PC related Article

Damien (right under Obie-our country director) sent all the PCVs this article. I thought it was worth sharing here:

The Technologies of Peace
N.J. Slabbert is International Editor of Truman Publications, a Brussels-based group focusing on geopolitical, technological and economic analysis. He also writes on urban thought and policy for the Urban Land Institute, a research and publishing group active in Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. He is a former Reader’s Digest senior editor and staff writer.

Slavery was once called “the peculiar institution”, but a better candidate for this title may be the Peace Corps. Current geopolitics make this a good time to probe the Corps’ peculiarity, as prelude to a long overdue reconceptualization of what is arguably the most underused federal entity. An imaginatively reinvented Peace Corps could powerfully promote US interests in a period when perceptions of American motives are increasingly relevant to global realignment. It could also capitalize on an unprecedented opportunity to avail US soft power of a resource historically associated with initiatives of war rather than peace: high technology.

This article draws on three significant bodies of government experience: those of former US President Jimmy Carter; of a former Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral (Ret.) William A. Owens; and of Ambassador JR Bullington, Director of the US Peace Corps in Niger since 2000. All three generously discussed their thoughts on the role and future of the Peace Corps with me and thanks are due to all three for their cooperation.

In a personal interview filmed at the Carter Center in Atlanta in September I asked the former president how much could be reasonably expected from the Peace Corps by way of altering the world’s perception of the US, especially in Islamic areas. He told me America’s image “certainly can be affected in areas of the world that now look upon the US unfavorably.” Just two days before our interview, Carter said, he had returned from visits to Mali, Nigeria and Ethiopia (90%, 50% and 45%-50% Muslim respectively), and there were some regions of those countries “where the US had a very unfavorable image”. The Peace Corps had volunteers in all three countries, he said, “and I think they could be a good avenue towards putting forward the best possible image of America”. This image would associate the US with justice, peace, humility, service and compassion. “To me those are the characteristics that historically have made our nation a great one. But in recent years we have seen that that list of characteristics, at least among some people, has become very doubtful. I think that the Peace Corps can correct that misconception of the basic motivations of most citizens of my country.”

Carter noted that he may be the only person in the world whose mother and grandson had both served in the Corps: “The Peace Corps means an awful lot to me personally.” He is in favor of expanding the Corps because he and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter “go to some countries that are desperately in need, and the leaders of those countries appeal to me as a former president.” He would like to see “a greater allocation of funds for the Peace Corps” because in national security terms — “that is, reducing the animosity of poverty-stricken people around the world toward America” — the Corps is “in the forefront of that opportunity”.

Carter’s perspective on the Corps is arguably unique because of the extent to which the agency’s work complements that of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, a non-profit founded in 1982 by the former president and his wife. In partnership with Emory University the center promotes human rights and projects that combat poverty, disease and “unnecessary human suffering” around the world. One of the ways he would like to see the Corps expanded is via increased cooperation with the center. “We really would like to have fifty Peace Corps volunteers here to help us with programs. The Carter Center has active programs in sixty-five nations on earth. Thirty-five of them are in Africa. They are the poorest, most forgotten, destitute people in the world. And we work side by side with Peace Corps volunteers. Sometimes they are our direct representative in some of the most remote areas … and we depend on them to represent the Carter Center.”

Carter sees several ways to beef up the Corps, starting with a greater effort to recruit senior citizens. “I have, maybe, a biased point of view because my mother didn’t go into the Peace Corps until she was about 70 years old and it transformed her life. And there are many people who have retired from very successful careers who I think could be specifically recruited to the Peace Corps.” He’d also like to see the Corps given greater freedom to aid countries whose leaders don’t happen to be popular with the White House. It “troubles” him, he explains, that “sometimes there are nations whose leaders might be alienated from the White House or from Washington who are deprived of the services of the Peace Corps.” Carter would like to see a policy of greater inclusiveness whereby the Corps does not have to “judge a country by whether we like their leaders, who quite often are subject to change”, but “only on how much their people need Peace Corps services.”

