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New conflicts, new challenges: the evolving role for non-governmental actors.

The post-Cold War period marks the downfall of the bipolar paradigm that had governed the understanding and conduct of international relations since the end of the Second World War. This period has been dominated by the outbreak of new types of conflicts throughout the world that can no longer be neatly explained within the context of superpower confrontation. Conflicts increasingly result from tensions between regional or intrastate parties rather than from the influence or intervention of external actors. Whether rooted in ethnic, sectarian, tribal, economic or a combination of these factors, today's conflicts have more complex implications than did those in the past.

While regional and intrastate conflicts continue to escalate, external nation-states appear less likely to become involved. Facing severe economic constraints and pressing domestic problems, the major global powers are reluctant to devote the resources essential to conflict resolution in areas that they no longer consider to be of vital or strategic interest. As United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali observed,

Once the worry was intervention; today the worry is that the outside world will watch in horror but lack the will or the means to act to stop the warfare.(1)

This changing context calls for an ongoing redefinition of the relationship between conflicts and diplomacy, and forms the basis of a new international relations paradigm. Current conditions emphasize the need for collective security, placing greater responsibilities with the United Nations and regional organizations.(2) Yet with the multipolarity of the new global order as its premise, this new paradigm also recognizes the enhanced influence of smaller actors in the international system and the increasing importance of coordination among them. Thus, the ranks of recognized actors in modern-day diplomacy have expanded necessarily to include non-state or non-governmental actors.

The significant proliferation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in recent years, and their growing contributions to the improvement of the human condition, have led to increased - and long overdue - recognition of the important role they can and do play in preventing and resolving conflicts. When traditional diplomacy fails, nation-states often resort to using military or economic muscle to achieve their goals. While NGOs lack such leverage, they do possess certain enabling characteristics, particular to their non-governmental nature, that enhance their ability to contribute to a more enduring peace. An examination of the unique nature of NGOs, the strengths they bring to the diplomatic process and present NGO efforts in mediation, humanitarian assistance and peace-building will illustrate the numerous ways in which NGOs can effectively contribute to conflict resolution around the world.

The Nature and Scope of NGOs

Broadly defined, NGOs are private, voluntary, non-profit organizations whose members combine their skills, means and energies in the service of shared ideals and objectives. NGOs vary in scope, resource base and influence as well as in functional and ideological orientation. They may be local, national or international, and include service groups, prominent foundations and professional or other membership organizations. NGOs are generally dependent on private resources, but in several countries they receive government support as well. In some cases, government funding may compromise an NGO's independence;(3) nevertheless, as they become an integral part of international politics, NGOs enjoy growing autonomy with respect to governmental decision makers.

The earliest NGOs included religious and humanitarian groups.(4) The number of NGOs began to increase after the First World War, with the creation of such organizations as the International Federation of Trade Unions, the International Federation of University Women and the International Chamber of Commerce.(5) Since the end of the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations, the work of NGOs has expanded considerably. Today, NGO activities and programs address issues of economic and social development, peacemaking and disarmament, the environment, human rights, education, crime, drug abuse, health, population, youth and families. NGOs have shown themselves to be powerful advocates of positive change as well as vociferous opponents of restrictive policies. As expert groups, they have been increasingly effective at influencing policies and programs of national governments and intergovernmental organizations.(6)

NGOs and the United Nations

Largely as a result of lobbying by U.S. NGOs,(7) the United Nations established the basis for a consultative relationship with NGOs through Article 71 of the U.N. Charter.(8) The U.N. General Assembly quickly recognized the importance of collaborating with NGOs and called upon the U.N. Department of Public Information (DPI) to work with NGOs interested in communicating information about the United Nations.(9) Later, the NGO and Institutional Relations Section was established within DPI to provide information and other liaison services to the growing number of NGOS accredited to the United Nations. Currently, approximately 20,000 NGOs from every part of the world have entered into some type of relationship with the U.N. system.(10) NGOs have become key partners with the United Nations in development assistance, providing over $5 billion annually to less-developed countries (LDCs).(11)

In 1968, the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) strengthened and formalized its consultative relationship with NGOs.(12) NGOs with ECOSOC consultative status may participate as observers in sessions of the Council and of its subsidiary bodies.(13) They may also submit written or oral statements to the Council, and present their views and positions at important intergovernmental fora.(14) Thousands of NGOs participated in the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Most U.N. agencies and programs, including the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also have established mechanisms for NGO relations. Furthermore, the World Bank has greatly expanded its working relations with local and international NGOs.(15)

The U.N. Division for Palestinian Rights regularly holds international and regional symposia on the question of Palestine for over 960 NGOs accredited with the General Assembly's Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. NGOs also support the public information campaigns of the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid, which holds regular consultations with anti-apartheid activists.

To build awareness and strengthen the involvement of NGOs in the work of the United Nations, DPI convenes annual conferences for NGOs on major issues facing the international community.(16) As regional conflicts pose one of the greatest challenges today, the DPI/NGO conference held in September 1992 focused on the theme, "Regional Conflicts: Threats to World Peace and Progress." Aspects of the following discussion draw on the recommendations and conclusions presented at this important meeting.

