“Traditionally, natural resources have been thought of as a source of conflict…but what we’ve been trying to do is look at the other side of the story, which is that natural resources, in terms of their quality, can create that impulse for conservation and cooperation,” said Saleem Ali, professor of environmental studies and director of the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at the University of Vermont, while speaking at the Wilson Center.
This narrative around peace parks or transboundary conservation areas that are used for peacebuilding is a relatively recent field of research, said Ali. “It’s one thing to have a protected area on a border and have cooperation between friendly parties – like the U.S. and Canada,” he said, “and it’s a totally different thing to explore this in areas where there’s a history of protracted violent conflict.”
Yet, Ali said, we have “a good institutional framework for understanding what kind of parks could potentially be developed.” Cooperation between Ecuador and Peru in the Cordillera del Condor protected area, for example, is an incidence where transboundary conservation was actually written into the peace process between two warring states. Recent tragedies on the Siachen glaciers highlight another case where calls have been made to use peace parks as a way to demilitarize a contentious border over which India and Pakistan have long argued.
Questions remain though about the capacity of conservation processes to sustain peace, and “whether micro-conflicts that might arise through any conservation being practiced can be managed effectively.” Peace parks established in South Africa after apartheid, for example, produced “micro-conflicts between the haves and the have-nots – the classic conflict between conservation as an exclusionary arena versus a more inclusionary vision.”