Currently, more than 40 armed conflicts are under way across the globe. Many of these are marked by multiple armed actors, state fragmentation, and the withering of state and security systems and state territorial control. The human, social, political and economic consequences of these conflicts are vast. The number of people displaced within or outside their countries is on the increase, conflict economies thrive, and ruined civilian infrastructure has immediate and long-term effects on local and regional security, development, and the environment.
Many of these armed conflicts have proved difficult to resolve or halt, even in instances where the main conflict parties have a long-term interest in doing so. The UN, several of its member states, including Norway, and a number of track two actors are actively facilitating peaceful resolutions of these conflicts, and while there have been some successes, many challenges remain. As an organisation whose prime focus is working towards the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts, NOREF is part of this global community of actors addressing such conflicts.
NOREF’s particular strengths in this field are growing expertise developed through hard-won experience, long-term engagements with peace processes, low-profile and confidential approaches, and a commitment to assisting the conflict parties to develop possible political alternatives for themselves that mitigate or remove the need for armed conflict.
NOREF seeks to focus on a limited number of conflicts and areas of process support. This strategic narrowing stems from the conviction that any successful conflict resolution or effective mediated process requires in-depth involvement, selectiveness, and long-term investments in knowledge and contacts.
In practical terms, this means that NOREF divides its work between so-called track one and track two processes. In addition, the Centre focuses on a few specialised thematic areas and types of expertise that are common to most processes, and that underpin all our projects.
By definition, official diplomacy – or so-called track one diplomacy – is carried out by official representatives of states or international organisations. NOREF’s current engagement in track one diplomacy is channelled through its support to processes facilitated by Norway and the UN, such as the peace processes in the Philippines and Colombia, and the intra-Syrian talks. These are complex engagements that draw heavily on NOREF’s logistical and operational process design experiences. We seek to constantly develop our role in supporting ongoing formal peace and reconciliation processes, involving anticipatory actions, independent initiatives and delivering assistance to parties that seek to ease or resolve armed conflicts.
The complexity of today’s conflicts makes them difficult to resolve, while at the same time a peaceful resolution may be the only way to avoid the complete chaos of state collapse. Classic conflict resolution approaches are sometimes inadequate in this environment, and new approaches are needed.
In such cases, track two diplomacy – which can be defined as the practice of facilitating non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts between non-state actors – offers alternative routes to peace and stability. Based on Norwegian experiences and practices, NOREF aims to professionalise its approaches, identify realistic opportunities for peace and nurture the potential for reconciliation in complex conflict situations.
At any given time NOREF will be quietly working on a select few of the world’s conflicts and attempting to identify new opportunities for conflict resolution and reconciliation. The practice of informal track two diplomacy between individuals and non-state actors is central to NOREF’s conflict resolution work and the first step towards building a formal peace process.
We prioritise our work with care, based on two basic principles: the significance of the conflict, and whether NOREF’s comparative capacities can make a genuine difference, because each case demands tailor-made solutions. We seek to partner with unique contacts on the ground and, when relevant, other track two actors.
Our track two work is guided by four core values. Firstly, our only agenda is conflict resolution and reconciliation – we have no other political agenda in the areas in which we operate. Secondly, we do not offer pre-defined solutions to a conflict. Real reconciliation must be shaped by the parties to the conflict, and our job is to prepare the ground and facilitate reconciliation. Thirdly, peace initiatives are fragile and discretion is essential. We will maintain complete confidentiality for as long as it takes. And, lastly, we are in it for the long run. We know that good things happen slowly and that processes can stagnate – but if necessary we will patiently wait for another window of opportunity to take the peace process forward.
Designing peace processes, implementing them, and providing them with an infrastructure and process-specific content are some of the most important aspects of NOREF’s work. By helping to create environments conducive to dialogue, NOREF is developing a mediation skillset consisting of a wide range of transversal capacities that are all necessary at specific stages of a peace process. support experts work in tandem with our project managers and form the operational arm of the organisation.
