Neutrality and Principled Impartiality in Peacebuilding

Alice Konig
Monday 5 February 2024

In this presentation, Visualising Peace student Robert Rayner discusses some of the research he has been doing on the different stances that NGOs take in conflict zones and post-conflict peacebuilding or peacekeeping processes. He looks particularly at NGOs which adopt a political neutral stance or which engage in observation via ‘principled impartiality’. You can read about some case studies in our virtual Museum of Peace here, here and here. Below the video, you can find a summary of the publications he discusses. These are also available in our Visualising Peace Library.

Anne Bennett (2020), Dining with Diplomats, Praying with Gunmen: Experiences of International Conciliation for a New Generation of Peacemakers: 978 1 99931 415 6

Dining with Diplomats, Praying with Gunmen explores the recent history of Quaker peacebuilding efforts, the principles it is based on and its specific strengths. Much of this peacebuilding has to take place in total confidentiality, with the book offering valuable insight into the experiences of many facilitators, particularly in the context of the Nigerian Civil War and The Troubles. There are multiple strands of Quaker peacework, with Bennett exploring grassroots work to expand the capacity of local peacemakers, rather than top-level negotiation facilitated through the Quaker United Nations Office or Quaker Council on European Affairs. This model of peacemaking involves long-term commitments, utmost confidentiality and deep local understanding; all of these are enabled by Friends’ trusted reputation for honesty and non-violence. The book is a fascinating exploration of the strengths of religious organisations in peacemaking, as well as a reasoned and thorough examination of general good practice for conciliation. 

Judith Butler (2020), The Force of Nonviolence: an Ethico-Political Bind: 978 1 78873 278 9

In this book, Butler explores nonviolence as a central, and necessary, tool in the struggle for social equality. Butler emphasises nonviolence as an ethical – and political – position of strength, rather than a weak or passive personal practice. Butler’s nonviolence is neither religious nor spiritual, but performative and non-individualistic. Understanding nonviolence as political leads to various analytical strengths: Butler assigns “grievability” as the societal measure of a life’s worth and stresses the importance of interdependence for avoiding violent conflict. Realising the interdependence inherent in human life emphasises collaboration and cooperation, as opposed to domination and inequality. This analysis leads to other profound insights, such as the misleading attribution of violence to those who are often the main victims of violence, and the need to move towards an equality of grievability.

Antonino Drago (2023) ‘Comparing Galtung’s Theory of conflict resolution with Freud’s Psychoanalytical Theory’:  

This article examines Galtung’s conceptualisation of ‘A-B-C’ conflicts and their similarity to Freud’s psychoanalytic approach. The A-B-C triangle models human behaviour in conflict as an interdependent interaction of the attitudes, behaviours and contradictions within and between different participants. A conflict can start at any of the three points, but inevitably expands to encompass an interrelation of all three. Drago posits that (successful) Freudian psychoanalysis is an archetypal A-B-C conflict between, and within, the patient and analyst. The conflict’s resolution is particularly striking, with a fusion of the patient and analyst’s triangles during sessions: the analyst contributes the resulting attitudes, the patient contributes the behaviours, and the contradictions a synthesis of both. The article then further discusses the psychoanalytic repercussions of this. Drago emphasises the importance of Galtung’s theory for Freudian theory and vice versa. Crucially, he stresses non-classical logic as key to overcoming both mental and external conflicts: the A-B-C triad cannot be collapsed into a set of three conflicting binaries, instead, peacebuilders must approach conflicts holistically.

PAX (2020) ‘The Work of EAPPI in Palestine’:

The podcast episode comes from PAX, a Dutch peacemaking organisation, that, among other things, sends volunteers as Ecumenical Accompaniers to Palestine and Israel, as part of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). It briefly explores the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, before interviewing Jack Munayer a Palestinian Christian EAPPI volunteer about the programme. EAPPI volunteers are human rights observers, primarily at border crossings and settlements. The podcast explores the non-religious nature of the programme and its advocacy work, before continuing to interview Annalise, a Dutch volunteer. They talk about reporting on settler attacks and harassment and their specific impact on school children. Annalise describes the frustration of not being able to intervene (for example, when children are being arrested) and how it can feel like EAPPI is doing nothing in that moment; however, she references agitating for political change by relaying their experiences as imperative. Even with their occasional impotence, EAPPI still operates hot lines for Palestinians to help facilitate humanitarian deliveries, navigating blacklisting and opening closed checkpoints.

University of California (2011) ‘Breaking the Cycle of Violent Conflict with Johan Galtung’:

This speech by Galtung explores his thought, in particular, his theories of reconciliation and positive/negative peace. Galtung problematises unresolved conflict as the seed of violence: since it does not solve conflicts, violence is very unlikely to remove its own source. He lays out his method for approaching complex conflicts, where a skilled mediator meets with actors one by one, questioning, rather than debating, each. Crucial instantiations of this questioning include asking “What does the [relationship/region/world] you want to live in look like?” and “Was there a time in the past where the relationship was OK?”. He stresses seeking a multipolar collaborative state, decided on according to their legitimacy. This legitimacy can be derived from law, human rights and fulfilling essential needs; proposals to solve conflicts must incorporate all legitimate claims, while rejecting the illegitimate. He points to the innate understanding of this style of conflict resolution that pre-teens have, especially in its application to situations where many participants have a legitimate claim to one thing. A central theme of Galtung’s lecture is that there are almost always more actors in a conflict than meets the eye and that to truly resolve a conflict, all must be consulted. Finally, his examination of Afghanistan and its parallels to Switzerland provide a counterintuitive yet profound avenue for sustainable development.

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