Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Diplomacy Needs a Museum

On prime real estate on the Capitol Square in Madison, WI is the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. It contains exhibits on all the major wars from the Civil War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Wisconsin citizens have served in. There are similar, but smaller museums in Milwaukee and Oshkosh. They are funded by a combination of Veterans Administration funds, donations of old equipment by the Defense Department, private donations and bookshop sales. If we conservatively estimate that each one receives $100,000 annually in taxpayer funds to pay for rent, salaries, and display expenses that is a total cost of $.3 million in Wisconsin alone. If we conservatively multiply that by 30 to 40 times (to account for smaller New England and Eastern states that may only have a single museum each) this amounts to a total of $9 million to $12 million annually to subsidize American military history.

There are two other types of taxpayer funded military museums--those on military bases funded by the Defense Dept. and military battlefield national parks funded by the Interior Dept. I'm not claiming that this is wasted money--it is important that the country's citizens have a chance to learn the cost of war. Battlefield National Parks are popular tourist destinations and useful for training young Army and Marine Corps officers in tactics. The base museums help to educate officers on combined arms operations and the functions of the various branches of their services. But these museums create a distortion, funded by the taxpayers. Foreign policy is most effective when there is a tight coordination between military threat and diplomacy. The public is being educated about the means and reality of the deterrent half of the equation, but not about the diplomatic half. There is no public museum yet dedicated to diplomacy.

During the bloody twentieth century several methods of conflict resolution were developed following the end of World War I and continuing after World War II. First, on the initiative of President Woodrow Wilson and Prime Minister Jan Smuts of South Africa the League of Nations was established as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. It failed to prevent World War II, but it did sponsor the first peacekeeping forces (in Central Europe) and a system of mandates for supervising the administration of the conquered German and Ottoman territories and colonies. There was also a major experiment in naval arms control in the 1920s and early 1930s that eventually broke down because of Germany and Japan. Following World War II these early attempts were renewed and expanded under the auspices of the United Nations. The UN took over supervising the League of Nations mandates as UN Trusteeships. Starting in 1957 a system of peacekeeping forces was developed with forces donated on an ad hoc basis by UN member nations for specific peacekeeping missions around the world--particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Starting with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 (which also involved Britain) there was a regime of nuclear arms control negotiated between the two superpowers resulting in a series of arms control treaties in the 1970s and 1980s that proved much more successful than the naval arms control of the 1920s. And for internal civil wars, political sciences have developed a theory of consociationalism or power sharing based on the experiences of four Western European countries after World War II. This has proved successful in ending the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Museum specialists using maps, photos, copies of treaties, etc. could build a museum dedicated to diplomacy and conflict resolution as interesting as any military museum. And think of all the material that Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East and Africa and two Camp David summits (1978, 2000) would provide the museum! Such a museum could educate the public about the means at diplomats disposal for resolving conflicts, keeping the peace, and creating a relatively peaceful world. Those who attend universities and major in international relations and political science are educated about these techniques. But the wider public is largely ignorant of them.  

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell started work on establishing a Museum of American Diplomacy and visitors center at the State Dept. It is still not completed.

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