Roots in Conflict Resolution

Although religion often has been a divisive influence in human relations, religious and spiritually oriented NGOs have been among the earliest and most prominent actors in conflict mediation and resolution. Religious beliefs, rooted in spiritual values, motivate these groups to undertake the difficult and often frustrating -task of mediation. These NGOs' presence at the grassroots level in many countries also gives them a relative advantage in mediating certain disputes, often making it easier for parties in conflict to accept NGOs' role and to make subsequent concessions with their urging.

Since the Second World War, the American Friends Service Committee and the British Friends - best-known as the Quakers - have been actively involved in conflict mediation, and at times have seconded some of their professional conciliators for assignments on behalf of the United Nations.(17) Well-known for their pacifism and practice of consensual decision making, the Quakers have developed a socially activist program based on their religious beliefs in peace, justice and reconciliation. For many years, Quaker representatives and mediators have demonstrated exceptional patience and perseverance in dealing with complex disputes. Their ability to gain the trust of the disputants during conflicts in the Middle East in 1955 and after the 1967 war, between the two Germanys from 1962 to 1973, during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, as well as the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in 1968 to 1969, attests to the Quakers' skills and credibility. Quaker mediators credit their diplomatic conferences, humanitarian work and other activities with helping them to earn the trust and goodwill of the disputants.(18) The Quakers' wide societal impact is evident from the results of a survey conducted on an exploratory visit to Nigeria, in which nearly half of those interviewed before the outbreak of the civil war had had previous exposure to Quaker activities.(19)

Over the years, other NGOs have expanded their activities in conflict resolution and put their knowledge, skills, reservoirs of goodwill and friendships with disputing parties to constructive use. In many cases, they have proven to be valuable catalysts in defusing dangerous situations. For example, in 1980 Moral Re-Armament (MRA) helped prevent a coup by the Rhodesian army against the then-newly elected prime minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, by arranging for direct talks between Mugabe and former Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith.(20) MRA's success stemmed from its spiritual commitment to peacemaking, combined with its presence as an external but knowledgeable actor. These enabling characteristics for mediation are common to many NGOs, as will be discussed in the next section.

Enabling Characteristics of Non-Governmental


Unofficial Status

Many conflicts today preclude official intervention or mediation. A major obstacle is often the status of one or more of the parties involved in a dispute. For example, in a conflict between a government and a rebel group, the government may not want to imply recognition of the insurgent groups through engaging in official talks with them.(21) In other cases, conflicts are simply not ready for governmental mediation or negotiation:

They involve relationships that can only be changed when human beings probe the roots of conflict, understand the historical grievances that perpetuate animosity and begin to think creatively of how parties involved can overcome a violent past and move toward peaceful relationships.(22)

There is a host of other obstacles to formal mediation. The most obvious is the inherent bias of government representatives to their own government's interests or point of view. A somewhat related difficulty is the tendency of official mediators, especially those with political clout, to attempt to impose a solution on the conflicting parties. For such an attempt to succeed, however, the proffered solution must be seen as serving the best interests of the conflicting parties themselves, rather than the self-interest of a hegemonic third-party guarantor. The publicity that often accompanies formal mediation is yet another impediment to its success. Publicity precludes face-saving, behind-the-scenes deals, exposing every move by the conflicting leaders to the scrutiny of their people and the international community.

Where conflict conditions do not favor successful official diplomacy, unofficial mediation or "track two" diplomacy sometimes can be a more viable alternative.(23) Unofficial mediation is defined as "mediation in international

[or intranational] disputes by persons who are not employed by or responsible to a national government or an intergovernmental organization."(24) As suggested by the experience of the Quakers and other NGOs, unofficial mediation is often a more effective channel of conciliation than the formal diplomacy exercised by governments and intergovernmental organizations. Practitioners of this approach view the goal of conflict resolution as moving away from power-based relations and win-lose approaches to conflict, toward the facilitation of communication, confidence building, problem solving, voluntary agreement and so-called win-win situations.

NGOs can bring disputants together in an informal, non-official setting where the questions of recognition and status will not be an issue.(25) Long involved in promoting peace, the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, OH, advocates a "public peace process" to change the fundamental relationship between groups in conflict. The Foundation administers the U.S. side of the Dartmouth Dialogue, the longest continuous bilateral dialogue between American and Soviet cities, begun in 1960. In 1981, the Foundation joined the Dialogue's other sponsors, the U.S.-Canada Foundation and the Soviet Peace Committee, in forming two task forces to address arms control and American-Soviet interaction in regional conflicts. The task force on regional conflicts has met twice a year since 1981, and is now seeking to initiate a similar dialogue in regions affected by ethnic conflicts, such as Tajikistan.(26) The unofficial status of these non-governmental fora allows the parties to reduce tension and seek new approaches to difficult problems without the constraints of formal diplomatic discussions.

In another example of the utility of unofficial diplomacy, the Lutheran World Federation arranged an informal meeting between representatives of the Guatemalan government and the opposition Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity party in Oslo in March 1990. The meeting resulted in the signing of an accord, "The Basic Agreement on the Search for Peace by Political Means," which then became the basis for formal peace negotiations between the conflicting parties.(27)


The absence of governmental affiliation renders NGOs less threatening to conflicting parties and therefore more acceptable as mediators. Unofficial mediators are more discreet in their efforts and less inclined or able to use information obtained in the peace process to impose solutions. This also means that NGOs are more easily dismissed from the mediation process without causing embarrassment to either party. Unofficial status brings with it freedom from the constraints of government protocol and of sensitivity to the diplomatic implications of every development in the mediation process. This unique position allows NGOs to suggest unconventional remedies or procedures ... to propose partial solutions or package deals, to press the case for constructive initiatives or magnanimous gestures, to isolate those humanitarian issues where obligations assumed by the parties are unconditional and do not depend on reciprocity. A non-official intermediary can be less inhibited than a professional diplomat in raising hypothetical questions ....(28)

A trusted impartial non-governmental mediator may advance proposals that the parties. find acceptable, but which they could neither initiate themselves nor accept if proposed by the opposition or by a third, less-disinterested party.

Unofficial mediation attempts to bring disputing parties to some mutually acceptable middle ground. This role is a delicate one: It is of paramount importance that the mediator not give the conflicting parties any reason to question his or her impartiality and trustworthiness. This impartiality is critical to the mediator's attempts to understand the conflicting viewpoints, and to isolate openmindedly the concrete issues from those caused by misperceptions and misunderstandings. As one NGO mediator observes, "reconceptualization" or "de-demonization" of the "enemy" is often the first essential step in helping the parties to a conflict come to an understanding:

Almost all international disputes, but especially those of long standing, combine genuine and objective conflicts of interest with misperceptions and misunderstandings of the aims and intentions of the other side. The elimination of such misperceptions and misunderstandings is a primary task for the non-official intermediary, and this is often needed before more official mediation can begin ....(29)

A "shuttle diplomacy" of conversations with each party, aided by the non-governmental and impartial status of the mediator, can help achieve this task.(30)

Another aspect of the mediator's job is to relay messages from one side to another. The impartiality of the NGO mediator gives each side greater confidence in the reliability of the intentions voiced in the message as well as in the accuracy of the message ultimately conveyed. Confidence in the intermediary's capability and lack of bias may even prompt the parties to request that the intermediary offer suggestions for achieving a resolution to the conflict. Non-governmental mediation also plays an especially valuable role in allowing disputants who refuse to recognize one other officially to come face-to-face in an unofficial and neutral setting.

Long-Term Capability and Commitment

Formal diplomacy also suffers from an inability to address the psychological obstacles to mediation. As one NGO mediator points out, many of the obstacles to conflict mediation,

... however genuine the causes of the quarrel, are psychological: fear, fury, ignorance, the demonization of the enemy and the glorification of one's own side, pride, dread of losing face, resentment, vanity, guilt for the destruction being caused and many other negative emotions and attitudes.(31)

Yet professional diplomats and statesmen rarely have sufficient time to develop the close relationships with the disputants needed to understand the causal factors. A professional diplomat tends to lack long-term commitment to the peace process, viewing his or her involvement as a mediator as only a short-term assignment. High diplomatic turnover inhibits the development of a close rapport based on mutual confidence and respect between the mediator and the parties in dispute. This kind of relationship is necessary to increase the mediator's insight into the nature of the conflict and the subsequent chances of negotiating a permanent resolution.

NGOs, however, do have the ability to invest time in establishing credibility with the disputing parties, and in gaining familiarity with the issues and psychological factors behind the conflict. A non-governmental actor's commitment to the mediation of a conflict may span many years, and may continue despite the apparent frustration of all attempts to reach peace. Quaker involvement in attempts to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, for example, dates back to 1948.(32) This consistency endows NGOs with the stability and reliability that government mediators lack, since the latter are vulnerable to changes in government leadership and policy.

Most NGOs also place higher emphasis than do governments on the commitment to a just peace. Many cite their commitment to a long-term solution that is equitable to all of the conflicting parties - as opposed to a settlement at all costs - as a primary reason for their success in informal mediation. To the extent that NGOs' lack of coercive power frees them from being perceived as arm twisters, their military or political weakness paradoxically translates into a mediatory strength. It lays the groundwork for their acceptance as impartial ambassadors of goodwill and enables them to inspire trust and confidence among the parties to the conflict.

In the event of a clash between the priorities of realizing a just peace and retaining impartiality, the former dominates. For example, where conditions overwhelmingly favor certain parties over others, non-governmental intermediaries may advocate a more activist, partial approach to the mediation process. In this case, the approach is to strengthen the parties that are more willing to reach a peaceful settlement, or to strengthen disadvantaged parties to the extent that all the parties find it in their interest to settle the conflict in a win-win fashion.

Early Warning and Preventive Action

An NGO's participation as a mediator in a dispute often arises out of its involvement in humanitarian or developmental activities on one or all sides. In these cases, an NGO may enter the mediation process already having a historical perspective and a developed understanding of the critical issues. The presence of a branch office or affiliation with local NGOs may enhance an NGO's credibility with, and access to, local authorities.

