Geneva Peace Week
31 October 2019

The Possibilities of Geneva Peace Week

In an interview with Achim Wennmann – Co-founder of the Geneva Peace Week, Senior Researcher at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP, a research centre of the Graduate Institute) and Executive Coordinator of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform – he discusses why the Geneva Peace Week is important in the current age of changing strategic landscapes and what it means for the Graduate Institute. 

What is the importance of this year’s Geneva Peace Week?

This year, the Geneva Peace Week is specifically important because the world is changing in front of our eyes: Syria is in a new stage of war, cities are increasingly the stage for mass protests, environmental conflicts are proliferating and cyber conflict is a reality. 

Within this context of change, we need more spaces for dialogue and exchange in order to review if we are still asking the right questions and how our answers might need to be adapted. Geneva Peace Week offers a space for this kind of dialogue and exchange as it draws together a wealth of expertise and experience from decision makers, experts and activists. 

How does the Geneva Peace Week foster a space for dialogue and exchange?

Geneva Peace Week is an open and inclusive tent allowing for the full spectrum of perspectives on peacebuilding to be expressed. It reflects how peace diplomacy has changed over the last decades to something that is now shaped by many different actors rather than states alone. I think it is important to recognise this trend to find opportunities for peace even in difficult circumstances. 

This is important because states tend to be the last ones ready for peace; but that should not prevent those ready to push peace forward. The “who”, “how” and “where” of this endeavour is a key component to the more than 80 panels and networking events of Geneva Peace Week. 

Important to note is that Geneva Peace Week is part of several peace forums around the world where partnerships can be forged with a view to build peace and resolve conflict in different places. 

Why is it so important to host an annual Geneva Peace Week?

As the intellectual magnet of International Geneva, the Graduate Institute is perfectly positioned to help shape responses for a more peaceful world, something engrained in its marrow. After all, the Institute was created after the First World War when international law was supposed to outlaw the future conduct of war, training the first civil servants of the League of Nations on such matters.

With the continuing evolution of multilateralism, and the nature of war and peace, the role of the Graduate Institute is changing. Some key guiding principles are ensuring excellence, independence and solidarity in how the Institute shapes discussions through evidence-based research on the many Geneva issues, but it is also about providing a “safe space” to explore and socialise new ideas, and forging new cross-cutting partnerships to bring these ideas to life. 

What is the role of the UN in the changing peacebuilding spaces? 

The UN is at a critical turning point as it is being reconfigured due to the changing global power relations. Traditionally, the UN was crafted by and for states to ensure international peace and security. And this is where the challenge is: It is a state-centred organisation in a world where international relations are no longer only about states and where solutions to global problems need cross-cutting partnerships. 

The opportunity to create new spaces to find these solutions is not disassociated from the UN system. There is a lot of phenomenal knowledge and experience within the UN and its specialised agencies. I think we have to work harder to make that experience provide practical solutions and connect it better to actors that could benefit from this knowledge. 

Here, Geneva – and in particular the Graduate Institute – has a role to play as a docking station for the demand for expertise and know-how for localised efforts that address the full range of Geneva issues.

Geneva Peace Week is a flagship initiative of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform in collaboration with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), and the Platform’s five partners – the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), Interpeace, and the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva (QUNO). 

The views expressed in this interview are those of Achim Wennmann and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisations listed above.