The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 200 Volume 25 Issue 1
In 2005, representatives of organizations from around the world will gather at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss civil society roles in conflict prevention. The international conference will be the culmination of a multi-year process of transnational and regional networking to address the challenge of more effective civil society involvement in preventing conflict. The overall objective of the initiative, called the Global Partnership to Prevent Armed Conflict (GPPAC), is to develop a common platform for effective action in conflict prevention, from the community to the global levels.
The idea grew out of the 2001 UN Secretary-General’s Report, Prevention of armed conflict, in which Kofi Annan urged non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to organize a conference on this theme (Recommendation #27). Since that time, the European Centre for Conflict Prevention (ECCP), based in the Netherlands, has been spearheading and coordinating the global process, with the involvement and assistance of other organizations from around the world. According to the ECCP, the objectives of the GPPAC are to
- Explore the varied roles of civil society in conflict prevention;
- Establish and/or strengthen regional networks of civil society practitioners and academics, and weave them together into a global conflict prevention network;
- Improve interaction between civil society and government, regional, and UN actors;
- Promote the development of research and theory that will help the conflict prevention community play a more effective role in international deliberations;
- Develop a plan of action focused on conflict prevention, possibly embodied in a UN Security Council Resolution, to guide the international community as it seeks to prevent armed conflict in the coming decades.1
To accomplish these goals, a series of regional meetings will be held during 2004 and early 2005 to discuss the unique themes, challenges, and opportunities of conflict prevention. In each region, a “regional initiator” organization will coordinate the conference and engage other NGOs in the process. These regional meetings will take place in South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western and Northern Europe, Central and East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, North America, the Pacific, Southeast and Northeast Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Balkans. One of the first meetings took place in Dublin, Ireland at the end of February 2004.
What’s happening in Canada?
In January 2003, a team of seven people representing different sectors of Canadian civil society organizations received a mandate to organize and facilitate this initiative in Canada, and to coordinate with other organizations in North America. The organizing team includes representatives of the conflict resolution practitioner, academic, research/think tanks, and international NGO communities, as well as from the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee (CPCC) and the Conflict Prevention Working Group of the CPCC. Since that time, the Canadian Conflict Prevention Initiative (CCPI) has grown to include other interested individuals and organizations working on conflict prevention broadly defined. Project Ploughshares has been involved with the CCPI from its beginnings. Other members of the CCPI Task Force include colleagues from the Conflict Prevention Working Group, North-South Institute, Carleton University, Canadian International Institute for Applied Negotiation (CIIAN), and the World Federalist Movement.
Over the past year, the CCPI has initiated a variety of activities. In a document outlining a strategy to engage Canadian organizations, the CCPI identified five different spheres of activity:
- Network building through strategic meetings of civil society organizations involved in conflict prevention in Canada, North America, and globally;
- Policy dialogue on mainstreaming conflict prevention with the Canadian Government, as well as with the UN and other member states through the Global Partnership on the Prevention of Armed Conflict;
- Collaboration to develop field-based conflict prevention partnerships with civil society organizations (CSOs) and other bodies in selected southern countries;
- Focused, applied research, including a baseline survey of the conflict prevention activity of Canadian civil society organizations;
- Wider outreach and awareness-raising via Canadian schools and colleges, the media, and the World-Wide Web.
The CCPI has made progress in a number of these areas. It has produced a concept paper outlining potential activities; received some initial funding from the Canadian government to support these activities; initiated and produced a baseline survey of organizations in Canada involved in conflict prevention; and engaged in discussions with partner organizations in the United States, Mexico, Latin America, and Europe regarding the plan of action and the proposed North American and global conferences. For example, in October 2003, the CCPI organized a panel on conflict prevention at the Annual Peacebuilding Consultations of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the CPCC, bringing together government, NGO, and academic representatives from Canada, Europe, and Latin America. Following this meeting, CCPI hosted two meetings: one for Canadian organizations, to strengthen the network of Canadian NGOs involved in conflict prevention; and the second to begin the process of planning a regional North American conference. These discussions continue and will lead to a conference sometime in late 2004 or early 2005.
The state of conflict prevention in Canada
The baseline survey of Canadian civil society organizations engaged in conflict prevention identified several interesting trends and themes.2 It found that concepts of conflict prevention may be specific and include such things as mediation and diplomacy, but the definition can also be expanded to include a range of activities designed to alleviate some of the problems that can lead to conflict. These include resource allocation, corruption, ethnic or territorial disputes, and economic inequality, to name just a few. While there are still those who view conflict prevention programming in more traditional terms, Canadian organizations have tended to use a broader definition in recent years. For example, few organizations in Canada engage in activities related to early warning or risk assessment, both central components of a narrow definition of conflict prevention. In contrast, more organizations are involved in peace education and/or policy development, both of which fall within a broader definition of conflict prevention.
Another trend is the breadth of activities in which Canadians are involved. Programming by Canadian organizations reaches every corner of the globe and encompasses both direct conflict prevention and management activities and involvement in initiatives that address structural or ‘root’ issues that increasingly have been seen to contribute to conflict. Canada and Canadians continue to be involved in the global community, and there is sustained interest in remaining involved.
A third theme that emerged from the survey is the optimism with which the majority of organizations and individuals view the possible role of Canada and Canadians in conflict prevention. Many respondents suggested that Canada has been heading in the right direction, opting for a comprehensive and holistic approach that includes developmental as well as diplomatic, operational, and both military and peacekeeping work. While the overwhelming majority of comments seemed to be positive, there were a few negative criticisms of current levels of Canadian foreign aid and the structure of Canada’s military forces. Basically, however, those who responded expressed the view that the greatest need was to interact and share information, and for Canada to offer and receive support for its conflict prevention efforts within the rules-based international order defined by the UN and international law.
Despite the advances of the past year, much remains to be done in Canada and abroad. In an exciting and groundbreaking move, the UN General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution on preventing armed conflict in July 2003, a step toward moving from a “culture of reaction to a culture of prevention” within the UN system. The impact of this resolution on the UN system will become clear over the coming years. At present, the CCPI is working to develop a multi-year proposal that would fund several organizations and partners in the South to work directly on grassroots conflict prevention activities. Organizations that are part of the GPPAC continue to engage the UN and governments in discussing ways of improving and strengthening conflict prevention policy and activities.
A version of this article is appearing in Interaction, the journal of Conflict Resolution Network Canada (www.crnetwork.ca).
Adapted from ECCP 2002, p. 16.
The following was taken from Marriott and Carment 2003.
European Cemtre fpr Conflict Prevention 2002, Conflict Prevention Newsletter, V:2 (December).
Marriott, Koren and Carment, David 2003, “Conflict Prevention in Canada: A Survey of Canadian Conflict Prevention Professionals,” CPCC, Ottawa.
United Nations 2001, Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Prevention of armed conflict, UN Doc S/2001/574, 7 June.