World Peace Foundation: Reinventing Peace Today

In the second of three posts about the World Peace Foundation, today Bridget Conley-Zilkic, the WPF Research Director and Assistant Research Professor at Fletcher, describes the Foundation’s current work and mission.  The first post described WPF’s history, and the final post will appear next Wednesday.

World Peace Foundation

Understanding that the nature of armed conflicts is today different from what originally challenged peace activists over a hundred years ago when the World Peace Foundation was founded, how can a century-old mandate be relevant today?

The first task is to embrace the historical legacy and recognize that the work of peace is precisely that — the hard work of building coalitions, taking chances, and transforming what was accepted as fact into new possibilities.  What was once called “peace activism” may have new professional life as security studies, peacebuilding, conflict mediation, development, or peacemaking; but at heart, this work shares a common belief that a collective effort can make the world less violent.  And there is evidence that it is working.

Secondly we must ask, how is the work of peace different in our time?  Rarely is war today composed of two national armies facing each other across a well-defined battlefield; and peace is rarely understood as achieved with the ink on paper of a signed agreement.  In fact, defining when a conflict is ended, or ended enough, is a struggle of enormous political import today.  Recognizing that the challenges are different because war itself is different, we must ask, how should we redefine peace for the next hundred years?  Do we have the right concepts and tools?  Are we asking the right questions?

To rise to this challenge, the WPF seeks to provide intellectual leadership for peace in line with its exceptional characteristics:

  • The combination of a century-old history and a commitment to visionary thinking;
  • Intellectual independence and flexibility, not constrained by external funding;
  • Educational mission as manifest in our presence in The Fletcher School, Tufts University;
  • Connectedness to policymakers.

The WPF program rests on three pillars: research, policy and education.  Our research program aims to be innovative and provocative, marrying commitment to rigorous, interdisciplinary research with creative questioning in order to spark new conversations about we might understand and respond to the challenges of armed conflict today.  Methodologically inductive, all of our programs are founded on analysis into the questions of the nature and causes of violent conflicts and mass atrocities, and how they are ended.  We move from evidence and analysis to engagement with policy and theory.  Among our projects are: New Wars, New Peace; How Mass Atrocities End; and How Conflicts End.

The WPF’s policy engagement is integrated with its research, in two senses.  First, our policy engagement provides materials for innovative research.  Second, our policy engagement in turn derives from the research directions of the WPF program.  Leveraging the WPF’s unique access to political leaders and institutions, the programs aim to bring the qualities of innovation and creativity to its support of political processes for peace.  Our focus is on the world’s most difficult places, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Pictured above are, from left to right, WPF executive director Alex de Waal, Suleiman Zakaria, Thabo Mbeki, Ali Haroun in Ain Siro, North Darfur, Sudan (July 2009).
Pictured above are, from left to right, WPF executive director Alex de Waal, Suleiman Zakaria, Thabo Mbeki, Ali Haroun in Ain Siro, North Darfur, Sudan (July 2009).

Given Executive Director Alex de Waal’s extensive ties to the African Union and African leaders, working with these key actors will be a strong focus for the WPF.  We aim to widen our engagement with African peace processes.  Further, the WPF will engage with policies to end mass atrocities, and to increase public advocacy for peace.

An international public intellectual conversation is needed to respond to the challenges of new threats to peace and the requisite new vision of world peace.  The WPF education programs are designed to catalyze such a conversation.  We aim to influence emerging international leaders through the student body of The Fletcher School, engage other institutions across the world working with graduate students in international affairs and peace studies, and disseminate key ideas to the broader public.  The WPF’s educational programs are a long-term investment in the next generation’s leadership.  Our educational efforts combine teaching courses within The Fletcher School and supervising students conducting research, expanding to engage with the wider Tufts community, alongside an externally-focused program of public education using lectures, events, the media and publications, and our blog and social media.

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