Developing Civilian Capacities for Handling Conflict

Civilian Peace Service Consultation, Ottawa, February 2005

Developing civilian capacities for handling conflict: the UK experience

Tim Wallis, Peaceworkers UK

I don’t think its fair to say that ‘people get the government they deserve’. Nevertheless it certainly is the case that people have to deal with the government they’ve got! And what may be possible in one country or in one set of political circumstances is simply out of the question in another. I hope at least some of our experience in the UK will resonate with what you are dealing with here in Canada. But only you can make the judgement about what may or may not ‘work’ here and what kind of language you will need to use to get what you want.

The first thing I have to say is that the inspiration and model for what we have been trying to do in the UK over that past 4 years came directly from Helga Tempel and her organisation in Germany and what they were able to achieve there. Unfortunately we were not able to reproduce these results in the UK and therefore our experience may be particularly relevant to you in the sense that you will almost certainly have to adapt this idea to your own particular circumstances, as we have had to do.

As Helga has already outlined to you, the overall objective of having a Civil Peace Service is to enable many more people to be recruited, trained and sent into situations of violent or potentially violent conflict where they can do some good. Qualified civilian personnel from outside can play a crucial role in the prevention, management and resolution of such conflicts – as international observers, human rights monitors, mediators, conflict resolution trainers, local capacity-builders, advisors and providers of all kinds of technical assistance. They can contribute to the peace efforts of local people and assist with the re-integration of refugees and ex-combatants, the resolving of disputes, the opening of communication channels, the building of democratic structures, the establishment of free and fair elections and the protection of human rights.

Finding the right people to do this work, training them for it and getting them to the appropriate place at the appropriate time – these are the challenges which ‘civilian peace services’ seek to address. The first such service was established in Austria in 1993, training and deploying around 10 Austrians each year to work on peacebuilding projects in the Balkans, funded by the state as an alternative to military service.

In Germany, the Civil Peace Service was established by the Red-Green coalition on coming to power in 1998. It has been training and deploying up to 70 German civilians per year for long-term peacebuilding projects, but these civilians are mid-career professionals rather than teenage conscripts as in Austria. Other schemes exist in at least six European countries, although not all go by the name of ‘civil peace services’. In Italy there are the White Helmets and the White Berets, who organise people to do more large-scale, emergency work in response to natural disasters like the earthquake in Turkey as well as to conflict situations like in the former Yugoslavia. In the Netherlands, France and Switzerland there are grassroots initiatives along these lines with varying degrees of government support for them.

I know one of the key issues to be addressed at this conference is about what kind of relationship you want to have, if any, between grassroots peace organisations promoting this idea and the government or particular parts of the government. That is certainly one of the areas where each country has its own solution. It is not just a question of what is politically possible in any one country, but also what is desirable in terms of the wider political landscape and where this fits onto it. We all have our own peculiar histories and political cultures which affect the way particular organisations view the government and vice versa – and of course how particular organisations view each other!

Peaceworkers UK was established in November 2000 with the aim of helping to raise public awareness about civilian contributions to the handling of conflict more generally, but also to increase both the quality and the quantity of those contributions from the UK. We decided at the outset that we could not achieve the second of these two aims without government backing and support. We simply do not have access to the level of funding required to create a UK Civilian Peace Service or any of its components without major help from the government. And neither could we envisage having a sufficient level of public support and backing for the idea without it being seen as a ‘national’ scheme explicitly backed in some shape or form by the UK government.

Now I have to tell you that this approach does not go down well with all peace organisations, even in the UK! In fact the window of opportunity for developing a good working partnership between the government and the peace movement in Britain starting shutting down after September 11th and then closed down more or less completely with the invasion of Iraq. We have continued to push for a UK Civilian Peace Service since that point, but with very little chance of success.

What we have done instead is to develop, as best we could in the circumstances we face, the building blocks and foster the conditions necessary for the eventual creation of a UK Civilian Peace Service. I’d like to briefly describe to you the steps we took initially to promote the idea of a UK Civilian Peace Service and then spend the rest of my time describing the building blocks we have been working on in the meantime. I you may be able to use here some of the tools we have developed for the UK, regardless of what form or mechanism you decide to adopt to push forward this idea in Canada.

I should say that we first of all spent an entire year researching the theory and practice of civilian peace services in the rest of Europe and investigating the feasibility of setting up something which might work in a UK context. We presented the results of our research to representatives of the military, the government, NGOs and academics at a conference in London in November 2001. Out of this conference came a Steering Group for a UK Civilian Peace Service and two Working Groups to explore in more depth the recruitment and training elements of such a service.

The recruitment group set as its aim a Peaceworkers Register that would contain details of civilian personnel in the UK qualified and potentially available for peace-related work, whether for the UN, OSCE, EU or any number of NGOs working in this field. The training group, meanwhile, began by identifying existing gaps in the training needs of people working in conflict prevention, crisis management and peacebuilding and a programme of training courses to fill that gap.

Both of these aspirations, along with some sort of ‘peace service’ that would bind them together, attracted a surprising degree of support from within the Foreign Office and the British military, as well as from 50 MPs who signed a motion asking for a debate on this issue in parliament. But one of the stumbling blocks we came up against in our research was the fear of many in government and in the more established NGOs that civilians who are not properly trained and qualified for working in situations of violent conflict could easily make things worse rather than better.

This was a concern particularly of schemes, such as the Austrian one, which deploy relatively inexperienced and younger people – generally young men of conscription age – 18 and 19-year olds. But even in the German case, which only accepts older professionals with a certain level of expertise and experience, there was a concern that quality controls are not rigorous enough and standards not set high enough to ensure these people would not be doing more harm than good in particularly dangerous, delicate and complex situations.

Peaceworkers UK set itself the target, therefore, of achieving the highest possible standards and the most rigorous quality controls in its attempt to provide qualified, competent, experienced and appropriate personnel. The projects to which these people would be sent must pass an equally uncompromising test of quality assurance in terms of aims, methods and project management. We are convinced that by holding to such high standards we can ensure that civilian contributions to conflict prevention, management and resolution ‘do no harm’ in the field. We will also thereby raise the stature of this work immeasurably and help convince politicians and the general public that this is the way forward in terms of dealing with conflicts and potential conflicts of the future.

We do not want our commitment to high standards to be at the expense of transparency and inclusiveness in this process, however. The people who currently meet these standards are comparatively few, and to really make a difference it is clear that many more must get into this field and be brought up to the required standard. We, as Peaceworkers UK, are just as committed to increasing the quantity of civilians working in this field as we are to increasing the quality of what those civilians contribute.

Our emphasis in the UK is therefore on establishing commonly agreed standards and effective tools for assessing a person’s qualities and competencies against those standards. This includes training programmes, but also assessment programmes which will test responses and behaviour in simulated environments similar to those faced in the field. We are also working on a programme of placements and apprenticeships which will enable people to gain skills and experience alongside more qualified colleagues, preferably in a safer environment within our own country.

The UK has, like many other countries, plenty of conflicts of its own! Not only do we have a major 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland which is still unresolved, we also have ethnic and racial conflicts in many of our big cities as well as potentially violent community and regional disputes over land, nationality, inequalities and the distribution of resources. These are all potential training grounds for the next generation of international conflict experts. The successful resolution of some of these conflicts will not only make the UK a more peaceful place. It will also make the UK contribution to other people’s conflicts more credible and more respected, since it hardly behoves a nation ridden with its own conflicts to send its best conflict professionals abroad!

Peaceworkers UK is working on all these fronts in close partnership with other UK-based NGOs such as International Alert, Saferworld, RedR (Engineers for Disaster Relief), Mediation UK, CODEP (the network for Conflict, Development and Peace) and ERIS (the Electoral Reform International Service).

On the training side we started out in 2003 working with over 20 university departments and independent training providers to design and deliver two pilot courses for civilian crisis management personnel to be seconded to the EU. In developing our initial Peaceworkers Register of UK civilians available for this work, we developed partnerships with NGOs like BESO (British Executive Service Overseas) and LGIB (Local Government International Bureau), as well as with RedR and ERIS.

At the European level, we are working with the other members of the European Network of Civil Peace Services. This is a rather loose network of related schemes across Europe, but is already exploring the possibility of a joint European project in Cyprus. Peaceworkers UK would like to see much closer cooperation at the European level, so that we are developing and working to common European standards and common European procedures for measuring people against those standards. If we can find a way of working together at that level we can perhaps begin to bridge the credibility gap that still exists among many of the politicians, funders, and potential supporters of the civilian approach.

Almost every year since it was first introduced in 1994, the European Parliament has voted unanimously to establish a European Civilian Peace Corps. But this cannot happen without funding from the European Commission and support from the Council of Ministers, and neither has been forthcoming. There are numerous reasons for this, not least the conflicts of interest and turf wars that exist between the different ‘pillars’ and institutions of the EU. But a more fundamental reason for the lack of progress with this initiative is the suspicion of many within the Council and the Commission that such a Corps would be amateurish, poorly controlled, and potentially dangerous.

