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By student correspondents Mikaela Knight, Georgia Ibbett and Oskah Dunnin.
First year undergraduate students in the course ‘Peacebuilding and conflict resolution - INTR1022’ have conducted peace negotiations during weeks 11 and 12 of this semester, working to resolve a hypothetical conflict. The objective of the negotiations was ultimately to generate a Ceasefire Agreement, which was comprised of clauses based on the peacebuilding strategies and theories of peace learned throughout the semester.
The simulation task employed both practical and analytical elements of study and offered a refreshing way to explore and grapple with the main concepts involved in modern peace building. Its a great example of the innovative teaching methods our teaching staff are using to engage students in both practical and analytical elements of study.
Students were divided into 13 groups representing an array of stakeholders. Parties included the home government, the resistance movement, NGOs, UN institutions and the media. All parties had to cooperatively manage vastly different interests to achieve peace through negotiation. This proved to be the greatest challenge, but also the most rewarding element of the hypothetical.
The conflict presented in this hypothetical had multiple layers of complexity. Whilst a Ceasefire Agreement was the main objective of these negotiations, this had to be balanced across issues of terrorism, refugees, historic violence, social inequality, language and cultural barriers, regional underdevelopment, gender inequality and big business interests.
The formal peace talks took place during the final lectures for the INTR1022 course, however most of the proposed solutions and coalitions were created outside of these times through ‘backchannel diplomacy’. Ultimately, the final Ceasefire Agreement was composed primarily of agreements reached outside of formal talks, therefore the importance of these informal negotiations cannot be understated.
Active student engagement and high levels of creative, abstract thinking greatly contributed to the success of the peace talks. Although the peace negotiations themselves were an assessment, the hypothetical negotiations also allowed us to gain hands on experience of the world of diplomacy and security through this immersive learning technique.
The engagement and participation by all students in the course ensured that the hypothetical negotiations were fruitful, not only in reaching the objective of a Ceasefire Agreement, but more importantly, as a new form of assessment that enables students to gain real-world skills.
In discussion with the group responsible for mediating the talks, it was clear that the negotiations were challenging in terms of organisation and team work. The group also appreciated the challenge of remaining unbiased and responsive to alternate perspectives on key issues. The ability to walk around the table and see issues from the perspectives of other is an invaluable skill that can be applied to all areas of future endeavour.
While the hypothetical peace negotiation successfully concluded with the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement, there was a great level of appreciation and understanding within the cohort, that for real world conflicts, a ceasefire is just the beginning of the peace process. Hypothetically, now comes the challenges of justice and reconciling the violence of the past, as well as issues of state and infrastructure building in order prevent the outbreak of fresh instability.
What this exercise in conflict resolution really teaches is an appreciation of the complexity behind conflicts and peace agreements. By immersing your group in the persona of your actor, you become increasingly aware of the challenges that come with balancing your interests with the greater interests of peace.
As a first year course, INTR1022 provided an opportunity to explore theoretical concepts in an engaging manner for new students. Likewise, with much of the assessment load consisting of analytical essays, the simulation offered a refreshing means to explore and grapple with the many intricacies prevalent in modern peace building exercises. Students undertaking the course were pleased by how the simulation task employed both practical and analytical elements of study. Many praised the course for its encouragement of group work while maintaining focus on theoretical analysis and academic development.
As is the case with the simulation, much of the INTR1022 course is dedicated to strengthening student engagement with the course material. It also invites discussion between peers as students are not only expected to analytically assess content but also explain their findings in a controlled environment, such as in tutorial groups. This focus on peer-to-peer learning has distinguished the INTR1022 course from other courses undertaken thus far at ANU. It forces students to actively engage with theoretical concepts crucial to peace studies, while offering a clear framework in which to do so.
Any undergraduate student currently studying fields of diplomacy, security or general international relations would find great value from undertaking the INTR1022 Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution course in 2019.
For more information on the course, see INTR1022 Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution