the people of such societies need to be empowered before they can forgive, heal, and restabilize their lives (Montville, interview). While official government-to-government mediation does not address this issue for the reasons stated above, there is much that non-governmental approaches can offer, as is illustrated below.

Filling the Peacemaking Gap: A Successful Approach by NGOs

The basic mission of the major NGOs(2) devoted to international ethnic conflict resolution is to transform the way that torn societies deal with a conflict and to improve the process of conciliation. Their efforts typically are focused on capacity-building: consultation, dialogue, and training in conflict resolution for people on all sides of an ethnic conflict, but not the actual mediation of any specific dispute or issue (Notter & McDonald; McDonald interview). While aiming to build an understanding of the interests of each side, these NGOs refuse to side with one party or another over any particular issue, even in the face of hostile or intimidating pressure. They remain neutral in this sense because to take sides would be to betray their primary mission, which is more about promoting a process of conflict resolution than promoting any particular agreements (Collin Marks interview). Once a dialogue is set up between influential citizens - not necessarily connected to government, though often having indirect connections - from all sides of the conflict, the NGO may make suggestions to parties on how to reduce tensions over time. However, the NGOs will not aim at any specific settlement or power balance, preferring to follow Jean Paul Lederach's "elicitive model" where the culture and creativity of the parties is harnessed to create their own solutions for peace (Lederach, 52). International NGOs such as Search for Common Ground (SFCG) consider themselves to be advocates primarily for the people on each side of a conflict who are suffering, and will suffer, from the decisions that they themselves - or perhaps just their leaders - make to continue fighting (Collin Marks interview; McDonald interview).

Accordingly, SFCG and like-minded NGOs strive to build trust between themselves and each party to a conflict as a first step in creating a positive intervention (Mayer interview; Woodrow interview). This initial objective is the critical baseline on which to facilitate a sustained, open dialogue later on between members of each group (Swanson interview). Such a "facilitative" approach to conflict (Jones, 58-70) has been given a host of names for its many manifestations by different NGOs. For example, The Kettering Foundation's "sustained dialogue" and "public peace process" in Tajikistan, John McDonald's concept of "multi-track diplomacy" applied in Cyprus and Liberia, among other places, "walks in the woods," "supplemental diplomacy," and so forth. The underlying ideas, however, are essentially the same, as described above.

The acceptance by the parties of NGO involvement with key individuals on all sides of a conflict is not based on an official position as representative for a government, nor is it based on leverage as an outsider with "sticks and carrots." Rather, legitimacy is based on a very personal level of trust. Trust and credibility grow over time as international NGO interveners get to know the parties and become part of the "scene." NGO project leaders usually make a personal commitment to stay involved with a particular conflict for at least five years (Collin Marks, McDonald interviews).

Indeed, trust is a key issue since many NGOs are based in the United States, meaning that they will often face an extra level of suspicion from the parties in lesser-developed countries. An obstacle to overcome will often be a general distrust of "meddlesome Americans," who have a reputation for "taking over." (McDonald interview; Strimling interview). NGOs are also careful to inform themselves extensively about the history of a conflict, becoming to some degree experts in the history of that conflict so that they can ask informed questions of potential dialogue participants (Mayer, interview). In addition to historical knowledge, other important elements of building trust include: (1) that NGO interveners display a knowledge and appreciation of the local culture of the combatants (Swanson interview); (2) that outsiders display that they have particular conflict resolution skills to impart; and (3) that outsiders impart that they feel a compassion for the people on both sides of a conflict (Woodrow interview; McDonald interview). In all of these respects, the approach is quite different from typical Track One mediation in its goals and in the outsiders' relationships with the parties.

Unlike official channels, NGOs are not as politically constrained in their actions and communications with all the parties. For example, this may apply to acknowledging and dealing with the past. Ambassador John McDonald of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) writes about his experience in Liberia:

The year was 1994, at the midpoint of the brutal civil war in Liberia. I was part of the team of facilitators working with leading figures from all the warring parties in the conflict. We took nine Liberians who represented the major tribes and factions in the war to a safe haven for a weeklong exploration of the possibilities for peacebuilding in Liberia…It became clear that each participant blamed the conflict on the United States government and its people, for acts of commission and omission throughout the 150-year existence of Liberia.

