U.S. Defense Institution Takes on Challenge of Peacemaking

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
USINFO Staff Writer

This is the first in a series of articles on the Naval Postgraduate School.

Monterey, California -– As humanitarian and post-conflict challenges increase across the globe, the U.S. military finds itself playing a larger role in relief and reconstruction efforts, guided intellectually by defense educational institutions like the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey.

Since 2004, when the school's Center for Stabilization and Reconstruction Studies (CSRS) was established, NPS faculty and graduate students have researched and studied how to bridge cultural divides and refine strategies for resolving civil, ethnic and religious strife in failed states.

The center recently hosted a workshop on post-conflict negotiating skills, co-sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), headquartered in Washington.

NPS President Daniel Oliver, a retired vice admiral, welcomed the 40 participants to the May event, noting that the focus of NPS has changed since its founding.

When the school was founded in 1909, Oliver said, its focus was on engineering, science and technical subjects.

But now, he said, “the world has changed, especially since 9/11. Combat effectiveness is only one piece of what we do [at NPS].  We have been asked over and over what we can do so that our grandchildren have a safe place to live. This [CSRS workshop] is one of those efforts."

In an increasingly dangerous world, Oliver said, “we need to collaborate.  But getting that collaboration is difficult because we have to work across language, geographic, religious and ethnic boundaries.”

The negotiating skills workshop was especially relevant, Oliver added, because “communication is the beginning of understanding.”

CSRS Director Matthew Vaccaro said the purpose of the workshop was to provide peacemakers with educational opportunities in a wide range of stabilization and reconstruction activities for nations emerging from conflict.

Those involved, Vaccaro said, make up “communities” composed of U.S. and foreign militaries, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and multilateral organizations like the United Nations.

Participants at the workshop reflected those communities, with representatives from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the American Red Cross.  The foreign element was represented by Lieutenant Commander Roland Bolado of the Philippine Navy and Major Apollinaire Ndayimirije of the Burundian Army.

“The notion is that greater cross-community understanding, collective problem-solving and professional networking will equip individuals to be agents of change within their diverse organizations,” Vaccaro said.

The workshop’s panels included discussions on cultural differences in conflict situations, the impact of organizational cultures on civil/military relations, perspectives on provincial reconstruction teams, culture and conflict, safe havens, grassroots mediation skills, and impromptu third-party intervention.

During the event, panelists learned the five different negotiating styles - competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising and collaborating - while using role playing and other simulation games to act out various negotiating scenarios.

CSRS is one of a number of centers in NPS’s School of International Graduate Studies (SIGS), created in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union to educate U.S. and foreign mid-level officers in area studies and international relations.

SIGS’s National Security Affairs (NSA) department offers master's and doctoral degrees to its 390 resident students, which include 35 foreign military officers, in addition to short courses it teaches during the academic year to 500 foreign students who travel to the Monterey campus from 87 nations.

Retired Lieutenant General Robert Ord, SIGS dean, told USINFO that all of the roughly 250 foreign students at NPS are a definite asset to the institution.  Because the graduate courses are 12 to 18 months long, the officers bring their wives and children with them.  “They are totally integrated [among the other 1,500 U.S. students] in the classroom, in the housing area," he said.

“So these international and U.S. [students] study, play and socialize together, and [the international students] have a total immersion in American culture,” Ord added, which is a bonding experience that can be very significant when they later achieve high rank in their own militaries.

“Of course, at the top of our NPS alumni list is King Abdullah of Jordan," Ord added, who along with his sister, Princess Isha, took short courses at SIGS. Both remain enthusiastic supporters of the school.

To learn more about the school and its history, see “Monterey Naval Postgraduate School Prepares Military Elite.”