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For close to a decade a small group of dedicated and passionate people tried to make the concept of peace mediation a reality in German foreign policy. These efforts finally came to fruition this week with a conference at the German Foreign Ministry (GFM). In attendance were members of all major institutions and ministries as well as prominent mediation experts, enthusiasts, and students. The topics of the conference included asking whether Germany should even be involved in international mediation efforts, what it could bring to the table in terms of added value, and how to anchor peace mediation institutionally in its foreign policy.

It might seem odd that one of the richest and most influential countries in the world would be asking these questions. However, given Germany’s history and focus in the post-World War II era, the idea of developing capacities to help other countries develop peaceful societies is not only logistical but also philosophical and moral. Its efforts might be misinterpreted as imperialistic or even arrogant. For years, when I worked in the Office of the International Mediator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, politicians and civil servants alike often found it odd that such an office even existed. We were often greeted politely but with major skepticism. Even as recently as this year, the GFM has been skeptical of the newly established European Institute of Peace (EIP) whose main focus will be international mediation and dialogue. Unfortunately, state-centered actors still see mediation the main purview of diplomats with experts invited to assist them where needed.

Over the years a loose network of people dedicated to promoting mediation and mediation support in all its forms has managed to chip away at old pacifist and peacenik stereotypes and win the hearts and minds of decision-makers. With this conference, peace mediation now has a chance to flourish institutionally allowing experts and NGOs the opportunity to further contribute to strengthening global peace. It is not just an alternative to military intervention or peacekeeping, but it is an instrument in it own right that can be deployed across different policy levels and actions which may be more effective in terms of costs and outcomes.

The conference highlighted the diversity of opinions and approaches in the field and brought together a very eclectic group of people. One of the main conclusions of the conference was that the number of grand state centered Track I processes in which classical mediation happens has dwindled and is not the norm. Instead, a much more colorful scene has developed in which state and non-state actors along with eminent and no so eminent mediators work hand-in-hand in a more decentralized and multitrack fashion. A Swiss colleague at the conference call the Swiss approach a “Gemischtwarenladen” or general store in which various services are offered from classical mediation to capacity-building workshops, dialogues, retreats for conflict parties, and other novel ideas. It reminded me of my time in Bosnia where we promoted the idea of a one-stop-shop mediation service in divided communities.

A second conclusion of the conference related to complexity and how the world and the problems we face as people and communities have become much more complex. Dialogue or mediation alone is not enough to solve some of these problems. It requires sustained efforts at various levels involving social, economic and political initiatives interwoven in some form of peace process. Another speaker said that while some say the field is crowded in many ways it is not true. All good initiatives with experienced people are welcome because there is much to do.

The assembled group also came up with some very interesting and concrete suggestions for the GFM and the co-sponsors (ZIF, CSSP, CPM, inmedio) of the conference. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it in the end. What I take way from the conference and which I think would be very useful for Germany to consider are the following:

  1. In the classical “form follows function” approach, before Germany goes off to build a major peace mediation architecture, it first needs to understand what it has and what it wants as a concept or vision. It would be invaluable to have a participatory mapping exercise with German NGOs and ministries to better understand all of the mediation capacities already deployed across many different programs.
  2. Once it has a concept and vision, the GFM should build up its own internal capacities for supporting and managing its efforts in international mediation. In this regard, looking at best practices in other states and the EU or UN may be very helpful. There are enough documents and ideas that can serve as a basis.
  3. Capacity-building in mediation support should not be restricted to the GFM but also include the German civil service and diplomatic missions. Diplomats in the field are at the forefront of mediation efforts and can be a valuable resource. It was suggested by many at the conference that a “peace and conflict” advisor in diplomatic missions would be a major step forward. Making peace and conflict a career path at the GFM might also be an incentive for diplomats to specialize in this area.
  4. A multitrack approach to mediation requires cooperation among equals. However, the relationship between diplomats and NGOs is often overshadowed by low levels of trust and a donor-beneficiary dependency. More awareness about the benefits of cooperation and how that might look will be an important first step in the field.
  5. Like all conferences and initiatives, there was a hope among the participants that more money will be dedicated to peace mediation. This hope was fueled my comments from different officials. My concern is that the funding approach of the GFM is not as transparent as it could be and that often who you know or represent is more important that what you can deliver. Funding for peace mediation needs to be more transparent and structured in a way that the best services are provided in a given context. Here, for example, the GFM could experiment with tender procedures, request for proposals (RFP), terms of references, and even consortia and framework contracts, such are used by the EU. At a minimum, the GFM needs to upgrade the level of transparency in how it awards funding to NGOs.

The conference was symbolically a major leap forward in terms of cooperation between NGOs and the GFM in peace mediation. It made visible that Germany is not only welcome but needed in international peace mediation efforts, and that German NGOs are added value to international peace efforts. It is important that this euphoria is not lost in the coming weeks. My fear is that officials will conclude that much is already there, so it is only a question of making it more visible. The potential for Germany is great but peace mediation in this country is still underdeveloped and needs structural and financial support. Here are am very optimistic. What I love most about Germany is that once it decides to do something, then it full steam ahead until it is perfectly done. Danke Deutschland!