Why is conflict resolution not as recognised as it should be?

Why do we expect politicians to be all-knowing multidisciplinary people?

This was asked on LinkedIn by one of my fellow students at Lancaster University, someone I was very impressed with, Pilar Perez Brown.  The context was President Macron attempting mediation talks with Putin, despite not having the necessary academic background or training to do so.

Mediators that comprehend the full political and strategic reality of the war are needed, people that know the best ways to guide this conflict and the relations in it. We need economists and strategists that can explain the depth of both sides’ demands, as well as many other specialists who are equally necessary despite not being politicians.

A discussion began.

Conflict analysis and responses have changed enormously this past few decades.  There are far more options and interventions available to prevent conflict, transform conflict and resolve conflict than most people are aware of.  Somehow, we need to get conflict resolution recognised and given a much higher profile in diplomacy and international relations incident management.

Exactly! Thank you for your insight. Indeed the nature of conflict has changed, and so the analysis of it has enhanced, therefore presenting more opportunities to transform and resolve conflicts, as you mention.
Why do you think these processes are not as recognised as they should be?

I think these are some factors:

  1. The nature of the media.  “If it bleeds, it leads“.  War is exciting and attracts readers / viewers so it is the lead story (to help sell advertising and raise revenue for the media).  Peace is not exciting: there is no blood, no blown up cars, no crying children or other images to bring in the readers.  So the media do not cover peace.  Hence people do not know peace-making is happening all the time.  This makes people assume war is the natural outcome of conflict.
  2. The warring leaders do not want to look weakAll conflict ends by talking.  When powerful people who publicly say they hate each other come to meet and compromise, they do not want their supporters to know they are doing so.  They think it makes them look like they are backing down and are weak.  So negotiation talks are kept secret.  Hence people do not get to hear about them.  When the outcome is a peaceful solution, even then the conflict resolution talks are not mentioned.  So people do not get to hear about how conflict resolution was involved and worked.
  3. Sometimes powerful third parties are involved in the conflict who want their involvement kept secret.  When it becomes politically or economically expedient to have this conflict resolved, it is not necessarily desirable to have the rest of the world see into the detail of the conflict.  Revealing their involvement in the peace process could reveal their role in causing or feeding the conflict, or appear hypocritical because of what they are doing somewhere else.  So they do not want any media coverage of the process of resolving the conflict.  It just quietly fizzles out, without the rest of the world noticing a process was followed.
  4. Revealing the presence of peace-making mediators makes them a target and can cause more conflict.  Some people will not want the conflict resolved and may attack the mediators.  Once mediation has been successful, knowing they were involved could make them vulnerable when they get involved in a later conflict.  So their involvement is never revealed.  This can be high profile individuals or specialist mediation agencies.  Again, the conflict resolution process does not get talked about, this time for reasons of mediator personal security.
  5. Historical precedent.  One view of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler was that it bought the rest of us a year to re-arm and prepare for the inevitable war.  But he has gone down in history as a weak man and a failure.  I suspect politicians are frightened of ending up in the history books for the same reason.  However, if you fight a war and lose, you can still be recorded as the brave hero who refused to give in.  It may seem better politically to go into a war and risk losing, then go into mediation talks that might fail and result in war anyway.  So a guaranteed war is actually more attractive than the risk of one.  Hence getting involved in peace talks risks losing one’s political credibility, so there is no interest, and no desire to have anyone know if they do so.
  6. President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex and how they have a vested financial interest to influence public policy toward fear of conflict.  Governments and academia get added to this mix, depending on the theory.  I cannot imagine NATO or Lockheed Martin lobbying to have their funds are reduced and diverted to investment into conflict resolution research and promotion.  Mediation specialists have small budgets for advertising and little need to do so to the general public.  The arms industry and the military and their activities get plenty of coverage for free.  That normalises conflict for the public.
  7. The immaturity of International Relations Theory.  It is still based around the Realist / Liberalist / Marxist tripartite.  The Realist theory is simplest, oldest and most embedded in our culture as “might is right” and international relations being anarchic, amoral and all about survival.  Liberal theory has had to be modified many times to try to match current affairs, making it look weak and reactive and so of little use as a theory.  Marxist theory is a political non-starter.  When people have studied international relations theory, it has typically been this academic view, one which is not about conflict resolution.  Instead, it is about studying how war is just and inevitable, based on past experience.  However, that does not cover what actual practitioners have been doing in reality, nor count the times a war was avoided.  Huge progress has been made in understanding how people are motivated and how to achieve change painlessly and so that it sticks.  These practitioner fields and their modern techniques are not taught so much as IR Theory in generalist politics degrees.
  8. But I blame the media foremost.
    Create a cease-fire in a war: it’s an editorial on page 7.
    Slap someone on TV for mocking your partner’s medical complaint: it’s front-page news and it fills social media (about 4,810,000,000 results on a Google search!)
    Violence increases sales and increases advertising revenue, conflict resolution does not.

