Posted on Aug 03, 2022
Club member (and resident advocate for peaceful relations) Bill Timpson, for our in-person meeting on August 3, presented detailed information about the UN-established University for Peace in Costa Rica and used that information as a base for talking about efforts toward peaceful relations in several other countries around the world as well as with ourselves, friends and colleagues.
The university, founded in 1980, has some six faculty and 150 students working in Master’s and Doctoral degree programs aimed at the causes of multiple problems affecting human and global wellbeing, contributing to the processes of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  Studies range across some 18 Master’s programs concentrating on areas like diplomacy, climate change, security & governance, sustainable food systems, natural resource management, gender, indigenous science, international law, peace education, religion, and sustainable economic development.  The tuition of some $23,000 would seem prohibitive, but individuals from many countries are participating.
The university is sited in Costa Rica because of its peaceful paradigm shift in a region otherwise haunted by military revolts and violence.  In 1948, Costa Rica abolished their military and used the savings to improve the quality of its education, health care, and environmental protection.  In a YES! Magazine survey of sustainable happiness (how happy the citizens are, how long they live, and how much of the planets resources they each consume), Costa Rica comes in first, USA comes in #122.  The country has reversed the process of deforestation, has focused on sustainable practices in managing their forest areas, and is working toward becoming the first carbon-neutral country (no fossil fuels for electricity since Dec. 2014, renewable power for 300 days in 2017).  People on the street are proud of the fact that they have figured out how to resolve conflicts without soldiers and without guns.  When threatened by neighboring Nicaragua, the police across the country were organized into a temporary militia to counter the threat, then returned to their normal duties when the threat went away.
Costa Rica has become an example for others yet the costs may discourage some students.  As another example, consider the Rotary Peace Center in Thailand which is fully funded for those who are admitted and has contributed to peaceful security behind tourism, the second leading source of income in the country.  As yet another example of a bold example for reducing the threats of war, consider what the Center for Citizen Initiative accomplished. Begun as the brain-child of author Sharon Tennison, this grass roots effort encouraged development of sister-city relationships between the US and the USSR, contributing to defusing the nuclear arms race.  As yet another example, in Burundi, after many years of civil war peacebuilding efforts have been started by actions of local Rotary clubs, for example, by focusing on improving water systems and community health, as well as cooperation between community, university, and school leaders in other sustainable peacebuilding efforts that have contributed to establishment of peace across the country.  In the US, a “peace garden” in Boulder, along with establishment of sister-city relationships across the world, and a “peace park” in South Carolina testify to the possibility of local actions contributing to global understanding and peace. 
The example of the University for Peace as well as the other efforts described show that the skills for sustainable peacebuilding can be taught.  These include peacekeeping (separating fighters), peacemaking (creating new policies), sustainable peacebuilding (improving communication and creative thinking), restorative principles (healing, learning, accountability, giving back), and developing mediation and negotiation skills.  Bill asked, rhetorically, whether the examples from Costa Rica and other peace-building initiatives (e.g., concentrating on health and the environment rather than on military forces) might be applied to other areas of conflict around the world.  In partial response, he commented on several tough, complex cases around the world: gun violence, climate change and associated refugees, publicly funded military academies but no peace academies, threat of nuclear war, international conflicts (including Ukraine).  He focused on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine: protests against the previous totalitarian government, the rise of neo-Nazis, the invasion by Russia, the legacy of destroyed infrastructure and widely dispersed land mines, the focus on a strong nation-state in Russia, and the rebuffed efforts by Ukrainian President Zelensky to improve relations with Russia. 
Finally, Bill referenced his own book, “Learning Life’s Lessons: Inspirational Tips for Creating Peace in Troubled Times” from Peace Knowledge Press with all post-cost revenues going to the International Institute for Peace Education and the Global Campaign for Peace Education. 
Is there hope for or need for financial help for the University of Peace?  Bill said that would be welcomed but did not provide a mechanism for making donations. 
What about the problems that do exist in Costa Rica?  Although there are problems with petty theft and prostitution, the country seems to handle them as well as most of the countries in the area.  As for problems with nearby countries, they prefer to handle them by themselves, rather than trying to get assistance from the US.  The recognize the issue that getting assistance from a super power may ultimately require you to compromise your own ethics. 
How do you counter the idea that one person cannot do much in his lifetime?  No matter how small your effort and no matter how far into the future the result might be, your contribution will matter – and many contributions mount up. 
How about comparison of Costa Rica with Switzerland?  Switzerland has successfully adopted a fiercely neutral attitude.  Finland and Sweden were, until recently, similar, but are now re-aligning based on the Russian expansiveness.  Leads to the question of how we introduce new ideas. 
With respect to financing of peace studies, Bill pointed to scholarships from Rotary in Fort Collins.  He also pointed to local efforts, for example, to improve water quality in communities in the Americas. 
Does the activity by youth in Burundi have any implications for activities of youth in Ukraine?  Bill was hopeful in this regard.