EXPLORING THE EVOLUTION OF FIE'S PEACE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION SUMMER PROGRAM
Notwithstanding the impact of 9/11 and the continuing apparatus of Homeland Security it is safe to say that most North American students have little real understanding of the cost of conflict. Hence, students of Peace and Conflict studies accept ‘peace’ as a given and ‘conflict’ as an abstract concept. Now in its fourth year the London-Amman program set out to challenge these verities. The original thinking was that students would visit London to examine the Northern Ireland conflict as an example of a conflict that has had a successful outcome. The lessons learned there would then be transferred to Amman to be applied to the wider MENA region.
Now in its fourth year the course has evolved to reflect present realities. London was/is a suitable base to examine the life-cycle of a conflict through the different phases of analysis, negotiation and implementation. As the seat of power of a government which had wrestled with the Irish conflict for centuries it enabled students to meet with some of the key players who had been involved in the peace process including a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a member of the Independent International Decommissioning Commission and, especially, Jonathan Powell, the Chief of Staff to Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The one missing element from the program was a site visit to Northern Ireland. That was rectified two years ago and has proved to be an invaluable part of the learning experience because it enabled the students to move from the abstract to reality on the ground; and it reinforced the extent to which this is a program that is concerned with theory and practice.
That evolution is reflected in developments in the Amman program. From the outset, Amman had two distinct advantages. One was the content of the course. It stressed the complexity of conflict by examining it in its regional and cultural context. The second was the access to very distinguished practitioners who brought years of experience of negotiation (and frustration). Those advantages remain but have been built upon over the past two semesters through the inclusion of the opportunity to study Arabic and to savor the experience of living with local families. These enrich the intensity of the program and have a practical impact on the pedagogical content. They fulfill the necessity to confront conflict through what Joseph Nye calls “soft power”. In addition, the program content has been enhanced by placing much sharper focus on the implications of the ‘Arab Spring’.
As a consequence, the London-Amman program is both relevant and topical. The London end stresses that even the most intractable conflicts can be made more malleable but that coming out of conflict presents its own risks. Amman remains a fascinating and challenging case study to all students of conflict resolution, and that challenge is reflected in the quality of students participating on the program each year.