Sept. 30, 2008

Peace plan for Georgia, developed with Cornell visiting scholar, is outlined by ex-U.S. diplomat

Taking a conflict resolution approach to the invasion of the Republic of Georgia by Russian troops, retired U.S. career diplomat John W. McDonald came to Cornell Sept. 29 to announce a plan to alleviate the crisis.

McDonald's plan would create "peace zones" in the separatist enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The zones would be weapon-free sanctuaries where peace would be promoted by fostering dialogue and mutual understanding of religion, history and culture. "The peace zone is not just a demilitarized zone," said McDonald, now the chairman and CEO of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD).

He worked on the proposal with Georgian writer Irakli Kakabadze, a Cornell visiting scholar in the Peace Studies Program. McDonald outlined the proposal during a session sponsored by Cornell's Center for Transformative Action, the Peace Studies Program and the Department of Government.

The plan is the result of "so many great diplomats and scientists [coming] together, suggesting the best alternative to war, which is peace," said Kakabadze, who, with McDonald, has been working on the proposal for six years with the government of Georgia.

The session also included a panel discussion moderated by Kakabadze with analysis offered by Susan Allan Nan, professor of conflict resolution at George Mason University and Cornell government professors Valerie Bunce and Matthew Evangelista.

McDonald, who served as a U.S. diplomat for 40 years, said that similar peace zones have been successfully established in the Philippines, Colombia and Peru, and he predicted such a zone within three years along the India-Pakistan border to enable access to Sikh religious sites in both countries.

In developing such zones, McDonald stressed his grass-roots approach and "people-to-people" diplomacy: "We only go where we are invited to by the people in a conflict, not the government," said McDonald. "We go in and listen … the only way to solve a conflict at any level of society is to sit down face to face and talk about it."

McDonald used conflict resolution in helping broker an agreement on Northern Ireland's bill of rights, in helping citizens cross the "green line" separating Christians and Muslims in Cyprus and in creating "the people's bus" in Kashmir linking India with Pakistan.

With the Russian army still in Georgia, the panelists discussed complicating factors in developing the peace zones, such as a lack of neutral players available for mediation, the attitude of the Georgian government and an indication that Russia is seeking to wield more power in international relations.

"Russia sees [its zone of influence] as increasingly defined in terms of regional sovereignty as well as domestic sovereignty," said Bunce, who suggested that Russian foreign policy might continue to oppose the interests of such bodies as NATO, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

However, McDonald was optimistic. "These things can be done. It takes time, it takes skill, it takes patience, it's not going to happen overnight," he said.

Graduate student Nadia Drake is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.