Archive Article: Conflict And Resolution. 26 April 02
December 30, 2008

Our thoughts this week have very much been of Australian service personnel who have served in war. I have been reading about one Australian peacekeeper, who was a returned serviceman who went on to become a major – if poorly recognized – asset to Australia’s foreign policy.

Allan Griffith served in the RAAF in World War II and then went on to study at the University of Melbourne. He then joined the Prime Minister’s Department and served there for 30 years. It is a very rare for a person to serve so long in a senior position in one department. Each prime minister – irrespective of party label – was anxious to keep him on because he was a very good trouble-shooter.

In 1979, Malcolm Fraser offered Allan Griffith to Margaret Thatcher to try sort out the long-running problem over Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia). He was part of the team that ended Ian Smith’s rebellion and saw the transfer of power to an African government.

Allan Griffith retired from the Australian public service in 1982. He then did research at Oxford University and a produced a prize-winning thesis on international conflict resolution. The thesis was then turned into the book “Conflict and Resolution: Peace-building through the ballot box in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Cambodia“. Tragically he was diagnosed with cancer just as he was finishing the book and he never actually lived to see its launching.

The book examines the search for peace in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Cambodia partly from the point of view how it is possible to work for conditions that will give peace a chance. In other words, negotiations are not enough – there has to be an infrastructure of peace that will undergird the political decision-making. Griffith listed some of these provisions as: transition packages, ceasefire arrangements, and election arrangements.

An important theme in all his work was the need for ethical behaviour. Griffith was inspired by the Moral Rearmament Movement during World War II and remained influenced by it until his death. The Movement also sponsored some of his work in retirement.

Of the three countries examined by Griffith, all have had some problems in their post-war era. Namibia seems to be ticking over all right but Cambodia still has many problems and Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabwe, is sinking into chaos. But this sad state of affairs is not so much due to a failure of the conflict resolution approaches as an unwillingness of some of the parties to stick to the conditions of the peace process and the failure of the international community to stay engaged in the post-conflict evolution.

Meanwhile, other countries where violence – rather than conflict resolution – is the norm, are by definition not making much progress, either. There will always be wars and rumours of war. But conflict resolution can at least reduce the level of violence and assist the poor individuals who get caught up in the cross fire.

The value of the work by people like Alan Griffith is that they give peace a chance. The problem with international conflict resolution is not that it has failed – but that it has not been given enough chance to succeed. The world needs more people like Alan Griffith to dedicate their lives to conflict resolution.

Broadcast On Friday 26th April 2002 On Radio 2GB’s “Brian Wilshire Programme” At 9pm And On 28th April 2002 On “Sunday Night Live” At 10.30pm