We need to challenge those perceptions and work together to transform this initiative into a realisable goal for the EU. The EU remains committed – on paper at least – to conflict prevention and civilian crisis management. It cannot deliver on those commitments without better coordination and pooling of the civilian resources that exist within Europe. The proposal for a European Civilian Peace Corps needs to be re-drafted so as to address these core EU commitments as well as the issue of standards and quality control. It then needs to be re-submitted to the Commission and the Council within a framework of constructive dialogue about how best to maximise European capacities in this area.

What the UK government has created, at least in part a response to our lobbying efforts, is a new post-conflict reconstruction unit to manage the recruitment, training and deployment of civilian experts to post-conflict situations. This is a joint initiative of the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. The new unit, which aims to have an initial operational capability by this summer and to be fully up and running by mid-2006, is so far highly receptive to input and suggestions from NGOs and they are particularly interested in our Peaceworkers Register and system of assessment. Nevertheless, most NGOs remain highly suspicious and we ourselves are not yet sure how the PCRU will position itself. Its mandate is so far extremely limited – to situations where UK military forces have been involved in combat and are in the process of pulling out – ie situations like Iraq and Afghanistan and not many others. Of course neither Peaceworkers UK nor any other NGO wants to be used to speed up the exit strategy of the British Army so they can more easily go and invade somewhere else. We want assurances that civilians recruited and trained for post-conflict work really are going to be involved in helping re-build communities and not just provide a figleaf for the government. We have not yet abandoned the possibility that the PCRU can be a step forward, however small, in developing standards, supporting more and better training and recruiting the people who can do this work. They have the money and political support from the very top which no other such initiative in the UK is likely to get in the short-term.

One of the ideas we have taken up in recent months to supplement our efforts to create a CPS is the creation of a Civilian Peace Reserve. This would not be a fully-fledged CPS as in Germany and elsewhere, but could be a step in that direction by having a national register of people potentially available for civilian peace missions in much the same way as the military keeps a ‘reserve’ of people potentially available for war missions if and when the regular forces need reinforcements. I don’t know what you have here in Canada, but the British Territorial Army not only provides for regular training and exercises to keep reservists constantly prepared for possible duty. It also provides those reservists with job security guaranteed by the government and other legal rights that require employers to release members of the TA for training as well as for active military duty if they are called up. This is similar to the sort of package available to civilians who are called up to do humanitarian service in places like Norway – and perhaps Canada? It also provides for certain social protection rights that the CPS provides in Germany through their Development Workers Law that Helga mentioned.

We think this a possible way forward for the UK and we already have a number of MPs in parliament who are quite interested in the idea. A logical extension of this is to have a ‘peace cadet’ corps for young people to learn about and get involved in training for future peace service. One of my personal ambitions for many years has been to be able to go into schools along with the army recruiters and talk to school children about career opportunities in the peace field. An opportunity to join the Peace Cadets would take this one step further and could help a lot of young people currently looking for ways to become active for peace.

The UK does have a campaign to create a Ministry for Peace, also inspired by Denis Kucinich in the US. This campaign has attracted quite a lot of peace movement interest but I have to say very little interest outside the peace movement and almost none at all among parliamentarians who would have to implement it.

The British government likes numbers and targets and indicators, so we have produced for them a proposal which spells out in some detail what we think we can offer them. They have their own governmental targets and commitments to meet in terms of EU ‘headline goals’ in civilian crisis management, UK conflict prevention targets and commitments to the UN, OSCE and other multilateral institutions. They must be able to provide civilian personnel to meet these targets. What we have offered is that for a mere £400,000 or so per year (roughly $1 million Canadian), we can recruit, train and assess 200 people, one fifth of whom would be available for deployment at any one time. In five years, we could deliver 1,000 such people, with 200 available for deployment across a range of 10 specialist categories in five levels of expertise.

We have not yet had a response to this offer, but its cheap at the price. Its less than a quarter of the annual budget of the new Post-conflict reconstruction unit and less than the cost of maintaining UK troops in Iraq for a single day.

I have tried to give you an idea of what we have tried to do in the UK and what we have learned from that experience. I hope at least some of it is relevant to your situation here in Canada and I come with best wishes from Peaceworkers UK and the offer of any help you may want from us. Probably you have a better chance of success here than we have had and you may not need our help. Certainly you have decide what you think you can achieve here and how best to do it. Best of luck to you!

Tim Wallis

Peaceworkers UK: