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CMI’s ED Tuija Talvitie: Hybrid war, hybrid peacemaking – the new normal?

Published on Wednesday, 10th of June 2015

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Are we doomed to repeat the atrocities of every generation since the dawn of time, asks CMI’s executive director Tuija Talvitie.

I was struck by a comment from an experienced UN hand, Hans Corell, who said that we as human beings are very poor at transferring knowledge from one generation to another. The content of his message didn’t strike me but its infinite sadness did. Are we doomed to repeat the atrocities of every generation since the dawn of time? 

As we watch the news on our ever-lit screens, it certainly seems so. Not only are conflicts not going away, they are getting more complicated. The internet and social media have made the world more connected than ever, and have enabled extreme acts in one corner of the globe to spark violence in another. And yet, there are academics who argue compellingly that regardless of our deep concerns about the growing violence around us, the world has never been more peaceful than now. That we mustn’t confuse ease of access to seriously disturbing imagery and accounts with absolute figures. 

The twentieth century rules and systems we developed to deal with inter-state wars are severely strained by the twenty-first century’s messy, intra-state conflicts, with the borders between criminality and armed violence ever more blurred. We increasingly ask if our institutions are up to the task. When we look, we see that formal institutions are often supported by informal actors – NGOs, movements, networks whose niche qualities can add to a more fit-for-purpose response to the hybrid conflicts experienced across the globe today.

All of these actors – UN envoys, foreign ministers, regional organisations, NGO project leaders, grassroots activists – are part of a system. This means that they are not like doctors acting neutrally upon a sick patient, but themselves form part of the body whose ills must be carefully addressed. Their motivations, their actions, their words, their silences and their non-actions impact the functioning of the system just as those who take up arms, and those who suffer the consequences of that. Understanding and appreciating this requires a willingness to do so; and a great deal of humility and integrity as all self-reflection. 

CMI is one constructive actor in a busy, complex and everchanging context.

What is CMI’s response, and how do we see our small part in this critical operating theatre? CMI is pragmatic and humble but also believes ambitiously that every conflict can be resolved. We know that sustainable peace cannot be achieved or measured in months but years, often decades. We see ourselves as one constructive actor in a busy, complex and ever changing context. We contribute the benefits of our work for the greater, interconnected good, understanding that trust among the different actors working for the resolution of conflicts is not a given. We know that our trump card is the ability to create spaces where the people involved can discuss the issues at stake rather than their political positions.  

For us at CMI, the foundations of this approach lie in solid and iterative analysis of what really drives a conflict. We design our interventions based on where in the process we have best access, and can add real value. We recognise that the moral duty of an independent actor is to constructively question the prevailing wisdom: are we being as effective as we can? We are a small cogwheel in a big mechanism; we cannot control the actions of large organisations and states, or events at national or regional levels. But we know that operating within peace processes is a delicate undertaking, with human life and death, at stake. Therefore we move carefully, complementing and connecting with the efforts of other actors, and recognising that long-term work on dialogues can be combined with shorter-term crisis interventions.

Ours is a long-term game where measuring progress is not for the faint-hearted. But there is great comfort and great beauty in striving to work together for a common goal; combining different fortes, viewpoints and convictions. True, it would be easier not to have to negotiate common ground but that, dear friends, is an indulgence from times long gone.