This local presence of NGOs also serves as a barometer of domestic attitudes toward, and changing subtleties of, the conflict. This is particularly important in countries controlled by authoritarian regimes, where institutions such as a free press and democratic representation are weak or non-existent. Indeed, both indigenous and international NGOs are well-placed and uniquely qualified to provide early warning that could avert the outbreak of a conflict. Boutros-Ghali has stressed the importance of information in the early warning stage, and calls for continued close cooperation between the specialized agencies and functional offices of the United Nations. This implies a growing opportunity or NGOs to play a recognized role in conflict prevention.(33)

Olara Otunnu, President of the International Peace Academy, believes that people "on the ground" are best qualified to assess a conflict. As an extension of local society, indigenous NGOs can better evaluate the cultural factor in a conflict situation. These organizations are also in a better position to judge the motives and the political objectives of the various factions involved in a conflict. This information can be passed on to governments and the United Nations, either directly or through their affiliation with international NGOs. However, some local NGOs are not always objective, nor are they completely free from government influence. For this reason, information supplied by these kinds of organizations needs to be verified.(34)

In addition, international NGOs with local offices or projects are naturally in an excellent position to provide early warning of a conflict situation or of gross human-rights violations through their headquarters and various NGO networks.(35) For example, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's Human Rights Education Programme arose from the Committee's international development programs, when project administrators in El Salvador began to report on repression in that country. Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) personnel also have helped alert the media and others to human rights abuses.(36) Many NGOs provide information on human rights abuses to the United Nations, through their consultative status with ECOSOC.

Modern technology now enhances the role that NGOs can play in the warning and prevention of conflicts. The availability of satellites for private and commercial use allows NGOs and others to employ technology hitherto reserved only for large military powers. NGOs now use these resources to monitor military activities and disarmament agreements. For example, the Carnegie Endowment, through its Commercial Observation Satellite Project, is able to identify military installations and targets by analyzing satellite pictures purchased from Soviet and French sources.(37) NGOs also can employ this technology to provide early warning of conflict-prone situations. The Stockholm-based Space Media Network used images taken by commercial observation satellites to publicize environmental disasters in the former Soviet Union.(38) The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, established in 1958, has cooperated with numerous scientific NGOs to promote these activities.(39)

NGOs also take an active role in conflict prevention by physically interposing to protect possible victims of aggression or violence. Unarmed volunteers from Peace Brigades International, for instance, serve as highly visible escorts for individuals who fear persecution such as Rigoberta Menchu, the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize for Peace. The escorts' presence allows these individuals' valuable work to continue despite the threat of violent intimidation.(40)

Challenges for NGOs


Of course, the absence of governmental identity and support has disadvantages for NGOs seeking to mediate conflicts. First of all, NGOs lack the influence to exact a firm commitment from one side in exchange for a concession from the opposing party. They are unable to use the threat of economic, military or political sanctions to ensure that a commitment is honored. Second, nongovernmental mediators may also lack the diplomatic experience and skill possessed by their official counterparts. Many NGOs find their mediating efforts further undermined by inadequate physical resources, including the necessary administrative infrastructure, at their disposal - rarely a concern to governments or intergovernmental bodies. Third, non-governmental actors subject themselves to personal risk and aggravation as they increase their mediation roles, for they usually lack the diplomatic immunity and privileges granted to the representatives of governments or intergovernmental institutions. In addition to these and a host of other complicating factors, NGO intermediaries may face pressure and resistance from their home governments to their involvement in the mediation process. As discussed, however, the very non-governmental nature of NGOs provides them with critical strengths that outweigh the attendant disadvantages, and, in many cases, enables NGOs to prove more effective than their official counterparts in bringing an end to regional and domestic disputes.

A unique case study of the challenges and opportunities that NGOs face in conflict resolution is the mediation work undertaken by the International Negotiation Network (INN), an NGO established by the Carter Center of Emory University. The Carter Center established the INN in 1987 as "a flexible, informal network of world leaders, international organizations, universities, foundations, experts, professionals and others." Like many other NGOs, the INN seeks to reduce armed conflicts without the use of military force, and attempts to prevent escalation of smaller-scale conflicts. It does this by coordinating third-party assistance, expert analysis and advice, media attention and other appropriate means. Unlike many other NGOs, the INN generally operates in the open, and conflicting parties who seek its assistance often prefer this publicized, transparent process.(41)

The conflict between the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) offers an excellent example of the threefold INN approach. First, the INN emphasizes the use of eminent persons as conveners. These individuals bring not only extensive contacts and experience to the negotiating table, but also credibility and access to key actors and resources. The use of eminent persons can also enhance public attention to and media coverage of a dispute. In September 1990, representatives from both factions met at the Carter Center offices under the auspices of the INN, in a meeting convened by former President Jimmy Carter. Negotiations began with agreement on three principles: the peace process should be conducted by a neutral third party; no preconditions were to be set by either side; and the talks were to be made public, in preparation for a peaceful settlement.

The second characteristic of the INN process, immediate access to leaders and to data, facilitated greater understanding of the historical aspects of the 30-year conflict in Ethiopia. This knowledge assisted the INN team in understanding how negotiation might succeed, and ultimately led to a temporary cease-fire that was accepted by both parties.

