The dream of a national "peace academy" dates back to the days of George Washington. Today it appears closer to reality than ever. A federal commission is expected to urge, later this year, that a "United States Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution" be established. There is growing bipartisan support for the concept on Capitol Hill, and many knowledgeable professionals --including law-enforcement and military officials -- approve of the idea.
It remains for Ronald Reagan to give the go-ahead, and many observers are suggesting that an agency dedicated to solving conflict may be just what the President needs to balance the currently hawkish image his administration is projecting.
The final report of the peace academy commission appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1979 will not be made public for several months. But sources familiar with the report, and with follow-up legislation that will be proposed, have provided the following details:
* The academy would be a nonprofit, semiautonomous corporation similar to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or Smithsonian Institution.
* Its funding would come both from the federal government as well as from private donors, possibly through matching grants.
* Rather than a single landmark location like the US service academies, the peace academy would have a relatively small administrative center in Washington; a campus site for advanced study and research (most likely at an existing university, at least in the beginning) within 200 miles of the capital; then 12 to 15 regional campuses (also at existing institutions) for undergraduate education and professional training in conflict resolution.
* Some of the academy's work would be in foreign relations, but most would focus on domestic problems including law enforcement, environment, business, and civil rights.
Acknowledging the budget-cutting mood in Washington these days, the commission chairman, Sen. Spark Matsunaga (D) of Hawaii, says: "We hope to start it modestly." Nevertheless, the senator -- who was twice wounded in World War II -- will try to convince Congress and the President that as much as $300 million should be allotted to begin the academy and fund it for a 10-year period.
Supporters point out that this is only one-tenth of one day's defense budget per year.
That is still a lot of money to ask for when other worthwhile programs are being drastically reduced. But having heard from hundreds of witnesses during its dozen public hearings, the commission concluded that a national conflict resolution program "could potentially save American citizens billions of dollars , directly and indirectly, each year" through increased productivity, as well as property and lives that are saved.
Many bills to establish a peace academy have been submitted over the years, but until now it has been an issue that, in the words of a longtime supporter, Sen. Jennings Randolph (D) of West Virginia, "has been loved to death."
There also has been opposition from the State and Defense Departments who see their "turf" being invaded, as well as from those who fear either another federal bureaucracy or cooption of the growing mediation and arbitration movements by diplomatic or intelligence agencies.
At the same time, however, there is a growing realization that professional training in conflict resolution can help solve problems ranging from those between nations to the kinds of "domestic quarrels" that very often result in police officers being killed.
The State Department itself recently had the American Arbitration Association training its personnel.
Presidents Nixon and Carter supported the peace academy concept, and Richard Pipes of President Reagan's national security staff has expressed interest in the idea.
An important figure in the move to establish the academy will be Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Hatfield is a longtime supporter of the peace academy, and will cosponsor legislation to establish it.
But the key to its success will be President Reagan, who will receive the commission's report in May or June.
If the President sees it as "peaceniky," says one who worked on the report, it may not go far. But if he sees it as supporting natioanl security interests -- domestic as well as foreign -- then a US peace academy may be realized.