||Student's op-ed on Iraq situation published
RELEASED: Dec. 17. 2002
DANVILLE, KYCentre junior Nate Olson, a graduate of Owensboro High School, had an opinion article appear in the Dec. 13th edition of the Messenger-Inquirer (www.messenger-inquirer.com). Olson, who interned this past summer with The Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program in Atlanta, has also had columns appear in the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal.
Enhancing diplomacy would make military force last resort
By Nate Olson
America's debate on war with Iraqbrought into renewed focus by a unanimous Security Council vote and the return of weapons inspectorshas reminded us of the troubling consequences of a military operation of such scope, no matter how successfully waged. The human toll, the fiscal strain, the potential of aggravating tensions elsewhere in the region and beyondthese and other factors have all been well documented and cannot be ignored as we face a decision with enormous implications for the post-Sept. 11 world.
Yet whatever shape that decision ultimately takes, we can all reaffirm one simple thing amid our reflection: Military force is at best a short-term solution that should always be our last resort when confronting conflict abroad. It's time we demonstrate this consensus by enhancing American diplomatic institutions.
Upon its January return, Congress should move quickly to approve a new Office of Conflict Resolution (OCR) under the Secretary of State. The OCR would be charged with helping to prevent and resolve violent conflict in consultation with other official players and qualified nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
NGOs are private groups with wide-ranging goals and capabilities. Some, like Atlanta's Carter Center, have intervened in conflict settings worldwide with impressive results. Their methods deserve emulating.
Sadly, the Bush administration's freshly minted National Security Strategywith preemptive military action as a main organizing principleformalizes a remarkably narrow devotion to brute power. But what happens when the smoke clears? Can military action alone have such impact on social, political, and economic conditions that the sources of our national threats are counteracted for any length of time? Common sense says not. So does the unfolding lesson of Afghanistan.
We need instead a broader approach that combines the strengths of official diplomacy, known to experts as "Track 1," with those of NGO conflict resolution activity, or "Track 2." Equipped with ample resources, an OCR at the State Department could go far in promoting synergies between the Track 1 and Track 2 communities, preserving peace better than smart bombs ever will.
Diplomats normally enjoy privileged access to the political leadership of parties in conflict and help ensure that agreements with their endorsement are honored. These and other advantages are naturally most evident on the level of "classic diplomacy" (i.e., diplomats working with diplomats to advance state interests). But the more unconventional forms of conflict on the rise in the post-Cold War period demand more innovative peacemaking strategies than this state-centered diplomacy can offer.
Track 2 organizations are responding to this new reality by employing different intervention techniques, prioritizing grass-roots input, and underlining the need for equitable and comprehensive solutions. Relatively free of political constraints and better able to accommodate the interests of civil society and minorities, their work often goes unnoticed, but their value is unmistakable. The Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program, for instance, has tirelessly sought to give voice to the poverty-stricken and politically marginalized in Sudan, ravaged by a civil war that has killed two million. Thanks in no small measure to efforts like these the Sudanese government and rebel leaders approved a framework for peace in July.
The work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), two independent organizations funded by Congress, can serve as an important guide in creating the OCR. USAID has field offices across the globe, it relies heavily on collaboration with NGOs, and its administrator consults directly with the Secretary of State. But its programseconomic, humanitarian, and democracy-building assistance are extremely diverse. While a similar range of concerns informs conflict resolution activity, the OCR would require a more focused mandate.
USIP has that mandate"to strengthen the nation's capacity to promote the peaceful resolution of international conflict"and it too has developed an excellent relationship with the NGO community. But it has no formal role in the governmental apparatus, greatly diminishing the chance that the expertise of its Track 2 partners will be absorbed into policymaking processes.
Preferably staffed with individuals of both Track 1 and Track 2 backgrounds, the OCR could coordinate and learn from the conflict resolution work at USAID, USIP, and other government agencies. It would then help formulate relevant State Department policy, ensuring that both approaches are reflected in official positions. This more inclusive process would benefit all stakeholders.
As war with Iraq looms, we should draw on our heightened sense of perspective to expand diplomacy and signal a more enlightened commitment to peace. Recognizing the limitations of military force and identifying the groups that can help us frame a more enduring strategy would be a good start.
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