Providing infrastructure and technical support is a third aspect of INN efforts. In Atlanta, the INN provided facsimile and telex machines, copiers and clerical support to both parties. The PDRE also had its own satellite dish, to facilitate direct radio communications with Addis Ababa. Such arrangements, while mundane, can nevertheless be crucial factors in establishing a setting conducive to meaningful and peaceful dialogue. The INN was able to secure support for a second round of talks between the PDRE and the EPLF in Nairobi in November 1989 with the aid of the Kenyan government and the local U.S. Embassy, which provided negotiating parties with the facilities to send and receive secure cable communications.(42)

Another important component of the INN's efforts was its recognition and inclusion of sociocultural differences in the negotiations. The INN also sought to link political progress with economic aid by seeking a major development package from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to be introduced when a peaceful settlement was attained.(43) While the INN's efforts did not resolve the PDRE-EPLF conflict, it resulted in a 10-month de facto cease-fire between the disputants, during which time several breakthroughs were made in famine relief and human rights protection. The INN also succeeded in attracting world attention to the region, creating an expectation of success and drawing other countries into more active roles in the peacemaking process.

Various INN consultations have developed plans of action, outlining concrete steps that could be taken by the INN and other NGOs to help resolve conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Cyprus, the Korean peninsula, Liberia, Burma and the Sudan. Recommended actions have included such activities as establishing telecommunications links between the two Korean states, or developing cooperative environmental projects between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.(44) An INN consultation in February 1993 will help identify ways that intergovernmental organizations and NGOs can coordinate efforts to resolve intrastate conflicts.

A number of other NGOs are currently involved in confidential, delicate mediation and so-called good offices missions in several countries. Some of these efforts run parallel with official mediation and negotiations by the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations. However, these NGOs feel their credibility and effectiveness would suffer if their involvement in ongoing mediation were revealed.(45)

Humanitarian Assistance

Internal state conflicts are often characterized by a high number of civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the national economy. In the process, the local population's traditional coping and survival mechanisms may be decimated as well. What develops is a spiraling relationship between insecurity, environmental degradation, killing and continuous or "institutionalized conflict and emergency situations."(46) As now seen in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, the immediate challenge posed by the brutal conditions of intrastate conflicts is gaining access to the afflicted groups. It is then necessary to design strategies that will mitigate the future effects of the conflict on the population.

Recognizing how the provision of food and medicine can change the political landscape, warring parties often make it difficult for NGOs to operate relief programs. At times, warring factions do not seem concerned about the extent of suffering caused by their conflict: They may be willing to allow relief, but only if each party receives what it deems to be its adequate share. Negotiations to arrange for the actual delivery of humanitarian assistance can be difficult, and agreements are frequently violated. In such a situation, although they prefer to work on all sides of a conflict and remain impartial, NGOs are often forced to choose one side, "where they are confronted by |only' a single set of political pressures."(47) This action leads the opposing side to obstruct delivery of humanitarian aid. In northern Iraq, for example, delivery of relief supplies to the Kurdish population has been hampered by sabotage. In November and December 1992, 14 U.N. relief trucks were blown up, and unexploded time bombs were discovered on another 10 trucks. In addition, a CARE-Australia staff member involved in the delivery of relief supplies was ambushed by unknown gunmen. As a result, armed U.N. guards now must escort these convoys.

Another challenge is the heterogeneity of NGOs, with their different approaches to matters of sovereignty, politics and morality. These varied orientations can often hinder coordination of efforts among NGOs, as well as relations between NGOs and intergovernmental organizations.(48)

A third challenge is the limitation of international law. The scope of international humanitarian law has expanded steadily since the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and now includes legal protection to victims of conflicts taking place within national boundaries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provides humanitarian assistance to these victims; however, current international law - in particular, the universal principle of sovereignty and non-interference in a state's internal affairs - does not compel a government to accept the intervention of the ICRC or any other foreign body.(49) Although international law recognizes the neutrality of humanitarian assistance, many NGOs feel an expansion of the law is needed to include the right of interference - making it possible for them to go wherever aid is needed, no matter what the conflict situation.

As for NGOs' strengths, their structures, commitments, experiences and relatively small sizes permit them to act quickly, resourcefully and creatively in providing direct humanitarian assistance. Governments and intergovernmental organizations often have to wait for legislative authority and are constrained by sovereignty considerations. As its name suggests, Medecins sans Frontieres is one NGO that sometimes intervenes in countries without the consent of their governments.

Despite political and security obstacles and problems of coordination, NGOs are enormously successful at providing humanitarian assistance in two ways: direct delivery of relief aid, and mobilization and advocacy. The United Nations estimates that as of October 1991, the financial resources of the six largest NGOs involved in direct emergency assistance and development amounted to $1.2 billion. More than 30 NGOs today have projects in every region of Somalia. These activities range from food distribution, immunization and health care to installing water pumps, distributing seeds and farming tools, and repairing vital installations.(50) In the former Yugoslavia, Medecins sans Frontieres, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and the local Red Cross assist refugees, displaced and other affected persons. They provide technical assistance to national institutions as well as psychological and psyrhiatric care. The Croatian Red Cross, the German Red Cross, Lutheran World Federation and Caritas distribute food provided by UNHCR, while the International Rescue Committee assists UNHCR in the repair and renovation of existing facilities for displaced persons and refugees. It also distributes prefabricated winter-proof building material and sanitation supplies. Medecins du Monde is negotiating to open a health center in Kosovo to rehydrate children and treat their infections, and to train local doctors.


