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.

Posts I never made

There is a useful function called ‘Google Alerts’ whereby Google will email you any new results for a given search.

I used this to set up a number of searches relating to ‘no new wars’ and the centenary of the Great War.

  • 21/12/2014 to 17/06/2021, “11-11-2018”, 1,117 results.  Returned anything that looked like a date of 11th November and 2018.
  • 21/12/2014 to 17/06/2021, “11/11/2018”, 1,113 results.  Returned anything that looked like a date of 11th November and 2018.
  • 09/06/2013 to 20/06/2021, “”Great War” 100 years”, 1,890 results.  Was just about memorials being done up.
  • 31/05/2013 to 20/06/2021, “”Great War” centenary”, 1,371 results.  All sorts of results, very few potentially interesting.
  • 17/06/2013 to 17/06/2021 (just by chance), “”war to end all wars” 100 years”, 1,042 results.  All sorts of results, very few potentially interesting.  Mostly about memorials.
  • 09/06/2013 to 29/05/2021, “”war to end all wars” centenary”, 348 results.  Some of these are very interesting, discussing the rights and wrongs and truths of war.  For about half of those, the article is no longer online.
  • 17/06/2013 to 13/06/2021, “”No New Wars””, 186 results.
  • 17/06/2013 to 21/01/2021, “NoNewWars”, 18 results.
  • “”NoNewWars””, 0 results.

I had been full of good intentions to read and consider each of those results.  Many of them contain multiple results themselves, up to about 6.  So there’s about 10,000 to 15,000 actual links there.  I was being waaaaay too optimistic.

I did glance at those messages, frequently.  Almost all were about heroes, celebrating sacrifice, celebrating the start of the war, how we need to remember what a great thing it was.  So much pro-war, pro-death, pro-suffering in the media.  It is very depressing.

As a consequence, no posts resulted.

But an awful lot of people saw pro-war messages.

 

 

The technical and other technicalities of a new organisation

What have I learned from my volunteering?

A friend expressed a desire to create a peace organisation and the first things that sprang to mind were:

  • the need for a name. It must be meaningful, appropriate, memorable, decent, SEO-friendly.
  • the means to raise funds
  • sufficient independence to get on with what the founders want to achieve
  • it needs publicity
  • it could do with high profile supporters
  • a blog can be helpful for giving less formal, more human, messages
  • a web site is essential
  • a web site requires people to keep writing content
  • a web site requires maintenance, applying updates, security controls, interfaces with social media, checking backups are working, detecting having been hacked
  • at least one domain name (needed for the web site and, ideally, email addresses)
  • something controversial to gain media coverage and attention
  • an understanding of its target audiences and how to communicate with them
  • knowledge of similar organisations with which to collaborate
  • the means, time and knowledge to create and drive collaboration with other organisations
  • a purpose
  • a plan
  • an idea of what “finished” or “success” will look like
  • specific responsibilities and authorities for individuals involved so they know what they should, can and cannot do
  • email addresses for the organisation and its individuals
  • a governance model with a committee or leadership and defined rules for managing it to prevent infighting
  • a legal structure (unincorporated, ltd co by guarantee, community interest company, charity, etc.)
  • a social media policy: which web sites and internet facilities to use, when, how with defined messages with defined purposes
  • a mailing list and the means to manage it
  • an online discussion forum with the supporting active moderation
  • an online shop with the necessary legal processes to protect people’s payment details and the staff and processes to deliver what is sold
  • equipment such as computers, mobile phones with cameras, franking machine, printer(s)
  • staff with the necessary recruitment, supervision, retention, development and appraisal processes
  • volunteers with the necessary recruitment, supervision, retention, development and appraisal processes
  • financial management, ideally with open reporting
  • an ethical policy regarding the law, environment, procurement, staff and anything else appropriate, with the supporting monitoring and reporting processes
  • the means of sharing information between staff and volunteers with appropriate backup, recovery, anti-virus and security controls
  • accounts with suppliers (e.g. stationery), technical services (e.g. Zoom) and so on, with the means of securely keeping passwords

All quiet on the Western Front

Military clichés are everywhere.

Six months and no posts. Been too busy, too confused.

Could have written about the incredible blatant racism I have witnessed in Milton Keynes.
Could have written about job searching.
Could have written about working for the NHS during lockdown and going in to work every day.
The paranoia of people seeing my NHS id. This misleading and terror created by the media.
Reflections on how easy it was to implement a global lockdown.
Reflections on what happens when the leadership does not follow its own instructions and gets away with it.
Reflections on the relevance of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince as a guide book in 2020.
Could have written about getting work with the Cabinet Office.
Could have written about my reflections on my two degrees.
Could have written about the silence of the 75th anniversary of the Japan nuclear bombings and the celebration of war for VJ Day.
Could have written about how my plans have been on hold for six months.
Could have written about how some employers have been superb during lockdown and others have been utter and absolute spineless and evil bastards.
Could have written about the falsehoods around online activity being high CO2 consuming activities. I had promised the SGR I would.
Every day there has been something to write about, and my ToDo list does say, every day, “Post something on the blog”. But time, where does it all go?

