Past and present work

My main work interest is how we deal with conflict – how to prevent it, how to stop it once it has broken out, how to help people survive it, and how to recover from it.
War is such a scourge that we need to be as well organised as we possibly can be, to stop it.  It kills millions of people – something like half of them children – and causes misery for millions more.  I’m interested in how we can have a well-organised approach to each individual conflict, and to conflict-stopping in general.
The medical profession is an interesting parallel.  We are well organised in how we deal with disease, at least in countries which are relatively peaceful and prosperous.  I’d like to see a similarly organised approach to dealing with war.  There are important differences: human behaviour doesn’t follow the scientific rules that our biological selves do.  But we could still invest in a well-trained and well-led set of organisations that do as much as can be done to deal with conflict.
There has been a lot of progress on this: the founding of the United Nations and a great deal besides.  But there is much further to go before we can be said to be making our best effort.  Many of the international community’s approaches to conflicts have been disorganised, often making basic errors, usually with far too little effort in view of the seriousness of a particular situation.
Reconciliation is a big interest of mine.  There is great joy in seeing two or more people settle their differences and make lasting peace with each other (however much they may dislike it at the time) when previously they had a seemingly unbridgeable gap between them.  I’m interested in anything and everything to do with reconciliation including who’s good at it, what prevents it, and how we can learn to be better at it.
For me the above interests have resulted in the following attempts to prevent or deal with conflict:
  • British Army officer 1987-1991.  Served in:
    • Cyprus, including with the UN Peacekeeping Force
    • Germany, as part of NATO forces aiming to deter the Warsaw Pact
    • Namibia, with the British Military Advisory and Training Team which helped the newly independent Namibia to create a peacetime Defence Force after the end of the civil war.  There had been free and fair elections followed by the departure of the occupying South African forces, so the country needed a small regular Army.  They created it out of the two sides who previously had been fighting each other.
    • Northern Ireland, as part of the security forces aiming to serve both communities by deterring violence and upholding the rule of law, while political negotiations searched for a lasting peaceful settlement.  That, we hope and pray, arrived later on with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
  • Cease-fire monitor and negotiator, Croatia and Bosnia, 1992-3, as part of the European Community Monitor Mission
  • UN aid coordination in Rwanda, 1994-5, as part of the United Nations Rwanda Emergency Office (UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs), after the end of the genocide.  A Rwandan government official and I jointly set up and ran the Integrated Operations Centre for humanitarian aid, within the Ministry that was responsible for aid.
  • Managed relief and development programmes, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 1997-8, for Christian Aid (a non-governmental organisation sponsored by British and Irish churches).  This period included the last part of the 1996-7 war and the first part of what is now known as the Second Congo War that began in August 1998.
  • Served as an election monitor for the OSCE in Kosovo's first post-conflict elections, in 2000.
  • Consulting for aid agencies, the British government, and others, 1999-2012.  Included:
    • Evaluation of aid programmes
    • Studying, for a consortium of aid agencies, whether a humanitarian ombudsman would be desirable and feasible
    • Training for aid agencies in managing the security of their people in conflict areas
    • Helping aid agencies to write and implement security policies and procedures
    • Writing the Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisations commissioned by the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the emergency humanitarian donor arm of the EU
    • Surge support to the operations room of the Department for International Development (DFID) during various humanitarian emergencies
    • Lecturing at the UK military Staff College and some other UK and overseas military, police, and peacekeeping colleges on the international emergency aid system, and on civil-military coordination
    • Taking teams of experienced humanitarian managers to the UK Staff College to take part in crisis response exercises
    • Designed and ran a series of Stabilisation Courses for the UK Stabilisation Unit aimed at civil servants, military officers and civilian specialists working on stabilisation of conflicts overseas
    • Reviewed, together with a lessons specialist from industry, cross-government lesson-learning in relation to conflict, on behalf of DFID, the FCO and the MOD, and recommended a substantially strengthened system
  • Led the contracted team supporting the UK Stabilisation Unit, 2012-2019.  The Stabilisation Unit is a cross-governmental operational agency supporting the UK government's efforts to tackle instability overseas.  The contracted team provides much of the operational capacity of the Stabilisation Unit.  Its responsibilities include deploying civilian specialists to conflict areas on behalf of the government; security advice; procurement; surge support; and logistics. 

Other work interests are described here.


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