Conflict Studies and Management Program’s Study Trip to Berlin

The second annual Conflict Studies and Management Program (CSMP) trip to Berlin offered students a forum for shared learning, networking, and useful lessons in group dynamics.

This year’s Berlin excursion combined two culminating activities—the final presentation of the Innovations in Peace Operations project group and the commencement of another introductory semester for the CSMP. For those involved in the former, this presented a unique opportunity to not only deliver a tangible and useful product to a valued partner organization, but also to take time to revisit and reflect on topics introduced during last year’s whirlwind tour of ministries and NGOs. For those celebrating the latter, this was an introduction to the inspiring grandeur of the German capital, as well as a lesson in frenetic urban navigation.


Following the sound accomplishment of the project group presentation, the client organization, ZIF (Zentrum für Internationale Friedenseinsätze), graciously welcomed the larger student group for a second day to review contemporary trends in international peace and conflict. As the agency responsible for training and deploying German civilians to various peace operations, ZIF offered invaluable insight into the demands of and challenges facing seconded agents of the German government. We learned that, across a host of metrics, humanity is doing better than ever; for instance, more people are likely to die in 2019 from obesity-related issues than hunger. However, all is not well—social and economic grievances in poor and rich countries alike have sprouted populist and isolationist movements, while the spirit of multilateralism and stability of international organizations is waning. As the will of major powers like China, Russia, and the United States to maintain 20th-century international arrangements becomes more opaque, critical agreements and alliances—and therefore the relative stability they produce—hang in an ever more precarious balance. Most relevant to the European context is the rising influence of right-wing political factions, as well as the extremely uncertain extension of the expiring 1987 INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, which prohibits both Russia and the US from deploying nuclear missiles on European soil. Such a major question is particularly relevant in the context of the OSCE’s largest and most critical mission, the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, where the potential for direct confrontation between East and West looms as the most pressing security threat to Europe (and perhaps beyond).


As we donned our outerwear and jostled outside to a gripping Berlin afternoon, the pace of our journey was not allowed to recede. We collectively speed-walked across the metropolitan avenues only to arrive at a sealed U-Bahn station, where, like a line of fashionably clad ants, we traversed the grassy median to an alternate entrance and filed underground. We re-emerged into the capital district en route to the Federal Foreign Office, where we were greeted by WBS alumnus Julian Untiet for a briefing by the Director of Crisis Prevention and Stabilization. For those students who had not taken part in Professor Adebahr’s course on EU actorness, this briefing was a great alternative perspective on the pragmatic reality of realpolitik. Namely, we were treated to a recounting of Germany’s ascension as a European diplomatic policy-influencer, particularly in the context of “managing migration” from the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region. Additionally, the seasoned diplomat revealed rather candidly that, while the German government’s decision to support ISAF operations in Afghanistan served as a concession to its corollary refusal to assist in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bundeswehr learned important lessons about sustained deployment. While this balance highlights the oft tenuous reality of international relations—even among allies—the larger point was that the experience served to reorient German policymakers to the implications and demands of fielding military forces in an international context; lessons that are now guiding prolonged operations in Mali. As Germany is now poised to assume greater European leadership responsibility, the issues of containing migration and deploying its relatively capable military in support of international counter-terrorism operations will continue to grip the Directorate, which is tasked with crisis prevention and stabilization, especially as it relates to EEAS activities and priorities.


The final day of our trip offered a bit of respite from the hectic schedule as we made our way from the Hauptbahnhof beyond the Brandenburg Tor and sprawling Tiergarten park, back to the palatial office building shared by ZIF and SWP (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) for a briefing about leading research into gangs and illicit networks, particularly in western Africa. This presentation reinforced literature introduced in CSMP curriculum pointing to the insidious and pervasive impacts of corruption and exploitation in the context of international development programs. This reality challenges donor countries and agencies with the necessity to seek measures for holding leaders accountable in the continuance of economic, political, and social development. Unfortunately, the linkage between self-interested government officials or heads of state and criminal networks are often deep and nearly impossible to avoid because strongmen who ascend to power in territories with weak governance or institutional capacity typically wear the dubious double-hat as provider of security and primary predator, relying on gangs to extract rents and suppress collective agency.


The final activity of the week was a visit to the Jewish Museum Berlin for their exhibition, Welcome to Jerusalem. This guided tour walked us through the political and religious development of Jerusalem through Jewish settlement and consolidation of administrative control. We were introduced to artifacts, as well as models of the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque and a comprehensive orientation of their respective significance. Rather than simply reviewing the development of Jerusalem as a religious and political capital, the exhibit deftly addressed the realities of a divided society that could reasonably be described as organized by apartheid, and the implications for the international community seeking to promote peaceful co-existence. Overall, it was an apt ending to the trip for CSMP students, who returned to Erfurt richer for the experience.

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Chris is a veteran of the US Navy, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from California State University - Long Beach, and is a Willy Brandt student in the Conflict Studies and Management Program.