Nuclear weapons threat, end of German pacifism, NATO expansion and the arms race and censorship

I went to bed reminded of living as a child of the bomb, not expecting to reach adulthood because of the permanent threat of nuclear war and obliteration.  No point working for the school exams or planning a future, because there would not be one.  And now there are news stories looking breathlessly at nuclear escalation as an exciting prospect.

This is why we should have got rid of nuclear weapons by now.  We are still living in fear of total destruction which is supposedly there to protect us.

So the post WW2 constitutional attitude of Germany being a peaceful nation in Europe is over.  It feels like we’ve gone back 90 or more years in European peaceful negotiation and concepts.  Once again a militarised Germany in the centre of Europe, throwing its weight about.  And providing the arms for a war in another country: great way to get back into the game, Germany, by supporting a proxy war.  Start out at a low level, why don’t you?

And Germany has committed to providing 2% to NATO, so NATO’s budget goes up as a result of Russia’s actions.  Well done NATO for coming out the winner in this.  The most powerful state in the world with a national flag, national anthem, guaranteed budget paid by taxpayers elsewhere and with no democratically elected leaders.  Amazing.

Lots of countries are promising to send weapons of various sorts.  Russia is on the outskirts of Kiev.   By the time they have been found, ready to be boxed up, it will all be over.  But the contracts and orders with the arms manufacturers will still go ahead.  It is just throwing money at the arms industry that will have no effect.  What are they going to do with them when they are ready for shipment in a couple of months – send them to the Russians occupying Ukraine?  “Oh, these are items in the stores!”.  They have to be gathered up, boxed up, transport arranged, receipt arranged, training booked, maintenance arranged, documentation provided … it won’t happen.

And the censorship has begun.  During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan I found it very interesting watching the mainstream news and listening to the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Moscow and comparing the different versions of events.  By tracking what each was saying about the front moving back and forth in my school atlas, and keeping track of the losses and gains reported on each side, I was able to work out which was utter bobbins and which seemed reasonably accurate, albeit with some spin.  The Voice of America was utter bonkers fiction; the others were generally aligned.  Fake news and lies in the media are not a new thing.  Censorship in the West is.

What an unpleasant weekend.  How quickly politicians will re-instate a Cold War and military escalation when given the opportunity, rather than trying to sort their problems out.

Welcome to living with fear.

Ukraine – prevention

I feel that if there were more money and effort spent on building international relations and conflict prevention, this (the invasion not just of disputed territories but the whole of the Ukraine by Russia) need not have happened.

The criticism of NATO’s continued existence as an offensive military organisation (as opposed to a mutual defence treaty) once the Warsaw Pact had collapsed is not a new one. I can understand Russia’s concern about it. And I have seen many suggestions being made for diplomatic solutions which could have addressed or at least challenged Russia’s demands for not having NATO on their borders. For example, a buffer alliance of East European states not in NATO or Ukraine joining an alliance of neutral states.

Our own national posturing and feeble threats did nothing to prevent what has happened. Nor have our sanctions spread to a whole list of things that any geezer down the boozer could come up with: impounding their ships and aircraft; expelling the 900 Russians who bought an express UK citizenship; banning all trade with Russia; confiscating any containers or goods bound for Russia; instructing every investment house to freeze the assets of every Russian investor or risk being struck off. I’m sure there are many more people with more knowledge can think of, especially for dealing with the Russian supply chain.

Photos of UK politicians wandering around Kiev wearing a furry hat (on a day when it was warmer than Manchester) might get votes but has absolutely zero impact on reality.

It’s another case of a country with some demands (going back 30 years) being ignored and challenged as if to say “We dare you”. But Russia has a cultural tradition of strong and brave leadership: they would respond with a strong and brave response. Which they have. Big surprise. Not.

