Peace in the 21st Century: Ambassador Swanee Hunt

Videography: Jean-Pierre Larroque, Production Coordination: Andrea Jovanovic, Interviewed by Jessica Chapman, Flat Earth Media

Is the idea of peace in the 21st century an idealistic vision or an achievable goal?

OEF recently asked that question to notable thinkers who research trends in violent conflict and other key drivers affecting global stability. Their responses are captured in the series, "Peace in the 21st Century." In this video, Ambassador Swanee Hunt talks about the stakeholders needed in order to achieve global peace and the powerful role that women play in reducing armed conflict. Read the full transcript from the interview below and then click here to learn how Ambassador Hunt's ideas relate to OEF's work.


Ambassador Swanee Hunt:

When we talk about what's achievable in our lifetime, or in the lifetime of the planet, there's a sense of the impossible and that somehow world peace is impossible. Nelson Mandela said that "It's impossible until someone does it." So I always start out thinking that the way to operate is to think what must be done. What needs to be done? Then you just work your way backwards. You don't start with “can it be done?”

In terms of the world peace it sounds so idealistic. It sounds tired as an idea, so I think it's better to say instead: can we stop the killing? The mass killings with armies. There's no question that we can change that part of the culture. We've changed very dramatic parts of cultures in the past, and this is one that will change.

My father was what was called a wildcatter, and before seismic existed that would be an oil man who would go out and just punch holes in the ground to try to define where there would be a basin, that then everybody else would come along and drill oil wells in. He drilled 99 dry holes once, in a row, and then the hundredth was the discovery well of a major field.

I come to this honestly. In my own life there have been all kinds of times, when, like for example, becoming an Ambassador. I thought “that's way, way, way out of reach.” Interestingly, it was a man – my husband – who said, "Oh, you've got to do this. You can do it. There's no question." I'd say, "Charles I don't know anything about foreign policy. I know domestic policies." "That doesn't matter, you're a quick study. You'll bring a fresh perspective." So, I've taken those experiences and really I've brought them in not just to my thinking, but to my psyche. That's why I love being at a meeting like this where I'm around a table with other people who are saying, "Okay let me take this piece, and you take that piece. Here's this other perspective. We'll put them together, and then we'll take this giant step forward." It's very invigorating.

To achieve global peace we have to think very, very carefully about who the stakeholders are, because there are people who benefit from violent conflict… at least as they see it. They become very wealthy, it feeds their egos, etcetera. Now the amount of harm that's done to the society, to the country that they may have control over, is immense, but they may not be thinking in those terms at all. Then the question becomes: who are the people who actually would benefit from cessation of that conflict. There are all kinds of stakeholders. They could be academics who want to figure this out for intellectual curiosity. They could be mothers who are extremely worried about the well-being of their families. They could be politicians who are convinced that they've got to have stability in order to maintain their own positions. They could be business people who know that the more instability there is, the more insecurity there is in their own businesses.

If you get those people all around a table and say, "Okay let's figure out how we're going to have a secure country," that's very different from simply gathering the militias and saying, "Okay you've got to put down your guns, and we're going to reward you for putting down your guns." Which means like we'll give you special benefits. We'll give you jobs, we'll give you housing, etcetera. Now the people who have been shot up and their homes have burned- they're watching all of this rewarding going on to the people who did the shooting, and the burning. You have to have a very, very different model in terms of who you're bringing around the table.

Among the stakeholders that need to be around the table are strong women, and these may be highly educated, they may be women with great professional experience. They could be women who are extremely well regarded, given great authority in their own communities but actually don't have the same formal education depending on the circumstance. The reason you have to have those women to help ensure a sustainable peace is that if you have women like that on both sides of a table where there's a conflict they will start working across the table with each other, and they'll connect on very personal levels. Then that transfers to compromises in order to get the peace agreement.

There are a lot of other reasons as well. Women are seen less threatening so they can make all kinds of ideas much more doable because they don't have the immediate defensive reaction coming at them as they put their ideas out. They have tremendous authority with the maternal role, and you'll find women like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia who ran as Ma Ellen. That's what the people in Liberia call her: "Ma". Lots and lots of examples like that.

One more thing that the women bring is frankly a different knowledge base as well as different perspective. They tend to be much more practical. As one man said to me, "The women know the price of a bag of rice." There are literally rice wars, but his point was that women know the details of what's happening in the community. They know the issues that the community is stirred up about. They also know which homes have a disaffected 17 year-old boy with a weapon under his mattress, because that's one of the things that women talk about, that mothers talk about. They are a treasure trove of knowledge, important not just to the creation of the peace agreement, but also to the sustainability of that agreement once it has to be lived out in the community.