On the subject of the position that the Peace Corps occupies in America’s top-of-the-mind awareness, I asked Carter whether it would be helpful to appoint a high-profile director. “Well, I think so,” he replied, qualifying this by pointing to the example of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), which has a long record of appointing movie stars and other celebrities as public spokespeople and ambassadors. “The Director may be a tough, hard-nosed , very competent, proven manager of large and complex organizations and big budgets,” Carter commented, “and quite often the recipient countries have no idea who the Director is, but, but we could adopt the policy of UNICEF to have a representative, for public relations, for raising funds, for raising awareness, someone who’s well-known, maybe a famous sports figure or famous actor or actress or famous musician. I think that’s something that could be done.” He added: “If that request was made to someone who is famous I think they would respond favorably.”

I asked Carter if he believed the Peace Corps could be improved by being made more technologically sophisticated. His reply: “I think the utilization of modern technology, particularly in the communication field, is something that ought to be introduced into the Peace Corps very aggressively. My grandson, who returned recently from the Peace Corps after two and a half years, took with him his computer and he had to ride about 20 miles before he could find a place that had electric power and a telephone circuit into which he could connect.” With modern generators, solar cells, small, very efficient computers and satellite networks, Carter said, “I don’t see why, within the bounds of reason, every single Peace Corps person … shouldn’t have instantaneous communication with the outside world. I think that would enhance not only their own spirit and self-respect and security, but it would also let them have a more effective way to deal with the people around them, if the Peace Corps volunteer, instead of being isolated for three or four weeks or months at a time, had a daily awareness of world events, and what could be happening that reflected the particular nation in which they serve, or the US.” He added: “I think that technology is available and with a minimum contribution to each Peace Corps volunteer those standardized mechanisms could be utilized.”

Carter’s comments, especially the idea of transforming the Peace Corps through technology, converge interestingly with Owens’ interpretation of the Revolution in Military Affairs: the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs advises intensive conversion of the military into an information technology apparatus integrated into the world’s most advanced telecommunications society, which he has urged the US rapidly to become. Without these changes, Owens has argued, the US cannot sustain competitive edge in national security, intelligence or economic performance in the next twenty years. He supports the re-envisioning of the Peace Corps in five linked areas: (1) reinventing America’s international profile via a new use of soft power; (2) moving from a war-defined, non-technological, reactive theory of peace to a proactive theory of peace as a normal component of technologically advanced democracy; (3) reappraising the Corps as a national strategic asset whose value remains largely untapped; (4) the Corps as a model for the technological reinvention of government agencies for the 21st century; and (5) redefining civil society as information technology society.

In re-evaluating the role of the Peace Corps along the lines explored in my discussion with President Carter, two facts must be confronted: (a) America’s global image is in crisis; and (b) receding US prestige involves cultural as much as military factors. A 2004 report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project (chair: former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright) found anti-Americanism “deeper and broader” than in any modern period, with negative perceptions widespread in European and Muslim nations. Publics in surveyed countries expressed considerable skepticism of US motives. Majorities in France, Germany, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Turkey believed the war on terror reflected US desires to control Mideast oil and the world.

Two recent books bring these attitudes into focus. In Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World, Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former ambassador to the United Nations, sees ebbing US prestige as not merely due to Bush Administration policies but as a “tectonic shift” in world opinion. Even when US commerce and culture are embraced, Mahbubani notes, their perceived one-sidedness causes suspicion and resentment. America’s soft power is seen as extended hard power, an “increasingly frayed velvet glove that covers a mailed fist.” The US needs to invite participation in its culture instead of heavy-handedly imposing it.

In Weapons of Mass Distraction: Soft Power and American Empire, Canadian journalist Matthew Fraser describes how movies, television, pop music and the fast food industry make US culture ubiquitous. But while these industries are economically potent, they fail to transmit the most culturally valuable contents of US society. More overtly, they reveal America’s talent for shooting itself in the foot vis a vis global public relations. Hollywood blockbusters and fast food franchising machineries are genuine accomplishments, but it is unrealistic to expect them to represent high philosophical values. Foreigners seeking national values in these artifacts can be forgiven for perceiving the US as materialistic and shallow. With astonishing irony, the society preeminent in modern advertising has abysmally failed to market its greatest cultural goods.

