Why No West Point of Peace?

 “Why Kiev needs those F-16 fighters” and “Bloody days of clawing back ground at Bakhmut” are recent front page New York Times headlines with details of the weapon’s possibilities and the battles “grinding combat” in the following articles. Also included are quotations from those involved in the fighting and Ukrainian government officials overseeing the war. Where are similar headlines and articles about the status of peace initiatives? Where are experts describing possible avenues for mediation, ceasefires or ending the conflict? Why is war and its description so predominant over alternatives?

It is not just asymmetrical reporting that needs correcting; it is also asymmetrical education and training.

In the United States there are five military academies: for the army (West Point), navy (Annapolis), air force (Colorado Springs), coast guard, (New London, Connecticut), and the merchant marine (Kings Point, New York). There are also several institutions for professional military education. Among them: Naval War College, Army War College, Air University, Marine Corps War College, and the National Defense University.

Asymmetrically, the United States government spends considerably more resources training soldiers how to fight wars than it spends training peace professionals.

The U.S. does subsidize the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP). Following debates in the 1970s and 80s about an American peace academy to be similar to the military academies such as West Point, Congress established USIP in 1984 “as an independent institution devoted to the nonviolent prevention and mitigation of deadly conflict abroad.” At the time, the U.S. military budget was $297 billion. The initial USIP funding was $16 million.

USIP gets its funding primarily from the U.S. Congress. Its FY 2023 budget was $55 million. That’s not a typo. $55 million for an American peace academy supposed to be similar to military academies and professional military education institutions. $55 million is 0.006875% of today’s $800 billion defense budget.

USIP’s limited status has even been called into question. In 2011, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate all funding for USIP. A Wall Street Journal op-ed by two members of Congress argued that: “The USIP is a case study in how government waste thrives.” In defense of USIP, an op-ed in the New York Times pointed out that that at the time, “The institute’s share of the proposed international affairs budget is…less than one-tenth of one percent of the State Department’s budget, and one-hundredth of one percent of the Pentagon’s.” Or, as the defender argued; “The Institute’s entire budget would not pay for the Afghan war for three hours, is less than the cost of a fighter plane, and wouldn’t sustain forty American troops in Afghanistan for a year.” In April 2011, the House and Senate restored funding for the Institute, but its finances remain dependent on Congress.

Today, USIP has a staff of around 300, and is active in some 17 countries. But there are relatively few professional peace experts.  According to its website, USIP has roughly 140 experts, some of them former diplomats. It is reported that there were 1.3 million active-duty military members in the U.S. armed forces in 2022. The U.S. government pays 1.3 million military fighters compared to 140 peace experts.

What about outside the United States? The University for Peace (UPEACE) is an institution of higher education dedicated to the study of peace. The United Nations General Assembly established UPEACE as a treaty organization in 1980 in the annex to Resolution 35/55, the International Agreement for the Establishment of the University for Peace.Its mission is “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.” (UPEACE’s main campus is in Costa Rica, a country that abolished its army in 1980.) Only forty-one countries have become signatory states to the UPEACE Charter.

But, again, UPEACE is a degree-granting academic institution within the United Nations system similar to peace studies at U.S. academic institutions such as Notre Dame or Georgetown. It is not a professional training academy for peace. The fact that so few countries have signed on to its charter as well as the fact that it is located in a small country limit its graduates’ legitimacy to mediate conflicts such as in Sudan or Ukraine.

(It would be interesting to discover which Chinese negotiators were involved in persuading Saudi Arabia and Iran to come to the table and agree to revive a security cooperation pact, reopen embassies in each other’s countries, and resume other accords. Do the Chinese have professional mediation and peace experts? How are they trained?)

An astute reader will point out that comparing the USIP budget with the overall U.S. defense budget is like comparing apples and oranges. Agreed. An astute reader will also point out that probably somewhere within the State Department and Pentagon are some training facilities for peace negotiations, and that within the military training institutions there are courses on war prevention, human rights and humanitarian law as well as ending wars and transitions to peace. Also agreed. And an astute reader will point to other peace institutions around the world such as the Cordoba Peace Institute, the Peace Research Institute Oslo, or Swiss Peace. Agreed, agreed, agreed.

But comparing the budget of all peace institutes with the military budgets of major powers such as the United States does reveal an asymmetrical sense of priorities. Mitigating tensions between states, bringing warring parties to the table, establishing a cease-fire or humanitarian corridor as well as inking a peace treaty require specific skills, skills that need proper preparation.

If the military can train soldiers, sailors, and pilots separately, why can’t the U.S. government train peace negotiators separately in the skills necessary to broker a cease-fire, establish a humanitarian corridor or write a treaty?

So, instead of reading or listening to expert analysis of the impact of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones “that changed the nature of warfare,” or the capabilities of Leopard 2 tanks that if enough are given to Ukraine “could probably shift the balance of the war,” I would prefer to have a peace expert describe various scenarios of how a cease-fire would work or how the conflict could end.

I’ve had enough listening to and reading expertise from retired military officers. Let’s hear from and read peace experts. Let’s confront the asymmetrical relationship of war and peace in all its manifestations such as budgets, education, expertise, and reporting. Let’s not declare war on war – the very use of the word is part of the problem – but recognize the extent to which we are overwhelmed with militarization. If we prioritized peace as much as we prioritize war, their asymmetrical relation might start to disappear.

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.