Beyond Intractability
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Carolyn Stephenson

Professor of Population Studies, College of Social Sciences, University of Hawai'i Interview

Topics: track I - track II cooperation, diplomacy, escalation, power

Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003


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Q: Can you give me a brief overview of your work?

A: I'm a teacher and researcher at the University of Hawai'i. Particularly, I do international conflict resolution. My own particular interest is within what's done in international organizations in terms of multilateral negotiation, and also what's done in international social movements. Overall, I've been working in an area that I call Alternative Methods for International Security. I'm interested not only in conflict resolution, but in the variety of methods that can change the way we go about pursuing security. Conflict resolution and meditation is one important part, but also things like non-violence, non-violent social movements, non-violent economic sanctions, political sanctions that are not military, and then things like UN peace-keeping. The question that I'm involved in is "how do you get the mix of these methods that brings about a kind of international social system that gets rid of war but addresses security in a better way."

Q: You were in Cyprus recently. Did you do any work with this question there?

A: I was there on a Fulbright grant for the spring of 2002. This was at the time when the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots had just begun negotiating after a 3 year period. I was there both to teach conflict resolution and to do conflict resolution work across the Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot divide. What I was supposed to be doing originally was to do work with the environment that could bring Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots together. I was working with the people who were trying to preserve turtles, the people who were working on air pollution, and the people who were working on trying to save the land on the 2 peninsulas on the opposite ends of the island, one in the Greek Cypriot and one in the Turkish Cypriot zone. That was following some of the work that was done between Greece and Turkey working on earthquake relief and the environmental aspects of that. It didn't work because it was difficult to get those people together. One of the things you have to do when you go to a place like that is you build on what's already being done.

It's difficult even finding out who's doing things across those lines. That became a problem. I'll come back to one of the problems in that, but I'll tell you some of the stuff I did instead of that. I did a lot of lecturing on conflict resolution at universities on both sides. I experienced some complication when I did that on the Turkish Cypriot side, many of the universities were located on previously Greek Cypriot owned land. Even the fact of doing a lecture in a university on the other side became a controversy on the other side because doing anything physically on that land became a problem.

Q: Ã?Â?because it recognizedÃ?Â?

A: Ã?Â?because it recognized the legitimacy of the takeover of land. One had to be very careful of even the small things like thatÃ?Â? You could do it as long as it didn't get picked up by the newspapers. Some places you couldn't do it at all. Some places were ok at times and not at other times. It turned out to work well and I did a lot of that and then I worked with women's groups. One of the big catalysts in the move toward Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiations during the spring of 2002 was that they were set to join the European Union (EU). The goal was before joining the EU to see if you could get a reunification of the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus. It was a big incentive to move those negotiations along after roughly 25 years of not working. As part of that the EU had brought in grant programs to try to bring Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots together on projects, primarily development projects, but any kind of projects.

The UN Development Program also had money to do those kinds of projects. Women's groups were the only groups I was able to actually get together the whole time I was there was to work with them on envisioning their future. One of the things I've done is work on workshops for envisioning the future of the world without weapons. That work follows the work that Elise Boulding did with envisioning the future and the world without weapons. I transformed that to envisioning the future of this group, which also meant envisioning the future of this group in whatever they saw as Cyprus in 10 years, 20 years down the road.

Ultimately we managed to get the group to do a grant proposal on successful Cypriot women where we would interview 10 Turkish Cypriot and 10 Greek Cypriot women in all, and that meant some pre-work in how can you work with film-makers on both sides of the Green line who weren't allowed to work with each other. Plus all the cultural differences and political differences. More political than cultural. Cultural differences are not that significant between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and can in fact be used either as a source for unity or differentiation; but the political differences are significant. How you define success? How do you work with filmmakers across these enormous boundaries?

Ultimately we did put together a grant proposal and it involved things literally like running across the border to get the proper signatures to somebody's office, making sure that somebody had the pass to go across at a particular moment, making sure the currency was transformed so you could get the right stamp to go on this, and so forth a lot of nitty-gritty stuff like that. We did get the thing in and it did get funded for a very large amount of money from the EU.

I also did work with teaching teachers how to do conference resolution games and simulations in the classroom, doing particularly what the Children's Creative Response to Conflict had done in New York City Public Schools, and talking about the differences between mediation in the classroom and peer mediation among kids. I worked with the court systems on how to develop some mediation law and I taught some advanced mediation to the management associations and the mediation associations that previous Fulbrighters and other conflict resolution people had set up. I was trying to move them from just working on individual conflicts, family conflict, and neighborhood conflict to trying to do something that was more organizational, and talk to the about the difficulties of that and how difficult particularly it is to take some stuff they want to be at the individual level and apply it to the group level. I talked to them as a political scientist about how power and how long-term strategy plays into that and so on.

