The Alliance for Peacebuliding (AfP) is about to add domestic conflict to the list of issues it works on. Until now, AfP members have done almost all of their work outside the US. At long last, we have realized that we also have to pay attention to the raging disputes that trouble our own country. Even though we were created to work abroad, events of the last few years have made it impossible for us to ignore the fact that the entire world needs peacebuilders. Violent conflict is as common in Baltimore as it is in Baghdad and in Ferguson as in Fallujah
So, my colleagues and I are spending the summer exploring how we could build on our experiences addressing wicked problems abroad so that we can better cope with the political conflicts disrupting our own country.
That starts with the fact that we take for granted the fact that the causes and consequences of seemingly intractable disputes are inextricably intertwined and have more experience in devising projects accordingly. Although we are just beginning our efforts on the domestic front, we have already found two kinds of way in which our work abroad could be be applied at home.
Diagnosis. It is, frankly, easier to see the “big picture” when one works outside one’s own country. On the one hand, putting our conflicts in a broader context makes them seem all the more daunting. On the other hand, viewing them through a broader lens also makes it easier to envision creative solution.
- Conflict mapping. That starts by “mapping” the conflicts in systems terms. If nothing else, the simple act of drawing a map of those cause and effect relationships reveals “leverage points” at which a system is most susceptible to change.
- Human security. For the last twenty years or so, people around the world have been discussing human in addition to national security. Thus, global analysts and activists are convinced that security involves addressing the full range of a society’s social, economic, environmental, gender, and other issues as well as geopolitical ones.
- Reconciliation.. Because most violent conflict around the world today has its roots in identity issues involving race, language, ethnicity, religion, and the like, they touch raw emotional nerves.Far more than our domestic counterparts, international peacebuilders focus on reconciliation or long term processes that help people come to grips with the past, deal with their decades or centuries old differences, and learn to live peacefully—and sometimes comfortably—with each other.
Cumulative Strategy. Wicked problems do not lend themselves to quick solutions, if they can be solved at all. Reconciliation is not achieved overnight as we have learned in places as different as South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East. However, in developing what military planners call cumulative strategies, we have seen the value of two overlapping approaches that could be of value in the United States.
- Convening. Rarely do all sides to a political dispute come together with a heartfelt desire eto find cooperative solutions wherever conflict happens to take place. AfP members and others have been doing that with some success around the world for more than twenty years. We should be able to do that at home as well.
- Unusual coalitions. In the process, we have helped bring strange political bedfellows together, including Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and Afrikaners and blacks in South Africa. We also have experience working with militaries (including the U.S.) and police forces around the world especially once everyone acknowledges that political stability can only be achieved if all parties to a dispute—including the security services—trust and respect each other.
Although we are committed to finding ways of working in American political life, this is, frankly, new territory for us.
In other words, we need your help.