Harvard Helps New Peace Lab

A global conflict research non-profit organization is planning to create a joint Southeast Asian Peace lab with Paramadina University in Indonesia with the aid of the Harvard School of Public Health, according to officials at the universities.

The Peace Lab—sponsored by the International Association for Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research—will seek to educate individuals involved in conflict management by studying Indonesia’s history of conflict resolution, according to Claude Bruderlein, who directs the School of Public Health’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research.

Though Harvard has been intimately involved in the establishment of the Lab, Bruderlein said the University’s involvement has been deliberately limited out of concern that too close an association with Harvard’s brand name could alter the character of the Lab by drawing too much publicity too early.

“In part, this is an effort to avoid a brain-drain and keep local conditions intact,” Bruderlein said.

But Bruderlein added that he hopes Harvard can still serve to connect the fledgling Lab with research being conducted at Harvard, despite the loose affiliation.

The Harvard program now serves primarily as an information hub for conflict resolution practitioners worldwide through online portals, according to Zehra Hirji ‘10, a research assistant with the program.

Bruderlein said he hopes that the Peace Lab will be able to learn from Indonesia’s success in peacefully resolving internal conflict to teach conflict resolution techniques to professionals hoping to replicate its success.

The nation was beset by violent separatist movements in recent years—most notably in Aceh and East Timor—and managed to resolve both conflicts through diplomatic means.

Because of Indonesia’s ability to weather such conflicts, Totok Soefijanto, a deputy rector at Paramadina University, wrote in an e-mail that he thinks the country serves as a model for other nations to follow.

Bruderlein said the country’s Islamic makeup gives it added weight as a case study in conflict resolution.

“Although Islam is traditionally seen as an obstacle to peace, in Indonesia, Islam is one of the factors of the peace process,” Bruderlein said.

Indonesia’s experience with Islam and conflict resolution efforts should be applied to other conflicts involving Islam like the Isreali-Palestinian conflict, Bruderlein said.

The founding of the Peace Lab comes at a time when small conflict resolution organizations are revolutionizing diplomatic efforts.

During the recent political standoff in Kenya, Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, and a small Swiss organization, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, resolved the political crisis independent of official efforts,

“Small organizations that don’t draw huge attention can have a huge impact on the negotiating process,” said Hirji, the Harvard research assistant.