Road Maps vs Cake Maps: Johan Galtung offers alternative for Syria

The United Nations have initiated long-awaited Syrian peace talks, but the talks are off to a rocky start with the guest list itself a subject for dispute among the parties involved.

We spoke with Professor Johan Galtung from Transcend International, whose work in negotiating in peace talks is well-known, to get his predictions for Syria.

Professor Galtung does not hold high hopes for the talks, and said that there are two issues that will likely kill the negotiations.

Firstly, while he believes the issues on the table are worthy, he said the traditional approach of a “road map” is flawed. He argues that the idea of a road that leads to peace is problematic in the sense that a road can be blocked. A linear peace process, he explains, with one step after another can be stalled by obstacles.

“Roads twist, turn and may be far from straight,” he said.

So if not a road map, then what should we be using?

Professor Galtung suggests a “cake map”. He paints a picture of parties sitting around a table to divide up issues, without the linear progression of events. The proposed issues of monitored ceasefires, constitutions, and election issues, would all still be served, with parties addressing the problems simultaneously.

The logic of the cake, he said, is “all at the same time”.

“The cake is an issue; the slices are aspects. How it is defined, how it is cut, who are invited is essential. Basic to the cake map is equality among parties and slices: all get theirs at the same time.”

History is also something to be mindful of when deciding on solutions, he adds. The formation of Syria as a nation, and past grievances and traumas need to be addressed.

“A commission on the Ottoman period, exploring millets for minorities, is indispensable,” he said.

“Imagine that the cake is defined as, “the conflict formation in and around Syria”; that the slices are the [numerous conflicts] with one commission for each; that around the table are the actors mentioned, some grouped together.”

He said that what is often missing in peace talks is the vision of the final goal. He warns that trying to achieve a ceasefire without at least a vision for the future of the region is not just unrealistic, but can often cause more harm than good.

He said what he’s coined a “cake map” has been used in the past, but has been neglected of late as a negotiating style.

His second issue with Syrian peace talks is the exclusion of ISIS in the negotiations. He said you don’t have to like the major players in a conflict, but you do have to invite them.

“A process excluding major process parties is doomed in advance,” Professor Galtung explains.

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