Again, I was talking to them about strategies of escalation instead of de-escalation in the Cyprus problem. I also work in the area of environmental international affairs. I have a research project that I'm working on where I'm looking at the role of NGOs at the UN, particularly in the area of environment. I've been going to all the UN environmental conferences for the last 15 years. I did that in the middle of my Cyprus grant so when I came back, the US ambassador asked me to do a talk on sustainable tourism and what had just gone on at the UN session. This was to be a high-level thing between environment departments, tourism departments, hotel leaders, chambers of commerce people and various other commercial parts of the 2 administrative entities, one being the government and the other being what we can't call the government. We had tremendous reaction from people on both sides willing to come to us within hours of when we were going to do this. It had been set up for a month, invitations were out, and all the supplies were bought.

Within hours the Turkish Cypriot government denied the passes for the groups of people who were supposed to come from the Turkish side. The negotiations were supposed to be set up so that they would increase the amount of non-governmental, Track II kind of stuff that was allowed. In fact, because of the heightened political tension in the negotiations, the reverse happened and so they looked more carefully at these kinds of things. People were able to bring groups to the US to work, or to parts of Europe but they wouldn't allow them to meet in Cyprus.

Q: Does that underscore the potential power of Track II efforts by the Track I folks who were so threatened by the possibleÃ?Â?

A: Well, it's both. And that's the area that I'm particularly interested in at this point. A government can, in fact, shut off Track II efforts just like that. So ultimately, it reflects the power of Track II to get long-term change, but it also reflects the power of government to stop Track II efforts. That balance between the two is always an absolutely critical point. We always had to decide what do you do? For example, the ambassador is scheduled to be there, you've got high-level ministry people on both sides, and you get it cut off. Do you hold it with just the side that's able to do it or do you call it off? Who do you end up punishing by having it or not having it and so on. So we held it on the side that had agreed to do it, but the question again is do you hold it on the other side? Which then gives recognition to the other side because you're doing it physically on their territory. Without that, they're not going to get the stuff on what's going on in the world arena on sustainable tourism and how do you make a hotel and not put sewage into the ocean and so on.

So you're always torn between wanting to be helpful on communicating what needs to be communicated versus legitimizing a group that is wanting the legitimization on that and not allowing you to do the communication work and the conflict resolution work which is the basis for the reason that you're doing a sustainable tourism lecture in the first place. This was not only true for the work that I was doing but high level people from the Fulbright Institution in Washington were there doing things and they were allowed to do things, taking kids to Washington, but setting up one preparation for those same kids was not allowed. This is a pattern that goes on and on and it's a major problem I think generally for Track II action because it is always subject to governmental approval. Now there are ways you can do it by moving out of the country, but even then you still have to get passports, and passes, and so forth in order to get out and be able to get back in.

Q: Is there a solution? How do you deal with that problem?

A: Well, e-mail has made some difference. Many of the groups that had been working together before 1997 in Cyprus had begun to work together by e-mail. That's not always reliable. There also was a UN telephone line that you actually could us to call across. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't work. Sometimes we thought it was listened in to, sometimes we thought it wasn't listened in to. One has to be very careful with that, but that helps some, all the various alternative methods. Then there's one town in Cyprus where people are allowed to go from both sides.

The one problem is that it has also been seen as a smuggling town so people are reluctant to go there because of the fear of being stereotyped in ways that are not comfortable. There are certain places where at some time, one has been able to do that, sometimes right in the area of the green line. Fulbright has built a building where there's a big hotel that be used as a joint site, things can be done then, but many of those can be turned down as well.

Taking people out of the country has been one important method, but that again has many drawbacks because a) it costs more b) people are interested in simply getting out of the country and wanting to go to where the seminar is rather than in what the seminar is, so there's been a repeat process. The people who go to the environmental seminars are the same people who go to the conflict resolution seminars are the same people who go to the women's seminars are the same peopleÃ?Â? because they are the type of people who like to do that sort of thing.

Q: So you end up preaching to the converted?

A: You end up preaching to the converted and you end up with people who simply are often interested in a trip to somewhere rather than whatever the subject matter is; sometimes you can still reach people that way. Being somewhat skeptical in that, I've seen it both used well, and used badly.

Q: What is the importance you think of track II processes in peace building?

A: Over the long term, track II has to be a part of any peace building process. While you need to build things at the top level, you also need to build the relationships within the society. These societies have been separated for at least 25, actually 35 years in most cases. The older generation speaks English, Turkish, and Greek. My generation speaks, English and whatever is their language and the younger kids are now at the point where they don't even speak English well. Remember, it's a British colonial territory. People that used to go back and forth and have contacts at high political levels, went to school together in the much older generation is the generation which is now at top levels of political power; they know each other.

If you don't rebuild then the next generation only knows each other if they happened to have gone to the same college in the US or in Britain, but without building those relationships there are friends of mine who's kids have never met somebody from the other side. These kinds of relationships are necessary to deal with basic stuff, like one friend of mine said her daughter asked, "Do they have cats on the other side?" "Do they eat the same things we do?" So that kind of lack of trust and so on can only be built up by involving people in basic cross-cultural kinds of things.

