The United States Institute of Peace: How are we doing?

Richard Solomon, President, US Institute of Peace

April 12, 2000

The idea of establishing a national peace institute dates back to the drafting of the Constitution. However, serious efforts to create such an organization only began in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The war stimulated increasing pressure on Congress to create a peace academy analogous to the military war colleges. The underlying concept was for the nation to train peacemakers just as it trained war-makers. In 1984, bipartisan agreement in Congress led to the establishment of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).

The Congress, however, recognized that the time was not ripe to create a true peace academy. It therefore gave the Institute a broad mandate that includes providing education and training, basic and applied research opportunities, and peace information services. The Congress also sought to make the organization independent of the administration. Thus, the USIP is governed by a 15-member bipartisan board of directors, has its own line item in the budget, and reports directly to the Congress. The Institute is also legally prohibited from engaging in policy advocacy or operational activities.

Nevertheless, the USIP is being pulled toward becoming more of an operational entity because of the changing nature of world affairs and international conflict. One important trend is the shift from small professional armies to mass civilian armies. Another is the development of increasingly destructive military technology. With growing frequency, civilians are being targeted. Finally, conflict is occurring over a wider range of issues, including territory, resources, identity, and domestic political power. Moreover, the Institute possesses skills that other U.S. government agencies lack.

The USIP conducts a wide range of activities. Its education program includes a national peace essay contest in which nearly 8,000 high school students compete annually for college scholarships. The Institute also devotes 25 percent of its budget to research, awarding fellowships to scholars from the United States and other countries as well as grants to other organizations working on peace issues. Because the Institute does not have a permanent research staff of its own, it relies on the fellows and its grantees for intellectual horsepower. The USIP is creating a library of materials related to peace studies, including a digitized collection of peace agreements. It is also leveraging advances in information and communication technology to enhance its outreach efforts.

The Institute approaches these activities from the perspective that conflict is endemic to the human condition. Peace is a process, rather than an end-state. It is therefore necessary to understand the dynamics of conflict and war to develop the policies and institutions necessary to manage international conflict. The programs of the Institute are designed to promote peacemaking at all stages of conflict: from a period of stable peace to the post-conflict period. For example, the USIP is working to inform routine diplomacy through its cross-cultural studies of negotiation and training programs for Foreign Service Officers in negotiation skills. The Institute is also active in the area of preventive diplomacy, helping State Department officials develop negotiating strategies and supporting Track II diplomacy in Africa and Asia. In addition, the USIP conducts programs to improve peacekeeping efforts, for example, helping to train U.S. Army personnel assigned to such missions. Finally, its initiatives on transitional justice and human rights seek to strengthen post-conflict peace-building efforts.

Through these and other programs, the Institute is working to achieve four objectives. First, it is attempting to generate knowledge and, in particular, develop new concepts of conflict management and peace making. A second objective of the organization is to train professionals in the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict. Third, USIP seeks to raise public awareness of war and peace issues. Fourth, it hopes to attract a new generation to careers in international affairs.

Dr. Richard Solomon has served as the President of the United States Institute of Peace since 1993. His extensive government experience includes positions on the National Security Council and at the State Department, as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Director of the Policy Planning Staff, and as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. He has also directed the National Security Program at RAND and taught at the University of Michigan. Dr. Solomon received his Ph.D. in political science from MIT.

Rapporteur: Ray Bonoan

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