As questions of whether to intervene and how to bring peace between warring sides are again of vital importance, a new approach is proposed in a new book, The Fog of Peace: the human face of Conflict Resolution, written by the Director of the Oxford Research Group’s Middle East Programme, Gabrielle Rifkind, and veteran UN diplomat Giandomenico Picco.
They argue that it is essential to recognise geopolitical complexities but also to understand the human dimension. The most important aspect of conflict resolution is for antagonists to understand their opponents as individuals, their ambitions, their pains, and the resentments that condition their thinking and the traumas they do not fully themselves grasp.
Presented as a collection of vital themes and reflections that combine psychological understanding with diplomatic experience, Gabrielle Rifkind and Giandomenico Picco propose that:
- we need a radical new approach to the resolution of conflict;
- this should be based on a deep understanding of how both sides think – considering personal narratives and cultural practices as well as complex geopolitical histories;
- the primary aim in any international intervention should be to contain violence and provide a framework for negotiations before conflict escalates;
- a new international organisation – such as an International Institute for Mediation (IIM) - should be founded along the lines of the International Criminal Court (ICC);
- independent "commando" teams of mediators could be formed to respond quickly to flash points and resolve issues before cycles of violence get out of hand;
- and it should be for those involved in the conflict to decide how any transition of power is managed, not outside parties with vested interests.
When the co-authors first met at a conference in Tehran in 2006, they realised that they shared a deep commitment to understanding the human mind, what motivates it, and why people behave in particular ways. Drawing upon their extensive personal experiences of negotiating with ‘the enemy’, and of presenting examples of conflict around the globe from Israel and Palestine to Northern Ireland, they argue that understanding one’s opponent is the most important condition for effective conflict resolution.
'The Fog of Peace' is published by I.B.Tauris on 3rd March.