The theory of international organization and politics and the theory of functionalism says get people together to do specific problem-solving oriented things and that will overcome some of the bounds of stereotypes across national boundaries. Singing clubs, conflict resolution associations, management associations, women's film groups and so on are ways to build up communities that have bonds that can overcome some of the national bonds. I think that in any conflict that is a long-term intractable conflict, you really have to work it both ways; you have to have the elite commitment and then you have to have a wide variety of functional communities, specific problem oriented groups working across all levels of the society, if it's not going to have more disastrous violence when it comes back together.

Q: What lessons have you learned while working with Track II?

A: I haven't done a lot of other Track II work, most of my work has been observing multi-lateral negotiation at formal and informal level UN conferences. It's been an interesting comparison for me for this first time to actually go work out in the field as opposed to watching diplomats and watching the behind-the-scene negotiations, let's say, on the Rio Earth Summit, that's the kind of stuff that I've also done. I suppose that the main thing that I've learned on Track II is this question of making sure that you have parallel time lines between Track I and Track II diplomacy.

If there's a mis-fit in time then something that has gotten momentum on one, hasn't gotten momentum on the other and that can be in either direction. It can be as I've talked about with the Track I negotiations stopping the Track II negotiations or it can be the Track I leading to the Track II or the Track II negotiations developing a momentum in the mid-1990s in Cyprus, tremendous Track II both from outside and from inside on a wide variety of subjects which then became so threatening to the efforts to keep the 2 parts of Cyprus apart that everything was shut down. Before it did that, it led to immense improvement in relations on a ground level. So the timing and the synchronizations of Track I and Track II is absolutely critical.

Paying attention to political power is another critical thing. Years ago when I started looking at Track II, I said, "Why can't we all just get along, if we just treat each other nicely and so forth," it doesn't work. There are ways in which that can be useful but one has to pay attention to the power implications of that when one is doing it.

Q: What does that mean, the power implications? How do they affect Track II?

A: If in this situation, a political administration on one side could simply deny passes, then everything that you've done in the last 3 months, including the ground work simply collapsed, so you had to be able to know, what was going on in terms of the political dynamics of the negotiations at the same time that you might be planning your Track II event. Some of it was who knew who, who was in your group, who's brother happened to be this, who's father-in-law happened to do this who knew that yesterday they did this on the other negotiations.

Q: So just having that knowledge of what's going on in Track I process can prepare you better to do, I guess in some cases you might even decide to call off whatever Track II project you were doing.

A: Yeah, that's it.

Q: What obstacles in your work do you find? You mentioned this Track I/II

A: Well, I think that's really what I've been talking, the various obstacles. There are obstacles in terms of personal dynamics, as you get in any local club there are always, who's going to be on top and so on and those are complicated by the different national and political identities. Often those are personal animosities and personal power achievements or desires that masquerade as being on opposite sides of a political conflict. So it's looking at the different levels of personal, neighborhood, group, national identity, ethnic identity, and how those all fit together. It's trying to be able to use those to develop some sort of a group community project, and often the teaching process can be useful, because it's a very non-threatening way. That in fact can be a vehicle for bringing people together to talk about all kinds of other things.

Using environment, using women's empowerment as a conflict resolution vehicle is a classic technique that dozens of people have tried in dozens of conflicts. Knowing how those things fit together across the different sectors and across the different levels is important. If I were to ask not the immediate obstacles question, but the long-term challenge and direction question, I guess I would ask, "What's the mixture of escalatory and de-escalatory techniques that's needed to move to a long term resolution of conflicts?" That means all the old stuff that we know about bringing in all the stake olders and so on but it also means adopting new notions of fairness that I think may not be traditional in all parts of the conflict resolution field. For instance the notion of neutrality doesn't make sense in that kind of conflict.

Rather than neutrality, I would argue you have to be actively on the side of both sides. The other thing that we know is to plan ahead. Most of the work in these things is not done in these actual sessions but in the 3-4 months ahead of time: locating people, finding the right people, finding out the relationships between people was an enormous part of my work. Doing the workshop itself was easy.Plan ahead but know how to punt because in this, it was being disrupted in the last minute almost always, and you knew it was going to happen, so you had to have several kinds of plans.

For example, one of the things that I did [in Cyprus] was a Model UN. I run the Model UN in the state of Hawai'i so I thought I'd try it there. So I had a number of schools that were willing to participate in that and we did preliminary sessions and we had a day set up to run this in the Fulbright building to do this within the green line and the day before one of the teachers called up and said she'd gotten in enormous trouble because it hadn't gone through the bureaucracy on one side.

I had a separate plan because I knew that that would be likely to happen at the last minute but I didn't know the threats that would come with it. So if we couldn't do it at the Fulbright building, with all the kids together, I had places lined up on both sides where we could do it by computer. What I didn't know was that the school would prevent the kids from even doing that because they would see that as a threat, so eventually it collapsed and I had to do that with one side. You need to have multiple layers of back up to make something work, some of it is doing it parallel on both sides, some of it is knowing when to stop on one side, when to do both, when to put something off for 3 months and so on.

Q: Well, thank you so much.

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