The discussion finally reached the point where I felt I had to say something that would help bring the group into the present, so that we could, together, look at the future. I said that I had listened carefully, and had heard all of their stories and their views of the history of their country and their conflict, and that I was deeply moved by their hurt, their sorrow, and their pain. I said that, speaking unofficially on behalf of the American people and of the American government, I humbly apologized to them for our transgressions against Liberia, and asked for their forgiveness for the things we had done and not done over the past 150 years that contributed to the current situation.

This was a powerful moment. There was a stunned silence in the room that lasted a long time. Then the group went on to discuss critical issues and options for peacebuilding. Although the apology was never mentioned…I was told later that it was the turning point in the program, and was instrumental in bringing us all together so that we could begin to envision a peaceful future for Liberia (Diamond, 160-161).

Unlike mediation at official, elite levels, NGO facilitation efforts aim at broad-based social change, one person at a time, through what McDonald calls "Multi-Track Diplomacy." The following case illustrates how NGOs fill in the gap in true peacemaking where official channels are lacking.

IMTD in Cyprus: Example of Broad-based NGO Conflict Transformation

In 1964, an attempted coup in Cyprus included ethnic cleansing and resulted in the installation of a UN peacekeeping force on this small island in the Mediterranean. In 1974, another Muslim-attempted coup, supported by Turkey with 30,000 troops, resulted in additional ethnic cleansing and violence. Muslims moved to the North and Christians to the South, and the United Nations set a noncrossable "green line" between them. Each side - Greek, Christian Cypriots and Turkish, Muslim Cypriots - were totally isolated from the other. Letters could not be sent, phone calls could not be made. Although the situation has improved greatly now, it was in this context that an entire generation of young people grew up taught to hate the other side although they had never met them.

Nine years ago, IMTD, a US-based NGO, was invited to visit Cyprus by a professor - a Greek Cypriot American, born on the island of Cyprus, who still has connections on the island where she was born and who had heard about the concept of Track Two Diplomacy. IMTD began building relationships with citizens and looking for a path to address the deep-seated and protracted ethnic hatred in Cyprus. IMTD decided to try and connect influential citizens from each side of the green line with each other unofficially through "Track Two Diplomacy." IMTD received special permission from the UN to move back and forth across the green line. They gradually began to identify what they call the "risk-takers" - people who were tired of the stalemate, willing and courageous enough to meet with the "enemy," and then could come back and face the consequences of doing so in their own society.

IMTD set to building a trust relationship with all the parties. They made a 5-year commitment to working in Cyprus. Even though they did not have the funding to guarantee such a relationship, the project heads from IMTD made a personal, professional, and institutional commitment to 5 years - if they were wanted, of course. It even took almost 2 years before one of the participants in the dialogues believed that the project leaders did not have a hidden agenda or investment in Cyprus and that they did not expect any favors in return for their efforts.

Next, IMTD reported extensively to Track One officials, above all for the sake of transparency and allaying suspicions. IMTD met with the president of the nation state of Cyprus in the North (recognized, however, only by Turkey), the president of the Christian South, and representatives from the State department and the US Ambassador on the island, among others. IMTD communicated that they were invited by both sides and were not going to try to solve the political problems separating the two sides, but rather, were on the island to build a peace process at the community grassroots level. The message was that "we're not going to step on your toes," in the words of former U.S. Ambassador McDonald, one of the project leaders. "Anything we do is transparent and anything we do, you're invited to sit in on and participate." (McDonald interview)

IMTD set out to bring the various tracks together - to gather willing and influential participants from the business community, journalism community, the education community, and others - and train them together in conflict resolution skills. The goal was that, after a peace treaty would eventually be signed, a critical mass of Cypriots themselves would be able to implement the peace by nonviolently containing what violence would inevitably erupt (fueled by the minority, which always has an interest in war) in reaction to the peace. IMTD realized that conflict resolution capacity-building was the key to saving lives in Cyprus - a country whose conflict was not "popular" with the world media and hence less likely to receive international aid in the event of future violence. IMTD set to work, eventually joining forces with the Conflict Management Group, a like-minded NGO, to form the "Cyprus Consortium."

