Peace Parks resurgens (2)

Today, the idea of ‘peace parks’ in post-conflict rebuilding has largely fallen out-of-favour after past disappointments; but given the increasing awareness of healthy eco-systems being vital to human well-being as well as the devastating escalation in wildlife trading and poaching, it is worth re-evaluating the concept in the light of fresh research and attitudes which combine practical environmental protection and peace-building that draw organic inspiration from Lucretius’s idea of the supreme pleasure gained from peace and the protection of Nature.

In 1932, the world’s first international ‘peace park’, the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park, was created on the US-Canada border: the establishment of a ‘peace park’ between two allies seems curious, given the general assumption today that ‘peace parks’ are about building trust and security between hostile neighbours.

However, the main purpose of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was about sending a general message of ‘peace on earth’, coming against an historic backdrop of fresh scars from World War One, the Depression and hints of another world war.

Since the creation of the Waterton-Glacier ‘peace park’, located roughly in the middle of the longest border in the world, it became the template for the steady expansion of the ‘peace park’ concept which in its most idealistic conception also involves trans-frontier, free movement.

Shortly after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, former South African president, Nelson Mandela, spoke at an elephant reintroduction ceremony held at the new Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park, which includes portions of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe: ‘in the wake of the terrible shock with which the entire world learnt of the acts of terrorism in the United States, we faced and continue to face the prospects of conflict on a world-wide scale . . . in a world beset by conflict and division, peace is one of the corner-stones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world’, Mandela said.

With Arthur Westing’s crucial book, ‘Transfrontier Reserves for Peace and Nature: A contribution to global security’, providing the intellectual impetus, the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park was idealistically seen as the launch-pad for a grand ‘peace park’ movement across southern Africa and even the world, attempting to reinvent the Waterton-Glacier park’s ideals of global peace by asking neighbours to put aside their differences and give whole-hearted support to biodiversity conservation as a political construction, creating a win-win situation.

By ‘messaging’ opposition to hostility, insecurity, and of course war and conflict, in effect the park was building an ideological superstructure on the twin pillars of biodiversity and peace.

The omens were not good, however, given that the foundations of the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park were built on the detritus of a century-long history among the tri-partite signatories of patchy co-operation, sometimes conflict and coercion, between various political regimes. And so it proved.

The Krakow Protocol, signed in 1924 by Poland and Czechoslovakia, was actually the first instrument of international co-operation using border parks, resulting in three joint park areas. However, the idea of fostering peace through nature was not indicated as a goal in the manner of the Waterton-Glacier Park; rather, the protected areas were seen as an opportunity to preserve a natural landscape that crossed an international border and was one of the first attempts to mitigate a border dispute, in this case left over from World War One, through joint management for the benefit of all.

More recently, the rise of the visionary ‘peace park’ concept came against a background of the Cold War ending and the replacement of previous colonialism and divisive regimes of southern Africa with the idealism of the victorious ‘liberation’ movements. Thus, African wildlife conservation allied to ‘peace parks’ were to symbolise the dawning of the bright ‘new’ southern Africa.

Another factor was the consolidation of environmentalism in the public’s post-Cold War consciousness – partly fuelled by anti-nuclear warfare protests – following environmentalism’s rapid rise in the Seventies with groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

However, hopes for peace in the post-Cold War order were shattered by the atrocities and political mayhem of the civil wars in the Balkans and Africa, prompting a more nuanced understanding of the impact of war on the environment along with campaigns like ‘blood diamonds’ and ‘conflict timber’ as well as a ground-breaking study: ‘War in Biodiversity Hotspots’ highlighted data that showed an uncanny overlap between a high incidence of wars since World War Two with areas holding high levels of biodiversity, without identifying the linking mechanisms.

The fortunes of the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park are instructive of the difficulties facing the peace and conservation nexus, driven as they are by the twin forces of idealism and on-the-ground reality which can pull in different directions.

After the initial surge of enthusiasm and political grand-standing, the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park became bogged down in all manner of practical and diplomatic issues but not before South Africa had pulled up a large amount of fencing along the Mozambique border. This gesture of fraternalism was repaid instead by large numbers of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique using the park to enter South Africa which coincided with a sky-rocketing rise in rhinos being poached in South Africa; overall, the political result was a gradual waning of general collaboration between the three park signatories. Today, the park has been relaunched, though significantly, with the political narrative heavily scaled back with conservation coming to the fore.

From within the nomenclature of peace, parks and borders emerge territorial definitions such as Trans-boundary Protected Areas (TBPA), Trans-frontier Conservation Areas (TFCA), Protected Areas (PA), Protected Areas Adjoining International Boundaries (PAAIB), and of course ‘peace parks’; while globally there are a number of national parks across the world exhibiting varying levels of cross-border co-operation, it is only the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park between Botswana and South Africa that pursues integrated joint management of a park.

While many parks are located in borderlands, on the national geographical periphery – a key founding element of borders has been to create rural buffer-lands to protect urban habitation and infra-structure from coercive neighbours – nevertheless the parks are seen as icons of nationhood and nation rebuilding: the Kruger Park in South Africa, for instance, began as a joint project to unite the Afrikaner and Anglo factions of ‘white’ South Africa after the Boer War and then morphed into a symbol of the ‘rainbow nation’ South Africa.

The Krakow Protocol highlights the dichotomy about whether aligning active promotion of non-violence and peace with the conservation of Nature is designed to the highest Lucretian ideals or whether actually, Nature is being ‘securitised’ in the less idealistic interests of politics, diplomacy and ultimately, national security.

Here the topic of ‘militarization’ has emerged via a critique of poaching counter-measures into a broader examination of the roles of state and non-state actors in both conservation per se as well as its relationship with the local people. While ‘militarisation’ generally implies the use of force, it crosses a wide terrain across from the use of violence, including ‘shoot-to-kill’, to other conceptual critiques of counter-poaching, such as ‘green militarization’ and ‘green violence’, which generally carry a negative connotation.

The co-mingling of conservation with ‘remote’ law enforcement will certainly increase; for example, The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have established a Conservation Technology Unit (CTU), which in alliance theWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Carolina Zoo and CITES, has developed SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) to detect species status changes and facilitate a rapid response to any threat.

Critics of ‘militarisation’ instead point to empowerment schemes via job creation, education and health programmes to get local people to ‘invest’ in biodiversity protection.

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