The US’s core national values differ markedly from those which its detractors identify with it. Its positive values include reverence for human rights, liberty, opportunity conferred without prejudice, moral responsibility, the free play and optimal development of intelligence, individual dignity, the desire to learn from all traditions and incorporate their wisdom into the complex multicultural fabric that is America. The values, in short, of the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961. Yet in Niger, which is unlikely to be unique in this regard, many Europeans see the Corps as an intelligence organization. French and German volunteers do not associate with Peace Corps volunteers, even in the same small, remote town, according to the Peace Corps Country Director for Niger, Jim Bullington. At a 2004 reception the anti-Americanism of DED (a German volunteer organization) personnel was palpable, says Bullington, who has served as a former US ambassador, a career US State Department diplomat for 27 years, Director of the Center for Global Business at Old Dominion University and Senior Fellow at the US Armed Forces Staff College. “In decades of diplomatic work with Europeans in Asia and Africa, I had never felt such hostility,” he recalls. Clearly, US soft power, though immense, projects an inadequate message; this message handicaps even the Peace Corps, arguably the purest institutional expression of American idealism. To project its values more effectively may be impossible without reconceptualizing and strengthening the Corps.

According to novelist-essayist Gore Vidal, he suggested the idea of the Peace Corps to John F. Kennedy during the latter’s presidential candidacy. Whether or not any such communication triggered the Corps’ origin, Vidal’s account usefully indicates two sensibilities on which the agency was founded. This history, and the paradigms that underlie it, must be taken into account in any attempt to appraise or re-imagine the Corps. Kennedy embodied American imperial presence, Caesar as global benefactor. Vidal represented an ambivalent intelligentsia captivated by the political establishment’s mystique, yet suspicious of it, and deeply respectful of the idea that writers should serve a counterculture. The Peace Corps thus reflected a 1960s climate of conflict: geopolitically, the Cold War, and culturally, the anguished national divisions ranging from civil rights and race to Vietnam and sexual customs, awkwardly intruding social idealism into a government enmeshed in Vietnam. Congressman James A. Leach (R-Iowa) has observed: “President Nixon was clearly embarrassed by inheritance of this Kennedy/Shriver treasure and frankly apprehensive that America’s best youth would come home committed to a non-realpolitik internationalism that might not suit his party’s banner. But

he didn’t have the political capital to bury the institution, so he chose to hide it, by reducing its size and institutionally downgrading its status and putting it under a newly created umbrella agency called ACTION.” (It was President Carter who declared the Corps a fully autonomous agency in a 1979 executive order.)

This conflictual origin underlying the Peace Corps’ peculiarity within government is not unique. It continues a tradition of pacifist enterprises defined by war. For centuries peace initiatives expressed deliberative aftermaths of war, climates of fear or moral concern preceding possible war, or dissent during war. Peace has been seen as the absence of violence or as the mitigation of legitimate or illegitimate force. So pervasive is this paradigm that we call police officers, who labor amid actual and / or potential violence, peace officers. Peace initiatives are encumbered with the political baggage and vocabulary of violence. This often conspicuously impedes stated objectives, as with the League of Nations. A feature of this custom of talking peace in the language of war has been the conceptualization of peace pursuits as non-technological. Military pursuits, it is assumed, demand budgets for sophisticated technologies; peace pursuits, if supported by well-equipped militaries, require only the non-technological arts of power brokers –the world of Machiavelli’s 16-century treatise The Prince.

“Many of the diplomatic techniques on which we rely are archaic,” Kennedy’s US Ambassador to India J.K.Galbraith wrote in his 1969 essay “The American Ambassador”. After 35 years this remains so, engendering budgets that favor soldiers over diplomats. The identification of peace pursuits with ancient, non-technological skills is reinforced by anti-technological philosophies

associating advanced technology with war and such undesirable effects as environmental despoliation. This bias underpins the concept of the military-industrial complex and the undervaluation of links between peaceful

socio-economic structures and technological development (see economic historian John U. Nef’s 1950 study “War and Human Progress”).

In a high-technology world, then, the Peace Corps operates anomalously in a climate in which peace is seen in terms of war and of a history of ideas

associating advanced technology with war. However, far from advanced technology being a military preserve, Admiral Owens, the former Vice

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, believes the US military is dangerously underserved in advanced technologies (which for practical purposes means

information technologies). And not only the military but government generally. This view is given added credence by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has arisen expressly because of intelligence-processing agency failures, due partly to internal politics but significantly to inadequate technology. Clearly, high technology is not just the business of war. It is very much the business of peace: of building information-processing structures for a peaceful, secure, efficient, competitive America able to maintain global leadership, effectively export a peace that is not only an absence of war but a positive global model of economic growth, and share information infrastructure and knowledge with other nations. In this context a rebudgeted Peace Corps with state-of-the-art technologies is a peace-exporting instrument of incalculably great advantage to US interests.