After 15 months of working separately, six participants from the North and six from the South were brought together to meet. They included business leaders, parliamentary leaders, journalists, a peace activist, a woman poetess, and so forth - all respected and influential in their own circles. Also included were the son of the president in the North and the daughter of the president in the South - an unofficial representation of Track One mediation participants. Within an hour of dialogue they bonded and agreed on a joint purpose of ending the mutual hatred between their ethnic groups. A steering committee was formed; this core has helped drive the IMTD project ever since. As of May 2000, roughly 2,500 Cypriots had been brought together. Fifty conflict resolution trainers were trained by IMTD, 25 on each side, and continue to build capacity when IMTD is not on the island. Many past trainees have since entered the Track One level in Cyprus, and were involved in June 2000 when the UN brought together the two leaders of the North and South for peace negotiations. In the words of McDonald:

We influence by indirection. For instance, that businessman who had said it took him 2 years to believe we didn't have hidden motives, is now a special advisor to the president of the Turkish north. He's in the inner circle. The people that we've worked with now have moved closer, with new ideas and perceptions. The political atmosphere among the ethnic groups has changed. That's what we're all about. (interview)

As the IMTD intervention shows, once relationships have been cultivated widely enough to propose facilitating a dialogue between citizens from each side of a conflict, NGOs make sure to get quiet acquiescence from officials on all sides and explain what they intend to do. This high level of transparency is also key to building trust (Sunoo interview). At the same time, however, the dialogue is structured in such a way that it will be perfectly deniable to have ever been acquiesced to by government officials. This exemplifies another potential advantage of the unofficial facilitative approach, which is depicted more fully by the next illustration.

Tajikistan: How Unofficial NGO Activity Can Complement Official Mediation

With the center of authority in Tajikistan suddenly eliminated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent country gradually slid into an internal clash to fill the power vacuum. In 1992, a vicious civil war began. The "public peace process" - a nonofficial dialogue - began in March, 1993. At first the dialogues were under the auspices of the Dartmouth Conferences - a regular, nongovernmental channel of dialogue to the former USSR that had existed since the 1960s. The Kettering Foundation, an international NGO committed to "strengthening the role of citizens in governing themselves,"(3) sought to apply the lessons it had learned from convening the Dartmouth Conferences to resolving the ethnic conflicts in Tajikistan. Over the years since then, the Inter-Tajik Dialogue has held about 30 meetings and has produced various joint memoranda. (Saunders interview)

Meanwhile, the official peace process began in April 1994 as a UN-mediated negotiation. But before an official process could begin, the Kettering Foundation's efforts through its first six meetings helped pave the way for the official process. To illustrate, when the official talks began, three participants in the unofficial dialogue were present as members of government and opposition negotiation teams. In addition, a June 1997 landmark peace agreement established a National Reconciliation Commission, of which three members were participants in the unofficial dialogue.

The NGO role of the Kettering Foundation in Tajikistan demonstrates how a non-official dialogue can help pave the way for mediation or negotiation. When the Inter-Tajik Dialogue began in March, 1993, there were no other contacts between the government and the opposition. That remained the case for the following 13 months, while the unofficial dialogue met six times. After each meeting, participants briefed a few top leaders in the government of Tajikistan, the opposition leadership, the U.S. government, and the United Nations. The strategy of the NGO management team was not to mediate an agreement but to create a group within the conflict with the capacity to develop their own peace process. This served to empower them. For instance, participants - some of whom would later participate in the official negotiations - learned the importance of structuring the agenda for a negotiation in such a way as not to block negotiation at the outset. Normally, citizens outside government cannot claim the authority to negotiate for their "side," but at the same time, negotiators usually have little capacity to transform human relationships in the larger body politic through their agreements alone. The Inter-Tajik Dialogue helped to change these two realities.

Once the official peace process began, the unofficial dialogue redefined its objectives so as to continue a complementary division of labor between official and the unofficial processes. The Dialogue shifted its focus to "creating a political process of national reconciliation in Tajikistan." When elections were held, they did not conform to international standards of fair and free elections, and the results seriously weakened the opposition's power in Tajikistani society. At this point, the opposition members of the unofficial dialogue did something remarkable, arguably in part because of the Inter-Tajik Dialogue. Rather than seek to overthrow the results of the elections, they developed the formulation that they would regard the period ahead as transitional for the development of a more equitable political future. In this respect, the Dialogue seems to show that multiple leaders at different levels in a society torn by volatile conflict can strengthen a peace process together, so long as channels of dialogue remain open. Most importantly, NGOs play a crucial role in creating an environment for Track One negotiations, and keeping such negotiations real in the lives of people at the community level. If NGOs are both conscious of the potential interaction across levels of the process, and are able to take steps to coordinate their efforts with official, elite levels of negotiation, then peacebuilding can go very far indeed.

Unofficial facilitated dialogue between influential and connected private citizens on both sides of a conflict has the potential to serve as an effective pre-mediation approach. When constituencies support peace and push their leaders in that direction, the likelihood of official mediation being successful is increased. Consultative approaches to conflict resolution are particularly effective when miscommunication and mistrust are main elements of a conflict (Berkovitch, 239). As was previously noted, this is the case in most ethnic conflicts today (McDonald, Montville interviews), including the case of Tajikistan. Consultation increases the chance of a successful mediation and also tends to increase intra-party cohesion, which is often lacking in ethnic conflicts (Berkovitch, 250, 252). For all these reasons, unofficial dialogue facilitated over time can often lead toward, and even contribute directly to, an official mediation.

Two Common Concerns about the Role of NGOs

Many would argue that conflict resolution in the form of unofficial intervention by NGOs is a profession that, as of now, is best characterized as a free-for-all. Many ethnic conflicts, especially those frequently in the eye of the media, attract a cluster of potential interveners competing at the same time for the attention of the parties. A relative chaos of interveners, some organized and trained in conflict resolution while some are not, (Montville interview; Swanson interview; Strimling interview), poses a hurdle to conducting efficient, high quality, and strategic interventions where NGOs will not unnecessarily duplicate each other's efforts.

Second, many would object that integrating NGO efforts with the peacemaking efforts of an outside government body may not realistically coincide with that government's interests (Rouhana, 9). For one thing, a close relationship by an outsider with the conflicting parties may be an internationally sensitive issue, particularly with respect to those who are not considered U.S. allies when an NGO is U.S.-based. As a result, the U.S. government may be less willing to allow, much less support, NGOs that approach leaders of certain groups in order to offer input and consultation. Furthermore, as mentioned above, association with a Western government may hinder the building of trust by an NGO or by its partners within a country because of high anti-Western sensitivities. Such sensitivities may manifest themselves in seemingly minor ways that actually undermine entire dialogues. For instance, the issue has cropped up in past capacity-building workshops by NGOs in Indonesia, where dialogue participants can easily be perceived as "in the pocket of the Americans," when the Americans sent notes during negotiations, even if only to make suggestions for issues to raise or questions to ask.

Recommendations to Address these Concerns

A stronger collaboration is necessary, whenever possible, between NGOs and official government peacemaking channels. The answer to both the "free-for-all" concern and the "lack of coinciding interests" concern is to explore, wherever possible, the opportunities for creative partnerships while drawing NGO projects more under the overall organizing and supervision of government. To pursue this, NGOs need to be highly transparent and reach out to both their governments and the government(s) within the host country (Notter & McDonald, July 1998), while governments need to more comprehensively and consistently coordinate efforts, much less communicate relevant information, with NGOs.

As a first step toward this goal, government foreign ministries should alter their structure to better integrate and monitor the peacebuilding efforts of NGOs. The U.S. State Department has not institutionalized such a function, while several other governments (such as Canada, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden) have created peacebuilding units in their foreign ministries, established substantial funds for the purpose, as well as special ambassadors and the like. This has made the U.S. State Department the target of some criticism from NGOs because of its resistance to change (McDonald interview) when NGOs have approached the government for this purpose.(4) While congressional proposals have been put forward for a new "Department of Peace," progress has been very slow, not least because of the question of where funds would come from.

Along these lines, the points above underscore the need for governments (including the U.S. government) to shift foreign aid and development dollars from post-crisis or current crisis aid to supporting conflict prevention. From a practical standpoint, this will save a huge amount of money by helping to avoid social instability in developing countries that struggle with instability where the United States and/or other donor countries have a financial interest, whether economic, political, military, or otherwise. Most NGOs - whose role has been shown to be integral in peacebuilding - rely in large part on government funding for their projects. For instance, roughly 30 percent of the funding for SFCG comes from the U.S. government alone, and another 35 percent from European governments (Collin Marks interview). At the same time, NGOs such as SFCG and IMTD are constantly overwhelmed with requests for their assistance, but must turn most down because of lack of funds (McDonald interview). In the long-term, funds must be directed toward helping war-torn countries to build their own conflict resolution capacity, including their own NGOs, because outside help is far from sufficient as a long-term solution. In the face of violent ethnic conflicts, the most capable individuals in a country typically service the humanitarian relief agencies, while not even one percent of the funds of such agencies are invested in peacebuilding. Clearly, it is important to shift that balance so that international agencies will empower local organizations and invest more resources in peacebuilding itself, rather than just dealing with crises once they erupt.

