A peace academy: costly and needless
More than 100 members of the United States Congress, including a majority of Senators, have agreed to be cosponsors of identical bills in the House and the Senate which, if enacted by Congress, would establish a US Academy of Peace. While acting on the best of intentions and beliefs, these men and women are acting contrary to the best interests of the US in supporting these bills.
President Reagan recently received the final report of the US Commission on Proposals for a National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution. This report is the result of a year-long study by a panel of distinguished Americans which toured the country taking testimony of specialists and concerned laymen on whether the Congress should appropriate funds to create a new national educational institution to train graduate students, do research, and act in other ways to promote peace and conflict resolution. This and other newspapers have reported on this commission, its report, and the subsequent draft legislation proposed by the commission to establish an academy of peace.
One might construe that those opposing such an idea might also be against motherhood and the flag. And yet the proposal to create a new academy is, indeed , not in the national interest nor an appropriate undertaking for the federal government.
First, such an academy would be duplicative of the work of existing institutions. There are dozens of schools, colleges, and universities throughout the US which today have relevant departments or courses, do research, and in other ways concern themselves with peace and conflict resolution. These institutions do an excellant job with severely limited resources: it simply does not make economic sense to create a new academy when existing private institutuions are doing the job. The fact that peace and conflict resolution remain elusive in the world does not mean that there is a federal solution to these problems or that existing institutions have ''failed.'' It merely means that peace and conflict resolution are elusive and will always be so.
Second, the proposal for this academy betrays a fundamental flaw in its assumptions about the nature of conflict resolution. This putative academy purports to identify common threads running through family, national, and international conflicts and implies that studying them together will suggest the means of their resolution. However, to contend that training for international conflict resolution goes along generically and logically with training for the resolution of, say, parent-child conflicts, mixes apples and oranges. This presumption is highly debatable at the very least and hardly forms a sound basis for the creation of such an academy.
Third, this proposal for a national academy also suggests that the study of peace and conflict resolution can be abstracted from other aspects of the study of international affairs, including history, culture, development, and communications. In fact, there is no such thing as ''peace studies'' or ''conflict resolution studies.'' Each is a part of a much broader and more complex series of studies and relationships. To create a national academy on this facile basis would not only oversimplify the issues, but would also create unrealistic expectations.
Fourth, the proposed $66 million cost of building and operating such a national academy over the next four years would not be cost-effective. This is a specialists' field, and the most effective use of the limited number of available specialists is to concentrate them in the nationally recognized university centers for training and research in these matters. We live in an era when we all agree budgets should be trimmed and no new projects started without very good cause. The fact is that this money could be better spent elsewhere, on existing institutions and programs which focus on these issues. This so-called academy of peace would be a needless expansion of the federal bureaucracy.
Fifth, and probably most importantly, the creation of a national academy of peace and conflict resolution would run contrary to the American tradition of pluralism in education and research. The US has never created academies for the training of Foreign Service Officers and other international affairs professionals because the Congress has had faith in the American system of education. Decentralization has been the American style of education (with the exceptions of the national military academies). The strength and continued vitality of the American system of education, training, research, and experimentation owes much to the commendable restraint of the federal government. This is no time and no place for the federal government to interfere with the world's finest and most effective private educational system.
This is not to say that there is no role for the federal government to play in training and research on the subjects of peace and conflict resolution. On the contrary, these subjects are of the utmost importance to the future peace and prosperity of the US, and the federal government should take an active interest in supporting and promoting the study of them. Fortunately, there are a number of existing federal mechanisms which can and continue to accomplish just these goals.
One such mechanism is Title VI of the Higher Education Act. This title provides for federal funding of ''national resource centers'' for training and research in foreign language and international studies. This title, from its previous location in the National Defense Education Act, has provided modest support (last year around $8 million) since 1958 for colleges and universities engaged in a wide variety of international studies. Some of these federally supported centers sponsor training and research in peace and conflict resolution. How can the Congress even consider the appropriation of $66 million for a national academy when a mechanism exists, in the form of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, to do the job at significantly lower cost? If we as a nation truly believe that the federal role in our lives should be reduced, should we not look to such cost-effective means as already exist?
At a time when the US needs ever better-trained specialists in international affairs, we need to support such training, including in conflict resolution. But let's do it as we have traditionally, inexpensively through our existing educational system and not through the creation of a costly new federal bureaucracy.