It is hard to be an unemployed jobseeker and be positive and creative to wrote blog posts. Then, when doing a new job, one is tired and busy.

It is hard to change the world when changing one’s own. It is hard to write when busy doing. I shall try again, from today, now I feel a little more settled in my new role.

You know, bite the bullet.

Talk: Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis

Today I attended a presentation at Liverpool Hope University’s Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies entitled ‘Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis‘.  One guest and two staff speakers for about an hour then 20 minutes of Q&As.

The main talk was by guest Dr Vsevolod Samokhvalov (university lecturer, research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, policy analyst and journalist).  He told us about the two main narratives: the Russians invaded or it was the West’s fault.  Both are reductionist; he said the real situation is messier than messy.  He went on to explain the cultural history, how the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia are closely related – “One nation divided by history” to use Putin’s words.  Sevastopol is culturally important to Russia as part of the Black Sea Region going back to ancient Greek times.  The region is ethnoculturally nationalistic Russki.  What the Russians really want is recognition by Western Europe.  The revolution in Ukraine was inevitable; the invasion of Crimea was an opportunity albeit “worse than a crime – a political mistake“.  Vsevolod gave us reasons for why this occurred, but this is a summary, not an essay.  Buy his book.

Next was Dr Natalia Vibla (Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University).  She spoke of the human rights tragedies: over 10,000 killed (a quarter of them civilians) and 25,000 injured since 2014.  Some 25,000 people have been displaced.  There are hundreds in captivity and torture is being used by both sides.  Potential objectors are being accused of terrorist plots and typically get 20-year sentences.

Finally was Dr Taras Khomych (Lecturer in Theology at Liverpool Hope University).  He gave us the history and structure of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and the reaction of the various sections: unity, with the exception of the Orthodox Russian Church.  It has been a strongly religious country since post-Stalin.  The churches supported the protesters, as did the Jewish and Moslem leadership.  Protesting was seen as a pilgrimage from Russian fear to Christian dignity.  Many Russian Orthodox Church members left, and a number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes changed to other sections of the Eastern church.  Tartar Moslems offered the use of their mosque to Orthodox Christians, which was accepted.

Much of the following Q&A was about Russian fears and intentions.  Also questions about whether this was a new or continuing Cold War.  I think the consensus was Putin saw the opportunity to re-unite Russkis as part of his right wing ethnocultural nationalistic agenda and no further expansion was likely.

This morning there was a report on the radio about the armed forces needing more money to face the Russian threat.  BBC: “Army chief calls for investment to keep up with Russia“.  Telegraph: “Britain cannot keep up with Russian military advances, head of Army to warn as he makes case for more funding“.  In the context of today’s talk, that seems to me either the armed forces or NATO asking for funding for themselves.  Scaremongering to supplement the arms industry and their own ends.

The Guardian seems to agree in their analysis: “Does the UK really need to increase its defence spending?” – no.

The Kalashnikov assault rifle as “a sacred weapon”

I can understand why the Russians want statues to The Great Patriotic War, fought for survival against a treacherous Nazi Germany that was hugely important in the eventual end of World War 2 for the allies.

I can also understand the desire to recognise the tools of this victory, such as the remarkably effective T-34 medium tank.

But a statue to the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle seems a bit odd.  Firstly, because it was produced after WW2, but especially because of its history since then for unlicensed production, illicit black market trade and as the weapon of choice for revolutionaries, terrorists, drug cartels, pirates and criminals.  It made the BBC news because the statue’s designer put the wrong parts diagram on a plate on the statue.

What the BBC did not say was the statue is unpopular locally and the unveiling of the statue to the AK47’s inventor resulted in the arrest of the sole protestor,  link, proclaiming “a creator of weapons is a creator of death”.

But I am puzzled by the words of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin of the Russian Orthodox Church who describes it as “a sacred weapon.  What a strange Christian.  But then, he also endorses female genital mutilation, so his opinion is not that worthwhile.

Incidentally, the roughly estimated 100 million genuine and copied AK-47s in the world are responsible for about a quarter of a million killings every year.

Military Spending Calculator error

The Conscience Online web site has a military spending calculator on its home page that shows how much has been spent so far this year globally on military expenditure. I noticed it displaying an 11-digit number despite it only being the 7th of January. “Oops” I thought, “I need to change it so it starts again from zero on 1st of January”.

I thought it did that automatically, but decided I must have been mistaken. There is no way we could have spent £22 billion on war-making in under a week.

So I went to see what was wrong and found the error: we spend too much on war-making. In the first six days and nine hours of 2017 the world has already invested £3 per person on killing or readiness to kill one another.

The global news was making a fuss yesterday about the cost of Donald Trump’s proposed wall between the USA and Mexico likely to be about half that with pessimistic estimates expressing concern it will be about the same. If the cost of the wall is a scandal, why isn’t spending 50 times that amount every year on delivering premature death and suffering also a scandal?