As for "competing interests," the reality is that conflict-resolution NGO projects quite often have matching interests with outside governments. In the long run, both seek to prevent ugly ethnic clashes by building the capability within communities to resolve such conflicts. For example, multiple unofficial dialogue projects in Indonesia (Strimling interview) fit this description, as well as the work of IMTD to facilitate business-to-business peacebuilding projects in Kashmir. In the words of McDonald, "The State Department loves it. No one else is trying to do anything to help this. They're all at the Track One level yelling at each other." (McDonald interview). Therefore the fear of clashing interests is more of a short-term phenomenon and an exception to the rule, than a long-term obstacle to peacebuilding. An enlightened policy shall include the implemented understanding that, ultimately, successful peacemaking requires a long-term, cooperative world view on the part of all involved at both the official and unofficial levels (Diamond, 138). Building peace in one part of our interconnected world positively affects the rest of humanity in a multitude of ways, both known and unknown to the peacemakers themselves, and no doubt crucial to the future stability of our world. Let us move toward that goal.

References and Sources Consulted


  • Commissioner Andrea Strimling
  • Commissioner Jan Sunoo
  • Commissioner Pete Swanson

The above three are trained mediators in the Department of International Dispute Resolution Services, U.S. Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, based in Washington, DC. They have worked on conflict resolution in Indonesia, Bulgaria, Romania, Kashmir, South America, Bosnia, and more.

  • Ambassador John McDonald, Director, Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy
  • Dr. Harold Saunders, Director of International Projects, Kettering Foundation

The above two are former career State Department diplomats who now lead NGO projects in peace building around the globe in Kashmir, Bosnia, Tajikistan, Cyprus, and so on.

Interviews with leaders of applied conflict resolution NGOs:

  • Peter Woodrow and Bernard Mayer, CDR Associates
  • Susan Collin Marks, Search for Common Ground (SFCG)
  • Dr. Joseph Montville, Preventive Diplomacy Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Secondary Sources:

Avruch, Kevin. Culture & Conflict Resolution. Washington: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1998.

Bercovitch, Jacob, ed. Resolving International Conflicts: The Theory and Practice of Mediation. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996.

Berkovitch, Jacob. "International Dispute Mediation: A Comparative Empirical Analysis," in Mediation Research: The Process and Effectiveness of Third Party Intervention, by Kenneth Kressel, et al. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989.

Brubaker, David and Verdonk, Tara. "Conflict Transformation Training in Another Culture: A Case Study from Angola." Mediation Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 3, Spring 1999.

Cooper, Robert, and Mats Berdal. Outside intervention in ethnic conflicts. Survival, 1993, issue 35:118-42.

D'Amico, Lynne C. and Rubinstein, Robert A. "Cultural Considerations When 'Setting' the Negotiation Table." Negotiation Journal, October 1999, 389-95.

Dialdin, Dania A. and Wall, James A., Jr. "Third Parties and Culture." Negotiation Journal October 1999.

Diamond, Louise. The Courage for Peace: Daring to Create Harmony in Ourselves and the World. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2000.

Diehl, Paul E., Jennifer Reifschneider, and Paul R. Hensel. "United Nations intervention and recurring conflict." International Organization, 1996, issue 50:683-700.

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1. . This definition of culture is based on Kevin Avruch's "Culture & Conflict Resolution," in which he discusses the history of the development of culture as an idea and presents several formulations. See particularly pages 3-4, 6-7, 9-10, and 17.

2. This statement is based on the collective input of several of the individuals I interviewed, who are key leaders in major NGOs in the field of conflict resolution: Amb. John McDonald with IMTD, Susan Collin Marks with SFCG, Joe Montville with CSIS, Peter Woodrow with CDR Associates, etc. I also was the notetaker for a meeting of most of the leaders of the Applied Conflict Resolution Organization Network (ACRON), which includes such other NGOs as Conflict Management Group and the Institute for World Affairs. The discussion I observed there also corroborates my statement.

3. . From the website of the Kettering Foundation, http://www.kettering.org

4. To illustrate, a January 1997 letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from various NGOs such as the Center for Strategic & International Studies, IMTD, the Kettering Foundation, the Institute of World Affairs, SFCG, and the Carter Center, recommended the creation of a government-private sector task force and to institutionalize conflict prevention in U.S. Foreign Policy. After seven months, a return letter did not express interest in such collaboration.

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