There’s also the cultural issues in the region which go back a thousand years. The history is really complex and we learned during the Paris Peace Conference a century ago that self determination is really important. If people in a region feel they do not want to be governed by a different peoples, then that needs to be listened to or it will eventually escalate. Since then, and especially in the past 30 or so years, we have learned an awful lot about conflict de-escalation and how to create societies with imbalanced powers that actually work. Instead of waiting for this to go horribly pear-shaped, like we did when Yugoslavia fell to bits, we (European states, mostly, but also the UN) could have done more to help resolve the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation by thinking of the people, power structures, how to reorganise society and the history instead of nation state politics.

I don’t think international politics or relations is easy. Well, it is if you ignore it and wait for it to go belly up and wait for it to be a military problem, I suppose, rather than dealing with it. I don’t suppose it is any easier for a national politician in the UK to go and say “Can we help?” than it is to get involved when the neighbours are shouting at one another in the street. It’s easier to draw the curtains and hope it goes away.

But I thought the point of the United Nations was to stop this sort of thing, to create a safe environment to settle issues. Maybe that is where to look for the failure here. In what way does the UN need to change?

And where the heck were the UN peacekeepers? Instead of NATO posturing and behaving like a belligerent nation itself with its leader making threats and demands on the world stage (did you vote for him? I didn’t.), NATO could have offered to provide the peacekeeping force to the UN. To protect the border, from invasion, not as a NATO attack force but a UN peacekeeping force. They have the resources and money for a war, surely they have the resources and money for not a war?

Yes, it’s sad. Unimaginative and weak leadership, more concerned in posturing and local votes than making the world a better place. But then, isn’t that politicians the world over? Me, me, me, me, me.

It does not take a strong person to start a fight. It takes a strong one to stop one. And that strength could come from investment into further research into conflict management, raising awareness of the methods, publicising success when it works and promoting its application when the neighbours are having a falling out. Hmm. I wonder where the money could come from to pay for that?

How about starting with the management of NATO. Scrap NATO as an organisation – but leave the sensible mutual defence pact Treaty in place – and use the money saved for managing international relations in a peaceful way?

“Trump urges NATO members to double military funding target”

BBC news story “Trump urges NATO members to double military funding target” – Link.

Currently, NATO members are required to give 2% of the entire country’s Gross Domestic Product to the arms industry, with the non-democratic body NATO dictating what they have to spend it on.  This is so NATO can defend Western Europe from a Soviet invasion by the Warsaw Pact.  That’s the Warsaw pact that was dissolved in 1991, some 27 years ago.

That means the arms industry is given, each year, the entire productivity of much of Europe and the USA and other countries for one week.  We don’t do this for education, health, homelessness or all manner of socially good things – just the means to kill people.

But now President Trump wants that doubled – doubled! – to 4%.  He says one 25th of all production in every sector of society should be given to the arms industry.

The Cold War ended over half my life ago.  Why are we still funding it at all?

Why should we cut health provision, housing, education, social welfare or anything else to pay for the tools and means to kill people?  It is insane.

Unless he’s a puppet of the arms industry.  Happy to take their money and doesn’t care what the cost will be to the world.

It was this kind of uplifting of military expenditure prior to the Great War that, arguably, helped lead to it occur.

 

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.

 

Bias regarding fear of war allowing wars to happen

As creatures, we are very poor at assessing risk.  This knowledge was reinforced by what I learned in the Open University module DD210 Living psychology: from the everyday to the extraordinary.  I suspect that is one of the reasons we allow wars to happen.

On the same theme The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther may be a relevant and useful read.  It looks as though they consider why we allow things to happen.  They highlight six behaviours:

  1. Amnesia bias: only focussing on recent experience so we forget the experience of past wars.
  2. Optimism bias: we are optimistic by nature and although know wars happen, believe wars will not happen to us.
  3. Single action bias: it is enough to make one small act of protest thinking that will be enough to protect us.
  4. Myopia: only considering the short term, that war won’t happen soon so it will never happen.
  5. Inertia: it is too hard to face the problem and tackle it, when it might not even happen, thereby allowing it to happen.
  6. Herding: doing what we perceive everyone else to do, which is nothing, so nobody does anything.

But that list does not tell us what to do about them; perhaps the rest of their book does.