Despite a working peace plan signed by both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, officials and experts continue to worry that the Russia-Georgia conflict could reignite if a long-term peace resolution is not reached soon.
With this as a backdrop, former ambassador John W. McDonald, who served as a U.S. diplomat for 40 years, presented a comprehensive plan to help facilitate a long-term peace initiative between Russia and Georgia yesterday in Uris Hall. The event was presented by the Center for Transformative Action, the Peace Studies Program and the government department. Additionally, it featured the unique perspectives of a panel of professors, including Dr. Susan Nan, who teaches conflict resolution at George Mason University, and Profs Valerie Bunce, government, and Matthew Evangelista, government. They each offered their own thoughts about the future.
McDonald, who now serves as the chairman and co-founder of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington, D.C., explained that the key to a long-term resolution between Russia and Georgia will be the establishment of “peace zones” within South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Yet, these “peace zones” cannot simply be areas safe from violence. They must become destinations that attract permanent residents.
“The peace zone is not just a demilitarized zone. [It is a place] where businesses can get together,” McDonald said.[img_assist|nid=32206|title=Talk it out|desc=Panel members Mamuka Tsereteli (left), president of the Georgia Association in the U.S., former ambassador John W. McDonald (center) and Prof. Valerie Bunce (right), government, discuss a plan to resolve the Georgia-Russia conflict.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
McDonald emphasized that the creation of peace zones are only a small portion of an overarching plan. The IMTD outlines a nine-part process for stabilizing any region. Notably, the plan takes a grassroots approach, by beginning with the people.
McDonald stated, “We go and listen to the people and ask them what their needs are … [Because] the only way you can solve a conflict at any level of society — your spouse, your friends, nationally, globally — is to sit down face to face and talk about it.”
The plan also stipulates the benefits of involving local businesses, peace activists and religious groups. It continues to point to the need for government involvement, funding, research, training and education as keys to shaping public opinion and media perception.
Under McDonald’s conflict resolution plan, he has been able to resolve a wide-array of conflicts. Among other achievements, he played a central role in drafting of Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland; helped raise the green line that separated Muslims and Christians in Cyprus; quelled violence between India, Pakistan and Cashmere; and expects that within three years, peace zones will be established in India and Pakistan that will enable hundreds of thousands of Sheikhs to visit the burial site of a great Sheikh leader.
McDonald remained confident that, under his plan, a long-term peace resolution could be implemented in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as long as enough attention and funds are directed to the conflict.
McDonald explained, “The impossible is possible, it just takes time, skill and patience. Nothing will happen overnight.”
However, other panel participants shared a whole range of doubts. They pointed to Russia’s desire to seize more power on the international stage as key barriers to any long-term peace solution. The panelists highlighted Russia’s desire to stand up to members of NATO, including the United States and the E.U. They further saw the discussion over who caused the invasion as a major delay at a time when officials can be discussing peace conditions. The panelists expressed that significant progress will not be made towards a long-term solution in the near future.
To date, according to South Ossetia, over 1,000 civilians have been killed, although Russia disputes this claim. 158,000 Georgians have been displaced from their homes due to the conflict, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.