In discussion for this article Owens told me: “Technology means the end of the era of the lonely Peace Corps worker cut off from his support base. A Peace Corps volunteer can now be set down in a desert or on a remote plain

without any modern amenity, and have with him or her a compact computer or array of computers, powered by solar cells, making available to local

residents a library of hundreds of volumes under Corps supervision. Via satellite, Corps officers and their beneficiaries can connect virtually

constantly with Washington and a Corps telecommunity worldwide.” Unknowingly echoing President Carter’s words, he added: “The technology is available now.” For Peace Corps personnel used to missions in areas without electricity, let alone resources even distantly approaching those Owens describes, technological empowerment offers an extraordinarily exciting prospect, as is the Peace Corps expansion scenario that this implies. But does the political will exist to mobilize a Corps using the most sophisticated technology available to share America’s skills, values and knowledge with other nations via electronic access to US libraries, teachers and knowledge pools, and staffing consistent with international peace promotion? This question exposes how we define the pursuit of peace.

If we see the pursuit of peace as primarily a function of military and consular actions, it would not be inappropriate to see the Corps as at best a benign but essentially peripheral function whose federal purpose is analogous to that of a marginal public relations outpost of a large corporation. This role matches the Corps’ current resources: a fiscus of $319.5 million, 7700 volunteers. The hope is for 11 250 personnel by 2008 “at a rate consistent with funding levels and infrastructure support”, Peace Corps Director Gaddi H.Vasquez has stated. But President Bush’s 2001 inaugural support of Peace Corps growth has not translated into appropriations. A telling example is a 2004 Peace Corps request for USAID funds for use in poverty-stricken Niger. This request was to assign Corps volunteers to help fledgling democratically elected local governments in Niger to engage their unaccustomed economic and social development responsibilities.

The new mayors and council members have no experience at all in local government. Many are illiterate. They very much want Peace Corps help,

reports Director Bullington. Such a project offers the US an opportunity to implement a conspicuous, innovative expression of American idealism and commitment to promote democracy, accomplishments which have special geopolitical importance in an Islamic country (which Niger is). But the request was declined. The annual amount that could not be found for it: about $200,000. It is thought-provoking to consider this alongside the 2005 profiles of the Department of Defense (2.3 million military personnel; almost 700,000 civilian personnel; discretionary budget authority of $401.7 billion) and State Department (30 266 personnel; discretionary budget authority of $10.3 billion).

In 1996, Peace Corps Director Loret Miller Ruppe reported: “This agency’s budget has less in purchasing power than when Sargent (Shriver) left it in the ’60s. In 1981 it was listed in the 150 Account under ‘miscellaneous’ … Its budget was less than the military marching band.” For an agency exporting peace, signaling the US’s highest values to the world, and disseminating US

democracy, literacy, health practices and other desired national characteristics, these circumstances are egregious. Much consular,

ambassadorial and attaché work is not proactive peace promotion in the same sense that Peace Corps work is. It is, indeed, unfair to expect conventional diplomats to provide the services that idealistically motivated Corps volunteers are uniquely positioned to supply. Budgets should reflect this fact, and the growing significance to US interests of the Corps’ mission.

Director Ruppe said in 1996: “The Peace Corps is needed now more than ever. It is our nation’s greatest peace-building machine.” She asked: “Is peace simply the absence of war? Or is it the absence of the conditions that bring on war, the conditions of hunger, disease, poverty, illiteracy and despair?” It would be unrealistic to expect the Corps to solve such problems. But it is surely among the most effective tools available to export the values, motivations and knowledge without which they cannot be solved. The power of example and passionately impelled personal instruction by idealistic young

civilians can scarcely be equaled as a global communication medium for the US. These are the assets the Corps offers America in its urgent quest for foreign remediation. They are potent for any policy that is seriously predicated on President Bush’s second inaugural address. “There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom, ” the President said, adding: “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom

I would love to hear any thoughts, agreements, disagreements, questions anyone back at home might have on these issues.


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