Five Years of Strong Preventive Action
As the fifth anniversary of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention draws near, Amb. Ortwin Hennig, EWI's former head of the program, reflects on the challenges of preventive diplomacy.
The Parliamentarians Network has developed into a unique actor of change in the international conflict prevention architecture. It has been policy relevant, as it engages decision makers, it has networked across institutions and continents, it has shared knowledge and experience, and it has led an action oriented dialogue on issues that have a bearing on stability and peace, locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
Conflict situations are usually characterized by stalemate at the strategic level, lack of political will for genuine dialogue at national and local levels, lack of societal desire for reconciliation, and all sides at all levels seek to attach political conditions to urgent humanitarian and development needs and activities. The onus is on the international community to take the initiative to make progress both on the ground and at the strategic level.
This shows: preventive diplomacy is a frustrating business to be in. But the Parliamentarians engaged in it are not wasting their time. Preventive diplomacy remains a moral imperative, an economic necessity, a humanitarian must, and a political obligation. The Parliamentarians Network drives this home to governments through its very existence on a daily basis.
In China, there is a story about a doctor, who always cured his patients shortly before they died. For this reason he was famous in the whole valley. There was another doctor, whose patients never fell ill in the first instance. This doctor was unknown. Which doctor do you think was the better one?
Conflicts are essential in order to foster societal change.The yardstick is whether societies manage their conflicts peacefully. Therefore, conflict prevention is not exclusively about preventing violence, it is also about channelling conflicts into peaceful procedures. So conflict prevention is a process rather than a policy.
There is no opposition to preventive diplomacy. In fact, there is a broad consensus about its importance. But experience has shown that rhetorical support for it does not always lead to appropriate action. And where the international community gets engaged, it focuses too much on crisis management and too little on preventive diplomacy; one of the reasons being that crisis management is visible, preventive diplomacy is not: it is quiet diplomacy, it cannot be conducted through the media.
There are two flaws in conflict prevention that the Parliamentarians Network has been trying to overcome: the lack of a prevention lobby in our societies and a lack of a top-down approach in governmental agencies. Remedying these deficits is part of the difficult domestic and international political will-building strategy the Network has been engaged in.
During the next years, tensions and conflicts over access to water and energy continue to endanger stability and security in many parts of the world. Also, the last undivided spaces of the earth: i.e. the cosmos, the oceans, and the cyber space, are likely to cause problems in the future. States with a global vision tend to spread out into these areas, as binding international agreements are lacking in order to regulate the competition here. Furthermore, religious rights of minorities are violated in many regions, especially in Northern Africa and the Middle East. This problem needs special attention, locally and internationally.
The Network should tackle all these challenges through institutionalised dialogue between all stakeholders and with a view to create win-win-situations for all.
Today, we find ourselves in a unique situation in that all decisive forces in world politics, including Russia, China, India and the Muslim world, share, objectively, common basic interests. This is a chance to work for the creation of a cooperative international order by reaching out to decision makers to sensitize them that conflict prevention needs to become part of their decision making. State borders and state power are no longer decisive reference points. Transnational problems require transnational solutions.
In the years to come, the Parliamentarians Network should lead the way in this direction, conscious of what Albert Einstein once said: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”