Logistics and operational process design
Setting up peace negotiations demands diplomatic tact, profound cultural understanding and sensitivity to the often-subtle nuances of a particular conflict. The mission is not merely to move people from one place to another to attend a meeting. More often than not our job is to gather people together who are on different sides of a violent conflict without their mutual distrust of each other getting in the way of constructive dialogue.
In such a situation, practical details suddenly become very significant and may make or break the negotiations: travel restrictions, seating arrangements, and dietary restrictions and preferences all play into the essential framework conditions of what eventually – if our efforts are successful – becomes a face-to-face meeting between enemies who have decided they have a mutual interest in finding a way to peace.
NOREF can coordinate the whole process in-house, from designing the broader structure of the peace process to carrying out the practicalities of booking flights and arranging meeting spaces. Our insights into the workings of a peace process uniquely equip our logistics experts to make independent and informed decisions on the practicalities of such a process, allowing the facilitators to focus on the core issues of the conflict at hand.
An armed conflict always entails a war of words. During years of fighting the parties to a conflict build up extensive arsenals of scathing rhetoric. For peace and reconciliation to take place, but the verbal attacks must also cease. However, if old narratives are abandoned overnight, constituencies may lose touch with their leadership, increasing the risk of break-away factions and spoilers and also of the loss of support for the overall peace process among the broader public. This issue is a joint challenge faced by the parties, and recent experience has shown the importance of using communication in peace processes strategically, both jointly by the conflict parties and by each separately. Sound approaches can considerably enhance the legitimacy – and therefore the success – of the negotiations.
Social media have become a game changer with respect to communication in peace processes. However, they constitute a doubled-edged sword that challenges confidentiality requirements and can easily become a vehicle for leaks, but is also an effective instrument for inclusive engagement in building public support for a peace process.
NOREF has recognised the significance and complexities of communication in peace processes and is enhancing its capacities to contribute with assessments, strategic advice and operational support across its projects, as needed.
Gender and inclusivity
Victims in war, neglected in peace: this is a common fate of women, youth, indigenous peoples, and minorities in both ongoing armed conflicts and post-conflict societies. Peace processes often focus narrowly on ending violence, without addressing the underlying social, economic and political causes of the conflict. As a result, the voices of the excluded often go unheard.
NOREF strives to create a space at the negotiating table for those who have been excluded, be it women, youth, minorities or civil society. In order for their participation to be meaningful, the Centre helps to advise groups and communities to prepare articulate demands and effectively represent their constituencies.
There is also room for improvement in terms of gender and inclusivity in the field of international mediation. NOREF believes that if more women take on central mediation roles, they will in turn push for more inclusive peace processes.
In many cases a country’s armed forces are aligned with the more conservative social and political actors, and often perceive themselves as the guardians of national stability. However, this will sometimes lead to resistance among members of the military to political and social changes, including peace and reconciliation with informal armed groups.
The change from armed conflict to peace will inevitably lead to some fundamental changes in the military. What will be the armed forces’ main assignment when internal counter-insurgency is no longer needed? How will transitional justice affect soldiers and officers, or indeed the armed forces’ own self-identity and esprit de corps?
NOREF’s military dialogue programme creates a safe space for high-ranking officers to discuss sensitive issues regarding the peace process. It also provides a meeting place with actors whom members of the military have often associated with their opponent, including human rights organisations, journalists and politicians. International experts are brought in to provide fresh perspectives and expertise on issues such as transitional justice, security sector reform, gender and inclusivity.
NOREF started working on military dialogue in Colombia in 2014. The programme, in partnership with the Colombian organisation that runs it – Social Development Group – will continue as the peace deal with the FARC is implemented and the peace negotiations with the ELN proceed. The experience of the Colombia project is being shared with other processes NOREF is engaged in.
Ceasefire and monitoring
Designing and implementing ceasefires and how they are to be monitored, and compliance with all the elements of such protocols, are critical to all peace negotiations. NOREF is steadily building a long-term capacity to supplement existing Norwegian technical and operational expertise in this area. The aim is to provide both formal and informal mediation processes with tailor-made support on ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring. This capacity is already operational in the Philippines through the provision of expert support to both the Bangsamoro peace process and to that between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.