Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Borders - a Classic Source of Conflict

Serbia’s Prime Minister Kostunica recently declared that "Preserving Kosovo and (Bosnia's autonomous) Serb Republic is now the primary goal of our state and national policy…." That statement was not well received in the West, and it shouldn’t be.

Similarly, on a recent visit to Turkey, I heard the official statement that the primary objective of Turkey’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq is to maintain Iraq’s territorial integrity. Here, in my opinion, the Turks are diverging from their founding father’s principle: “Peace at home, peace abroad”. The chief objective of foreign policy should be just that: peace. And the purpose of borders should be to provide the best and most expedient way of organising populations so as to preserve peace and guarantee prosperity. To the extent that a nation or a movement has an agenda for a certain demarcation based on other considerations , it is a threat to peace.

Last year, I confronted a secular democrat from Iraq (living under constant threat in Baghdad) with the hypothetical choice of continued civil war or a peaceful but divided Iraq. While stressing his strong will to preserve the current borders of the country where he grew up, he admitted that peace was more important.

On the one hand, politically recognised borders should be in line with reality on the ground; on the other, the international community should not reward military aggression. Yet it is hard not to; usually those invited to peace talks will be the faction leaders with the most military muscle. Furthermore, deals are often struck far above the heads of constituents. Referendums that give constituents a voice would seem to be the civilised way of resolving territorial disputes, but there may be controversy on who gets to vote. The dispute over Western Sahara, where there are settlers from Morocco, is one example of that problem; another is Abkhazia, but for the opposite reason – the province had an ethnic Georgian majority before the war.

On the Kosovo question, the pride and principles of the two sides collide. Endless wrangling has postponed resolution of the issue for years. Most recently it has become an element in multitopical deliberations between the US and Russia, together with missile defence, nuclear weapons and the treaty on conventional forces in Europe. Unfortunately, there appears to be no consensus at present. The scenarios we face are status quo and continued postponement, or division of the world’s nations into two camps -- those who recognise an independent Kosovo and those who don’t. The positions of Russia and the US are clear; relations within the EU are more complex. Europe would be greatly embarrassed if its diversity of views erupted into a rift, as on the US invasion of Iraq. But the Union survived that crisis. Those with far more to lose are the populations of Kosovo, Northern Iraq, Puntland, Somaliland, Northern Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Western Sahara and the Palestinian Territories, all of whom face an uncertain status and in many cases isolation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

From overmonitored rusty Kalashnikovs to stale cocktail receptions at the embassy - Joint training is the answer

This is the unedited version of an article soon to be published in "New Routes"

Visiting the weapons collection sites in the disarmament campaign in Macedonia four years ago as a monitor for the EU, I recall hearing the officials manning the collection points informing us that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had been there just a while ago. Coordination was at times non-existent between our organisations and information was not shared from our side because of distrust of certain member states of the OSCE. Yet I also remember on later occasions how our EU monitors seamlessly reinforced the election observation mission of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We reported everything observed up their chain of command just as the seconded ODIHR observers, or should I say most of them – because we all know that it happens that seconded personnel still primarily focus on reporting to their national authorities, weakening the concept of secondments to international organisations and their credibility.

Conflict stricken societies are characterised by a myriad of external as well as internal actors with various agendas, pulling in different directions as they may have conflicting aspirations of what the end state should be. The interlocking layers of the diplomatic, political, economic and societal networks constitute a complex web of interrelationships, dependencies, allegiances and conflict. Global competition between super powers may be an influence just as the personal relation between Ambassador X and Deputy Head of Mission Y or the fact that Police Commissioner Z simply is not comfortable with going to cocktail parties and exchanging niceties.

Moreover, cooperation may be difficult even among actors from the same country but representing different outfits under separate ministries. The set backs in Operation Iraqi Freedom have pin-pointed frictions in the great US war machinery incorporating the Pentagon, Langley and Department of State. The smaller UK structures have successfully integrated ministries and military in what is called a comprehensive or whole of government approach. Integration of military and civilian government assets have been tried with various succes in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. There are political forces striving for integrating military and civilian components under unified command and the temptation to use military resources for humanitarian tasks is not new. However, the professional humanitarian aid workers are sceptical to the military taking over their domain. Not for being afraid of losing their turf, but stating that humanitarian assistance is not an easy task without pitfalls. A well meaning effort may actually cause damage in the long run. The salty humanitarians who often reach the conflict zone long before any international military force speak of their “humanitarian space” – they mean let us do our job, so you can do yours. This opinion sometimes conflicting with the will to integrate actors in peace support under unified command.

Regardless of where one stands on the question of integrating efforts or preserving integrity of specific actors everyone agrees that awareness and understanding of the other actors in the field radically increases efficiency. Hence, joint training platforms such as the Viking exercises and courses with mixed-multifunctional groups of participants are instrumental in enhancing the capabilities of tomorrows peacemakers. Peace building will probably always be complex and messy, but one misunderstanding more during training is hopefully one less out on the mission. Joint training builds multidisciplinary networks overarching organisational and departmental limitations. Bonds and even friendships are forged, promoting smooth cooperation and interfunctional understanding.