Peace Monitor has interviewed Peter Wallensteen, Dag Hammarskjöld Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University; Richard G. Starmann Sr. Research Professor of Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
PM: With Peace Monitor we are aiming to highlight successful peace agreements on local levels, that are not often mentioned in media reports. Have you experienced such peace agreements on local level in your research and field visits?
Yes, especially in Africa, where so called ’elders’ have been involved to resolve local communal violence. The elders are often seen as neutral and respected leaders. Once I was sitting in a village in Western Kenya where people where trying to solve a problem of a water pipe, the elders led the negotiations and a sustainable solution was found which all parties could accept. In Tanzania, I experienced the opposite, where engineers decided, and people were supposed to move their houses to fit the pipelines.
PM: Is there a risk that sometimes there is too much international involvement in peace negotiations?
Yes, definitely. The Dayton peace agrement for the Balkans is an example where there was too much international involvement. The risk is that the conflicting parties will not take responsibility themselves, and thus not see the agreement as ’theirs’. In such a case the peace agreement will not be as effective and sustainable. It has to rely on external commitment.
PM: Media often reports about wars and disasters, but very seldom local peace initiatives are highlighted. Why is that so do you think?
Well, bad news often sell better, unfortunately. But media could also recognise that the number of conflicts are actually decreasing in the world. One should report the overall positive developments as well.
PM: What do you think can be done to more promote the positive and successful peace efforts?
For example, there could be a journalist prize for those who report about a conflict that was resolved before leading into a violent war. This can be made into a selling story too.
PM: Do you have any good examples on positve and successful peace projects that you have experienced in your work?
I am often astonished how many positive people there are present in some of the worst conflicts. How much positive energy that exists among people in civil society organizations. This gives hope for peaceful conflict resolution. I recall all peace initiatives from the Israeli and Palestinian societies in the 1990s. There were many ideas, and there was political space for such initiatives. I also recall a local ceasefire in a city in Northern Ireland, negotiated locally, through informal leaders and, thus, respected and sustainable.
PM: After 9/11 and the ’war on the terrorism’, it seems as if military solutions have been used more often to solve conflicts. Why is that so? Do you agree?
Yes, I agree. It is true for conflicts defined as part of this war. Peace efforts have suffered since 9/11 2001. There has been a predominance of military solutions instead of seeking e.g. negotiated political solutions. Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka are clear exemples. The reasons for this is the underlying approach by way of a “war of terrorism”. It means that you are either “for or against”. There is not much room for contacts, dialogue or negotiations. Legislation of terrorism can even make it illegal to have contacts with those closer to the actual terrorists, and then it is harder to set up channels for negotiated solutions.
PM: What can be done to promote peaceful conflict resolution, in the post 9/11 era?
There is a need for a strong political signal to go forward and prioritise peaceful conflict resolution. I also think that the economic incentives should be highlighted more, that wars costs too much and harm normal economic development.
The world also needs skilled people to do the job. There should be a negotiating team ready at every Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The team should be on stand-by mode, ready to go to conflicts zones on short notice. The need for ’rapid reaction,’ too often only refers to military options, there are civilian measures as well, but they need further development. Giving this political priority would achieve just that.