Building a real and lasting peace is no less a challenge than resolving conflicts. Boutros-Ghali has identified several tasks that are important components of a comprehensive peace process after a settlement has been reached. These include: the implementation of information programs to advise people of the opportunities provided by the settlement; repatriation and resettlement of refugees; the conduct, observation and verification of elections; monitoring of local police; monitoring of human rights; and civil administration.(51)

To ensure that a long-standing peace is achieved, NGOs seek to address the root causes of conflict and to strengthen institutions that promote stability and harmony. They design strategies to promote economic and social development, which can ease the poverty and deprivation that often cause strife. By creating economic opportunities, NGOs contribute to a successful demobilization of former combatants, facilitating their integration into civilian life. This process may include retraining elements to become part of a police force, to ensure public safety and promote the rule of law. For example, Veterans for Peace has helped build medical clinics in Vietnam, staffed and funded a project in Nicaragua to identify and correct contaminated drinking water, and trained local residents to work at an aluminum tool-casting plant that it built in Guatemala.(52) An NGO's status as a neutral, independent third-party strengthens its ability to promote peace-building activities. Together with the media, NGOs also address the psychological dimension of conflict, by helping to correct the distortions of wartime propaganda and to reshape popular perceptions of former enemies. The extensive informational and educational activities of NGOs also enable them to publicize and prevent human rights abuses, defend minorities, build confidence in the electoral process and educate about democracy.(53) Information and technical assistance are thus important resources of NGOs and valuable tools in the process of building the peace.

One NGO active in these areas is the Albert Schweitzer Institute for the Humanities, which is operating several programs in the former Yugoslavia in cooperation with the University of Zagreb. Their activities include providing public education on ethnic cooperation and conflict resolution, and distributing clothing, medicines and toys. University professionals are training school-teachers and parents to identify signs of war trauma, and, at the request of Croatian Television, the Institute is also developing a cartoon series to teach non-violent conflict resolution.(54)

Electoral verification and monitoring, a key component of peace-building, has become an important task for both the United Nations and NGOs. Agreements to resolve intrastate conflicts in recent years include processes of democratization, based on free and fair elections. In addition to providing logistical and other forms of electoral assistance to inexperienced governments, the United Nations, regional organizations and NGOs play the role of collective guarantors of the electoral process. The Nicaraguan elections of February 1990 introduced an unprecedented role for international actors in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Numerous NGOs, along with Central American governments, the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government, which is a distinguished group of current and former leaders chaired by former President Jimmy Carter, sent observers and monitors to witness and certify the fairness of the election. The outcome was the world's first peaceful transfer of power from a revolutionary government to its opposition.(55) Although many such efforts are organized by the United Nations, the vast human and material resources required indicates that support from NGOs, both indigenous and international, will be crucial to the success of these democratic processes.

Moreover, as direct negotiations with an adversary often present many difficulties,(56) members of the Carter Center's INN have suggested that internationally supervised elections may serve as an alternative to direct talks or direct mediation, and thus may be an important instrument for resolution of future conflicts. As in October 1991 in Zambia, conflicting parties who are unwilling to negotiate nevertheless may be willing to have an international body enter the country to supervise the electoral process. This is an important way in which NGOs can contribute to peace-building - helping nations "lay their foundations in ethics and build on it the structures of law."(57) This role becomes increasingly important as more governments recognize the importance of free and fair elections in achieving a stable peace."

The success of an NGO in helping to realize an enduring peace will also depend upon better understanding by the international community of the causes of conflict in the world today. Yet, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations do not have the resources to conduct the necessary research and analysis.(59) NGOs, universities and institutes, however, continue to conduct such research and initiate projects to develop tools and frameworks for resolving conflicts.(60)

One of the innovative projects that promises to be of great value to negotiators is the Project on Modelling for Negotiation Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By utilizing computerized databases, the project offers negotiators generic modeling tools for simulation, optimization, precedent-based reasoning and decision analysis.(61) In 1991, the Peace Studies Unit of the U.N. Department of Political and Security Council Affairs promoted the exchange of information on peace issues among over 600 NGOs, academic institutions and cities around the world. Recognizing the valuable contributions that these nongovernmental entities make to the promotion of peace, the Secretary-General has designated over 400 of these organizations and cities as "Peace Messengers."(62)


As the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations approaches, there is a widening contrast in the shape of the world since the end of the Cold War. There has been a sharp increase in regional and intrastate conflicts, marked by rising levels of violence and unprecedented disregard for human rights. Yet there is also a certain progression toward democratization and multilateral approaches to conflict resolution, deriving from an increased realization of global interdependence. The old game of international power politics, whereby governments sought involvement in conflicts as a means of extending their spheres of influence, is rapidly giving way in favor of domestic priorities and a tendency to keep out of others' problems.

These contrasting developments raise new challenges and offer greater opportunities for increasing NGO involvement, not only in resolving regional and intrastate conflicts, but also in helping to solve global problems. As this article demonstrates, NGOs are well qualified to make even greater contributions in all phases of conflict resolution. Their non-governmental nature, especially the capacity to conduct mediation outside of official channels and to make a long-term commitment to the conciliation process, often allows NGOs to deal more effectively than governments with the particular challenges of ethnic and sectarian conflict. In addition, the wide range of activities undertaken by NGOs in humanitarian assistance, mediation, human rights, research and information exchange are all crucial to achieving lasting settlements. As governments place increased emphasis on collective approaches to security through the United Nations and regional organizations, the role of NGOs as valued partners in this process should continue to grow as well.

In an age when international relations are becoming increasingly institutionalized, with the creation of new economic communities and regional security organizations, the success of collective security depends upon the inclusion and input of all concerned actors:

Peace in the largest sense cannot be accomplished by the United Nations system or by governments alone. Non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, parliamentarians, business and professional communities, the media and the public at large must all be involved.(63)

New governments and governmental institutions should recognize NGOs as effective and significant actors, and facilitate their input into systems of conflict prevention, early warning, mediation and peace-building. The challenges and opportunities faced by the international community today should ensure that the numbers and significance of NGOs will continue to grow in the years ahead.

(1.) Speech by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Annual Conference of the Department of Public Information for NGOs (DPI/NGO Conference), United Nations (New York: 9 September 1992). (2.) More than 40,000 authorized civilian police and military personnel are serving under U.N. command in peacekeeping operations around the world. In the last four years, the United Nations has established as many peacekeeping operations as it had in the previous four decades: Between 1948 and 1987, the United Nations established 13 peacekeeping operations; since 1988, 14 new operations have been organized. (3.) Kathleen D. McCarthy et al., The Nonprofit Sector in the Global Community: Voices from Many Nations (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1992) p. 489. (4.) The League of Nations Handbook of International Organizations names the British Evangelical Alliance (1846) and the International Order of Templars (1851) as the earlier,t international NGOs. Other early NCOs are the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (1823) and the World Alliance of YMCAs (1855). See Pei-heng, Chiang, Non-Governmental Organizations at the United Nations: Identity, Role and Function (New York: Praeger, 1981) p. 21. (5.) ibid., p. 22. (6.) Jurgen Hofner, "Status and Relevance of Non-Governmental Organizations in View of Mounting International Interdependence," International Association, 42, no. 1 (1990) p. 4. (7.) Steven A. Blodgett, "The Evolving Relationship between the United Nations and International Non-Governmental Organizations: An Assessment of the Need for Institutional Reform," doctoral dissertation (Kent State University, OH: December 1982) p. 47. Nearly 200 NGOs attended the 1945 San Francisco Conference on the Charter of the United Nations as ad hoc observers. (8.) Article 71 of the U.N. Charter provides that the Economic and Social Council may make suitable arrangements f6r consultations with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence." (9.) General Assembly Resolution 13 (13 February 1946). (10.) Nicolas Michaux, "UNESCO and NGOs - A Blending of Talents," UNESCO Sources, 34 (February 1992) p. 7. (11.) United Nations Children's Fund, Partnership in Action - UNICEF and NGOs Working Together for Children (New York: UNICEF, 1991) p. 1. (12.) ECOSOC Resolution 1296 (23 May 1968). (13.) Over the past five years, the number of NGOs accredited to DPI has doubled to about 1,400. Those with ECOSOC consultative status currently number about 900. (14.) Subsidiary bodies of ECOSOC include commissions on human rights, the status of women, narcotics, social development, statistics and population. (15.) Since fiscal 1988, the average number of World Bank-assisted projects that involve NGO participation has tripled. In fiscal 1991, 82 projects approved by the Bank involved NGOs. See World Bank, Annual Report 1991 (Washington DC: World Bank, 1991) p. 96. (16.) Recent DPI/NGO Conferences have addressed the following topics: "Environment and Development: Only One Earth" (1989); "A World Safe for Children: Meeting the Challenge in the 1990s" (1990); and "Peace, Justice and Development: Ingredients for an Emerging World Order" (1991). (17.) Sydney D. Bailey, "Non-official Mediation in Disputes: Reflections on Quaker Experience,:" International Affairs, 61, no. 2 (Spring 1995) p. 205. (18.) ibid., pp. 208-13. (19.) C. H. Mike Yarrow, Quaker Experiences in International Conciliation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978) p. 190. (20.) Alec Smith, Now I Call Him Brother (London: Marshalls, 1984) quoted in Bryan T. Hamlin, "Moral Re-Armament and Forgiveness in International Affairs," unpublished paper, p. 11. (21.) Speech by Olara Otunnu, Annual DPI/NGO Conference, United Nations (New York: 11 September 1992). Foundation, Annual DPI/NGO Conference, United Nations (New York: 1 September 1992). (23.) Joseph Montville, Senior Consultant on Conflict Resolution at the Foreign Service Institute's Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs in Washington, DC, describes "track two" diplomacy as "unofficial, informal consultation designed to develop concepts and ideas in the intellectual and moral basis for movement towards settlement." Speech by Montville, Annual DPI/NGO Conference, United Nations (New York: 10 September 1992). (24.) Bailey, p. 205. (25.) Yarrow, p. 278. (26.) Interview with official from the Kettering Foundation, New York, 13 November 1992. (27.) Interview with official from the Lutheran Office for World Community, New York, 6 November 1992. (28.) Bailey, p. 211. (29.) ibid., p. 218. (30.) ibid. (31.) Adam Curle, "Peacemaking: The Middle Way," Bridges: Quaker International Affairs (32.) Bailey, p. 206. (33.) Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, U.N. Doc. DPI/1247 (New York: United Nations, 31 January 1992) p. 16. This marks a departure from previous U.N. policy directives whereby field offices were enjoined against reporting information that was not in the "public domain." This was considered necessary in order to avoid possible accusations against U.N. officials of intelligence-gathering activities. (34.) See note 21. (35.) On the work of NGOs in promoting and protecting human rights, see Henry J. Steiner, Non-Governmental Organizations in the Human Rights Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law School Human Right (36.) Speech by Luc Frejacques, representative of Medeins sans Frontieres, Annual DPI/NGO Conference, United Nations (New York: 11 September 1992). (37.) Michael Krepon, "The New Hierarchy in Space," in Michael Krepon et al., Commercial Observation Satellites and International Security (New York: St. Martin's Press in association with the Carnegie Endowment for international Peace, 1990) p. 38. (38.) Peter D. Zimmerman, "Remote-sensing Satellites, Superpower Relations and Public Diplomacy," in Krepon et al., p. 38. (39.) United Nations, Space Activities of the United Nations and International Organizations, U.N. Doc. A/AC. 105/521 (New York: United Nations, 1992) pp. 191-218. (40.) Interview with official of Peace Brigades International, New York, 25 November 1992. (41.) See Dayle E. Spencer and William J. Spencer, The International Negotiation Network. A New Method o Approaching Some Very Old Problems, Occasional Paper Series, 2, no. 2 (Atlanta, GA//: The Carte enter of Emory University, January 1992). (42.) Spencer and Spencer, pp. 36-7. (43.) Dayle E. Spencer, William J. Spencer and Honggang Yang, "Closing the Mediation Gap: The Ethiopia/Eritrea Experience," Security Dialogue, 23, no. 3 (September 1992) p. 97. (44.) Carter Center of Emory University, "World Leaders Commit to Act for Peace - INN Council Members Propose Non-Governmental Assistance in Resolving Conflict," The Carter Center News /(Spring 1992) pp. 1-5. (45.) A representative of a leading NGO currently involved in sensitive conflict resolution activities in Sri Lanka, the Koreas and El Salvador stated that some of the best and most factual accounts on mediation are written about 10 or 20 years later. (46.) Speech by Angela Raven-Roberts, Senior Emergency Programs Officer for the Horn of Africa, INICEF, Annual DPI/NGO Conference, United Nations (New York: 10 September 1992). (47.) Larry Minear et al., Humanitarian Under Siege: A Critical View of Operation Lifeline Sudan (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1991) p. 87. (48.) ibid., p. 114. (49.) Mohammed Bedjaoui, Modern Wars: The Humanitarian Challenge - A Report for the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues (London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1986) pp. 18-20. (50.) United Nations, Handbook of International NGO Programmes in Somalia (Mogadishu: NGO Consortium Information Office, November 19-92) pp. 3-9. (51.) Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "Empowering the United Nations," Foreign Affairs, 71, no. 5 (Winter 1992-93) p. 92. (52.) Interview with the Veterans for Peace, New York, 30 October 1992. (53.) Carter Center of Emory University, Resolving Intra-National Conflicts: A Strengthened Role for Non-Governmental Actors, Conference Report Series, 3, no. 2 (Atlanta, GA: The Carter Center of Emory University, 1992) pp. 37-8. (54.) Interview with Dr. John Woodall, Director, Global Order Division, Albert Schweitzer Institute for the Humanities, New York, 6 November 1992. (55.) Jennifer McCoy, Larry Garber and Robert Pastor, "Pollwatching and Peacemaking," Journal of Democracy, 2, no. 4 (Fall 1991) pp. 102-3. (56.) Fred Charles Ikle, How Nations Negotiate (New York: Harper & Row, 1964; Millwood, NY: Kraus reprint, 1985) pp. 59-75. (57.) Plenary address of Shridath Ramphal, "Globalism and Meaningful Peace: A New World Order Rooted in International Community," Consultation of the INN (Atlanta, GA: 14 January 1992). (58.) As an example of the importance now attributed to democratic elections, in September 1992 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) established the Africa Regional Electoral Assistance Fund to provide direct assistance to African governments to support such elections. The fund, which will provide $12 million over four years, is jointly-administered by several NGOs, including the African-American Institute, the Carter Center of Emory University, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The African-American Institute 1991 Annual Report (New York: African-American Institute, 1992) p. 9. (59.) See note 22. (60.) At Harvard University, authorities such as Roger Fisher have conducted workshops and simulations and authored several works on conflict resolution. John Mack, Paula Gutlove and Herbert Kelman have also been active pioneers in opening up dialogue between seemingly intractable conflicting parties. Joseph Montville of the Center for Psychology and Social Change at the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Service Institute, has developed methods to deal with grieving and healing of old hatreds, which contribute to many conflicts. A former Australian diplomat, John W. Burton, pioneered the "problem-solving workshop," which has become a basic tool in conflict resolution strategies. Vamik D. Volkan at the University of Virginia has taught and written extensively on the psychological dimension of conflict. (61.) The dozen different modelling tools developed for use by negotiating parties or third-party facilitators include "indicators of Early Warning" and the "Mediators Electronic Notebook" See J. D. Nyhart, "The Project on Modeling for Negotiation Management at MIT: Interim Report - July 1991," paper presented at the Consultation of the INN (Atlanta, GA: 15 January 1992). (62.) United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Forty-sixth Session, Supplement A/46/5-49 (New York: United Nations, 1991) pp. 2-3.
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Title Annotation:Keeping the Peace: Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century
Author:Mawlawi, Farouk
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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