A new survey
conducted by Conciliation Resources and the US-based Alliance for Peacebuilding,
has found strong backing among Britons for the idea of engaging with armed groups – including those labelled as proscribed terrorist organisations – in order to resolve conflicts around the world.
The results, which have been released to coincide with International Day of Peace on 21 September, show that 83 per cent of the British public think that international institutions, like the UN, should be able to talk to organisations on proscribed terrorist ‘blacklists’ in order to seek peace. While 77 per cent of people think governments should play such a role. The majority of respondents (64 per cent) believe that peace processes that engage with armed groups can help to end violent conflict, and people would feel hopeful if they knew their government was involved in negotiating peace with an armed group.
One of the most politically sensitive areas of peacemaking, official contacts with armed groups can evoke strong public feeling, as was seen in the Northern Ireland peace process. Yet, these striking results indicate that people understand the positive impact such dialogue can have, and think that national governments and international organisations should be able to connect with armed groups to try and end conflict.
People stated that they would respond positively if they knew that the UK Government had played a key role in negotiating peace between or with armed groups around the world. The top emotion selected from a list by respondents was ‘hopeful’ (43 per cent). ‘Proud’ and ‘happy’ were the second and third selections, with negative emotions of ‘afraid’, ‘angry’ and ‘disgusted’ all under 5 per cent.
Conciliation Resources’ Director of Policy and Learning, Dr Teresa Dumasy comments:
At a time of increasing insecurity and humanitarian crises driven or exacerbated by conflict, public appetite for engagement with armed groups is a significant finding. It should prompt more nuanced and strategic thinking about the policies and regulations that regulate and determine this area of peacebuilding.
Talking with armed groups, does not imply negotiation, and can involve people making contact to understand the group and its motivations; encourage the group to pursue alternative non-violent strategies; and to prepare the ground for constructive, peaceful negotiations. Such engagement can involve local communities and non-governmental organisations, as well as people in governments and organisations like the UN.
The results cut across political affiliations, gender and geographic locations, although people in Northern Ireland – with their firsthand experience of conflict – had an even stronger belief that peace processes that engage with armed, guerrilla or terrorist groups can help to end violent conflict.
Surveys commissioned in the US and Germany showed comparable results to the UK. In the US, 76 per cent of respondents feel that international organisations and the US Government should talk with proscribed terrorist groups, while in Germany these figures were 77 per cent and 74 per cent respectively.
In addition, the survey tested levels of public support for broader peacebuilding processes. Amid vigorous debate in the media over the UK’s overseas aid spending, 60 per cent of people agree that the UK Government should invest more in peacebuilding, with only 10 per cent disagreeing with this idea. 71 per cent of UK respondents believe that peacebuilding plays a vital role in ending violent conflicts.
This was mirrored in the US: 74 per cent of people in the US think that peacebuilding plays a vital role in ending conflicts and support greater investment by their government in it. Given threatened cuts to the US overseas aid budget from a more bellicose US administration, the significant public support for peacebuilding shown by both Republicans and Democrat is helpful for those advocating for non-violent solutions to conflict.
The survey also identified that there is good public understanding of the long-term approaches required to build peace.,Britons were confident in their responses that a peacebuilding approach involves addressing the underlying causes of conflict and requires long-term collaborative efforts to transform attitudes, relationships and institutions.
As Dr Dumasy explains:
These findings are encouraging and suggest that the public understands and supports the need for UK Government strategies which address the root causes of conflicts, rather than an over-reliance on security, counter-terrorism and military measures.
British people feel that peacebuilding is the right thing to do, with 84 per cent of people agreeing that the justification for peacebuilding is that ‘human beings have the right to live in peace: free from conflict’. British national security or trade interests featured joint third in a list of options.
The survey was commissioned in the UK and Germany by Conciliation Resources, a UK-based peacebuilding international non-governmental organisation, and in the US by the Alliance for Peacebuilding. It was carried out by leading consumer research agency, Populus. Financial support was provided by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Social Change Initiative.