The horrors of war: the gueules cassées

I believe gueules cassées is French for ‘broken faces’ or ‘broken jaws’ (I know not which) and is the term used for the French men who had their faces blown off in the Great War.

Some 15 million men were crippled by the Great War.  In the UK alone by the late 1930s there were still over half a million men receiving pensions for physical disability caused by that war (National Archive).  And then there were those who remained in hospital for the rest of their lives.

The nature of trench warfare is such that the face is often the most exposed part of the body meaning the Great War – with its shrapnel and grenades – was the cause of a huge increase in the number of severe facial wounds.  Also, battlefield medicine began to improve during that war increasing the likelihood of wounded men surviving terrible wounds that would have previously been fatal.

But what happens to a young man with no lower jaw or a hole in his skull where his nose was?  And in France losing ones face was not considered a disability so they received no pension, despite being unable to go out in public.

Léon Dufourmentel (1884 – 1957) was a French surgeon responsible for caring for the gueules cassées and was innovative finding methods for repairing facial wounds by transferring flaps of skin from the scalp to, for example, the chin.

Apparently five of his patients were taken from the hospital to the Palace of Versailles for the signing of the peace treaty in 1919.

Such people are still supported in France – because soldiers are still being shot in the face – through the Union des Blessés de la Face et de la Tête (Union for those with Facial and Head Injuries) and the Foundation for Gueules Cassées are.  They organise international events to raise awareness and funding.

Whether you choose to do a Google image search for the term is up to you.  They are seriously horrid pictures.  They are the sort of images the media are prevented from portraying during a war for fear of upsetting morale.  Whether you call that sensible censorship or propaganda is up to you.

Alternatively view the war memorial in Trévières to the dead of 1914-18.  She was herself maimed in the Second World War and now stands as an inadvertent representative of the broken faces.

The War Memorial at Trévières with her lower jaw blown off

The War Memorial at Trévières. Taken from Traces of War.com

As I write this, there is nothing on the English language Wikipedia about the gueules cassées.  Nowadays plastic surgery is commonplace, even expected of the rich and famous – every day the newspapers and news web sites are littered with such ‘news’.  But nothing much is said about those who suffered and made it necessary for innovative techniques in surgery to be invented.  Perhaps a little more exposure to the horrors of war, and a little less commercial censorship, rather than glorifying and sanitising war by  the media and search engines, might not go amiss.

Dinosaur poets

A fellow Open University student wrote in Dinosaur poets TM:

what is/are Poets

Can they die and emerge again

like Dinosaurians

?

which made me think of some of the First World War poets and haiku in response.

Brooke.  Grenfell.  Munro.
Owen.  Rosenberg.  Sorley.
Thomas.  Wilson.  Wyn. 

The Great War is history, and the poets above did not survive it.  But fragments of their work live on, typically preserved in stone, like the fossils of creatures who lived at a time before ours when great beasts roared across the earth, ripping gentler souls limb from limb in the quest for blood to spill and flesh to consume.

Which got me thinking about the metaphor of Hollywood B-movie dinosaurs as great monsters, roaring and killing like the great guns of the artillery blasting away at the soldiers in the trenches.

Children love to see reconstructed dinosaurs and stomp about roaring and pretending to be a T-Rex, chomping great chunks out of authority figures like parents and teachers and elder siblings.  Being so big and powerful that they can do as they like, ruling the earth.

Is this the childish, base desire that prompts people to like to watch war being made on the news?  Gore-porn as entertainment?  How advertisers are clamouring to get their products promoted alongside clips of people being beheaded, blown up, burning alive, shot and gently rotting in the sun?  The advertisers and media know what we like.

Civilisation is a transparently thin veneer.

Nuclear deterrent – Lord Gilbert

Lord Gilbert spoke a few months ago in the House of Lords on how the nuclear deterrent is effective in preventing wars.  At some point I’ll put his argument up here.  Meanwhile, a subset of his words were used in a number of articles online to say he was claiming we should “nuke the Taliban”.  It is ironic he was advocating a solution for maintaining peace to prevent the deaths of huge numbers of civilians and got attacked for it.

Anyway, you’ve gotta love the outraged headlines it produced.  Examples are:

As for what he said, this is taken from Hansard’s proceedings for 22nd November, 2012:

Lord Gilbert: … I draw your Lordships’ attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb.  The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead.  Its full title was the ERRB: Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blast weapon.  I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. … you could use an ERRB warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble.

I will give an example.  … nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them.  If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there.  You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have.

© Parliamentary Copyright

He did not say we should nuke the Taliban.  He was saying there are options for deterrence that are not being considered because the subject is taboo.  The media reaction proved him right.  If you want to read it in context, which is about how deterrence is preferable to war, he started speaking at 3.42 pm.

One has to be very careful what one says when advocating peace methods other than going to outright war.  Many people don’t like it.  Weird, innit?

As H used to say:

If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.