Congress approves $16 million to establish US peace institute

Tucked away in the Defense Department budget bill among the billions of dollars for missiles, tanks, and planes is a small amendment that is the legislative equivalent of the Chicago Cubs.

Like the baseball team that this week won its first division title in 39 years, the idea of a national peace academy has been languishing for decades. But like the heroes at Wrigley Field, supporters of a federal institution to promote conflict resolution are celebrating a victory that is particularly sweet because it has been so long in coming.

House and Senate conferees have allotted $16 million to be spent over the next two years on a new ''United States Institute of Peace.'' This is a relative drop in the federal budget bucket. It wouldn't buy a single top-line combat jet. But it represents a significant ''foot in the door,'' as jubilant proponents put it, and could lead to a broader role for Uncle Sam in coordinating and funding research and education efforts in peace studies and conflict management.

The notion of a peace academy has had to overcome considerable opposition despite its long list of congressional sponsors (over half the Senate plus 175 House members), a vigorous group of 45,000 private backers, and obvious emotional appeal.

The White House and Departments of State and Education opposed the idea on budget and policy grounds. Many academic experts on diplomacy saw it as a source of possible government incursion into their turf. And a group of conservative lawmakers considered it a liberal scheme, insulting to the military services trained and armed to preserve the peace.

Yet, support for the idea - which dates back to Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence - grew, even though it seemed that it was being ''loved to death,'' as one senator once put it.

The amendment to the Pentagon's 1985 authorization bill does not contain everything supporters wanted. The sought-for sum was reduced by $7.5 million, money that would have been used to build a new facility near Washington. The name was changed from ''academy'' to ''institute'' to make clear that this will not be a degree-granting institution or the equivalent of the US military academies, and also to keep its bureaucracy from burgeoning. One-fourth of the institute's funds must be spent as grants to institutions offering graduate or post-graduate programs in peace studies or conflict resolution.

''Although I am disappointed that the United States Institute of Peace won't have it's own 'home' during its first two years, I do not think that this change will seriously cripple the institute,'' said Sen. Spark Matsunaga (D) of Hawaii, who introduced a peace academy bill when he first came to Congress in 1963. ''Eventually, Congress will provide a fitting home for it.''

Meanwhile, the General Services Administration is to find space in federal offices in or near Washington.

The institute's 15-member board of directors will be appointed by the President. Directors are subject to Senate approval and must not include more than eight members of the same party. The board will include the secretaries of state and defense, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the president of the National Defense University.

This small but significant victory for those who have pushed for a peace academy is a particular tribute to the tenacity of Sen. Jennings Randolph (D) of West Virginia. He submitted his first national peace agency bill in 1945, the last year the Cubs won the National League pennant.

The West Virginian will retire from the Senate next year. Says his aide, Birdie Kyle: ''It's just such a good feeling to win for a change.''

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