Developing the `Software' of Peace

EVEN the Armenians.... Correct that: Even some Armenians is what I should have put. But the news reports indicate clearly that in late February, it was fighters from the Armenian community who committed atrocities against Azeri civilians in Khojaly.

Why is it always disappointing to discover that groups which have suffered in the past move on to commit further abuse against others? It should not be too surprising. We know that the Germans' harsh treatment under the Treaty of Versailles left many Germans no more sensitive to the needs of the underdog. Then, the terrible experiences of Jews at the hands of the Germans did not leave all Jews sensitive to their underdogs, the Palestinians. In Lebanon, many Palestinians showed that their status as victim s had not made them, either, immune.

And now, the Armenians, heirs to one of the longest intact records as victims of inter-group atrocities - at the hands of Turkey, 75 years ago. What will happen now? Some Azeris will retaliate against the Armenians, perhaps.

What can the United States offer a world in which, as the political architecture of the cold war crumbles, large-scale inter-group violence once again threatens to become the norm? After 18 years of studying and reporting on different conflicts, some from very close up, I have one strong suggestion: We should actively promote, worldwide, the work of those American individuals and institutions that over past decades have pioneered nonviolent ways to resolve inter-group conflicts.

It is true, the US frequently seems like a society in which Perry Mason's adversarial style prevails. But throughout the country, scores of governmental and nongovernmental centers have a proven record of bringing former adversaries together in successful, collaborative efforts to solve tough problems. These institutions have put the US at the cutting-edge of the discipline of conflict resolution.

This kind of "software," rather than further sales of military hardware, is what we ought to be offering a world facing new insecurities at every turn.

Many nongovernmental institutions in the American conflict-resolution field have already established strong programs in other countries and regions. And at the level of the federal government, we also have fine institutions that can help to promote the campaign. The US Institute of Peace was set up by visionaries a decade ago, with the precise aim of offering some means of looking at war and peace issues worldwide other than that offered by the Pentagon. The institute already supports some "con. res." pr ograms in different parts of the world (including, I should note, some run by the institution for which I work, Search for Common Ground).

The National Institute for Dispute Resolution has an excellent record of setting up dispute-resolution commissions at the state and local level within the US. Now it, too, may move into more global operations.

Of course, anyone advocating the use of conflict-resolution techniques needs humility. They (we) do not have a "magic bullet," or a magic anything else.

Rather, working with people from different cultures, we also need to connect with the "con. res." traditions that exist inside every culture already. (Every mother of squabbling siblings, or teacher in a crowded classroom, knows what I mean.) That way, everyone working in the field becomes stronger.

As we prepare to enter the 21st century, we need to start building the strongest possible "software" of nonviolent conflict resolution, worldwide. For something unprecedented happened in in this century: People discovered how to eliminate not just one group or race, but all humanity. Forever.

Throughout the first 45 years of the nuclear age, the horrendous symmetries of "nuclear deterrence" imposed their own rough constraints on the willingness of governments to respond to perceived threats with an escalation of violence.

Now, the constraints that the cold war provided for the international system have by and large dissolved. But we are still in the age of nuclear know-how.

We, as Americans, have two different kinds of example we can give to the post-cold-war nuclear world. We could carry on with the emphasis on force as the deciding factor in inter-group affairs that we have held to until now. Or we could draw on our newer legacy in the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution. I know which of these options I want to advocate. How about you?

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