Oslo: a Global Knowledge Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

By entering into a new strategic cooperation agreement, the University of Oslo and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) wish to contribute to solidify Oslo’s role as a global powerhouse for knowledge about the prevention and resolution of armed conflict.

  • Ole Petter Ottersen, Rector, University of Oslo
  • Kristian Berg Harpviken, Director, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Signing the cooperation agreement. Photo: Martin Tegnander / PRIO

The world is undergoing profound political change. After World War II, we have evolved from a period of Cold War dominated by two superpowers, to nearly three decades with a single dominant superpower and a strong commitment to the finding of shared solutions. Now we see the position of the United States being challenged by other powers, in particular China and Russia, while at the same time there are major forces within the United States pushing for a more isolationist policy. Nationalism, including its more intolerant forms, is on the rise in large parts of the world. International institutions are being weakened. There is a growing willingness to use armed force, political leaders are once again talking about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, and major wars between states are not unthinkable.

Against this background, it is more important than ever to remember what has been achieved. We often hear about progress in relation to health, education, the reduction of poverty, and other key areas of development. Much has also been achieved, however, in the area of peace. The reports from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen make gruesome reading. It is in these countries that we find well over 80% of the people who lost their lives in connection with armed combat in 2015. But in an ever-larger part of the world, people are living without war.

The Colombia accord, which was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, ended the last war on the American continent. The solutions reached were Colombian, and had been honed through years of negotiations between the parties. At the same time, the solutions bore the hallmarks of knowledge about what had worked in other places. There is little doubt that the international commitment to conflict resolution, peace-keeping forces, and multifaceted development initiatives has made the world a better place for very many people. We know a lot about what works. The challenge now is to understand the current global changes and to further develop our knowledge, so that we will be better equipped for dealing with the threats of tomorrow.

Oslo is uniquely well placed for making a contribution. Norway has, throughout changes of government, been involved in a number of peace processes and gained status as one of the world’s leading countries in pursuing peaceful solutions to conflict. The Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded each year in Oslo, places the city on the map for the media and people interested in politics all over the world. A number of other milieus in the fields of civil society, the knowledge sector, and public administration also possess solid expertise. The University of Oslo and PRIO both have leading research environments internationally and aim to ensure Oslo’s further development as a global knowledge centre in the field of peace and conflict studies.

The University of Oslo possesses expertise in most areas linked to peace and conflict. The spectrum is broad: from political power-sharing principles and economic inequality, via the significance of religion and ideology, the principles of international law and human rights, to public health outcomes and the treatment of trauma. Many of the university’s researchers make important contributions that individually attract international attention, yet a clearer branding of the thematic could both generate new synergies and ensure wider dissemination.

PRIO is dedicated to the study of peace and conflict and is generally recognized as a leading research milieu worldwide in this area. A recent assessment of Norwegian social science research institutions highlighted PRIO as an example that others should strive to emulate. Many research topics at PRIO are shared with research departments at the University of Oslo, and there is extensive cooperation, both formally and informally. But there is often a need for high-level expertise that goes beyond what a single institution may possess. Experiences from existing cooperation arrangements also show that there is great potential to boost research-based teaching.

This is the background against which the University of Oslo and PRIO entered into a strategic cooperation agreement in October 2016. The vision is to secure Oslo’s future role as a global hub for knowledge in this area. We wish to do this by cooperating not only on research and teaching, but also on externally-oriented dissemination and by working together with policymakers and practitioners who drive processes both in Norway and internationally. We have a good foundation, through existing cooperation arrangements and close-knit networks, and we are well underway towards developing new projects in a number of areas.

Our two organizations start from rather different points, in size, orientation and role. It is precisely these differences that lend strength to our cooperation arrangement. PRIO, as a medium-sized institution, is flexible, has close contacts with the users of its knowledge, and is globally recognized as a leader in the area of peace and conflict research. The University of Oslo, a large university with teaching as a central part of its mission, possesses specialist expertise in a number of relevant areas. Cooperation will have the potential to release new energy, promote new academic links, and strengthen the connection between world-leading research and teaching.

We are introducing a new series of seminars, which will be inaugurated on 24 May with Erica Chenoweth, perhaps the world’s most influential researcher on non-violence. Chenoweth is monitoring in real-time the growing resistance to President Trump in the United States, and will compare this movement with what is known about non-violent mobilizations around the world. Her lecture will be followed by a panel debate between Chenoweth and leading politicians, academics and commentators. This event is a manifestation of what our cooperation should aspire to be: knowledge-based, highly topical, and in close dialogue with decision-makers and informed members of the general public.

Several factors must be in place if we are to succeed in the long term. One factor is resources. Currently we are working to secure funding for a number of specific initiatives. At the same time we recognize that dedicated resources for managing the interface between the two institutions will be very important. We also see that localization is important, and are investigating possibilities for PRIO to secure premises in the vicinity of Campus Blindern, where most of the university’s relevant research departments are located. We must also work on our administrative systems in order to facilitate flexible cooperation. We are, and shall continue to be, different organizations, with distinct strengths and missions. Precisely these differences, combined with a strong desire to succeed together, will ensure that Oslo continues to offer vital contributions helping the world handle conflicts in the wisest possible manner.

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