What do you do as a peace and conflict researcher and what characterises your field of research?
Professor Solveig Richter: As a peace and conflict researcher, I do research on and for peace. I study how conflicts and wars arise and what conditions are necessary to create sustainable peace. Of course, I try to do this with a certain distance and objectivity. On the other hand, as a peace and conflict researcher, I can’t detach myself from the conflict process and am always part of its dynamics – no matter if this is during my field research with local communities or as a researcher in Germany who advises politicians. I am also deeply affected by the excess of violence in conflicts such as that in the Middle East. That’s why I research and teach: to use my knowledge in order to make the world a little more peaceful.
As a researcher, what can you do about the many crises?
We are currently seeing how wars and conflicts stir up emotions and also polarise and mobilise. I believe that the challenge for academics is to provide guidance and to bring a certain groundedness to our analyses. We must continue to discuss which policy options are feasible and how they can create sustainable solutions to conflicts and under what conditions. To do this, we need to classify, contextualise and objectively analyse conflict events and provide critical assessment of political decisions. In face of the violence we are currently witnessing in the Middle East, for example, this is certainly difficult even for us as academics. But I definitely see this as our responsibility and our duty. If we can do this, we will have made a contribution to peace and development.
Given the developments in Israel, there is now another trouble spot that is preoccupying the world. How does this affect the support for Ukraine?
The global situation has become much more complex as new, overlapping lines of conflict have emerged. New geopolitical constellations are developing, for example, between states that unconditionally support Israel and states that have sided with Palestine. This is having an impact on support for Ukraine, first by pushing the war down the list of global priorities and in the medium term causing a reduction in military support to Ukraine. We are already seeing this discussion in the United States. And second, building coalitions in support of Ukraine has become more difficult, both within and outside the Western alliance.
In March, the German government appointed you to work on its Platform for the Reconstruction in Ukraine. What does this platform do and what can it achieve?
The platform is a broad alliance of various state and non-state partners such as academics, but also partner cities, companies and semi-governmental organisations, for example, the bank Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW). The platform promotes cooperation between these partners and networking with Ukrainian organisations. It also aims to ensure good coordination and management of the various approaches to supporting Ukraine’s reconstruction. It is hoped that the aid provided to Ukraine will not lead to a typical “mushroom effect”. This happens when large amounts of aid are distributed in an uncoordinated way across a country, ultimately leading to a proliferation of organisations who are receiving aid money. This then feeds corruption at local, regional and national levels, rather than reaching the places where aid is needed such as schools, local authorities and civil society organisations. The aim is therefore to channel aid in a more targeted manner and to have a way of monitoring it.
How has the war affected Ukraine’s development and where do you see Ukraine in 10 years?
We know from previous wars and conflicts in the world that armed conflict delays or stops the development of countries economically, socially and politically for a long time. We see this in a number of areas, for example, in the development of small and medium-sized enterprises and in school and university education. How many students are currently able to attend school in the affected regions? The war will hopefully soon be over, and then at that point the country will be a post-war country. This means that it will have to come to terms with the conflict – for example, on a psychosocial level – rebuild its infrastructure and transform the war economy into normal economic processes. Ten years is really a very short-term time period for this, as we have seen in the countries of the Western Balkans.
What should support for Ukraine look like in the long term?
The support here in Germany, but also in other European countries, should not only consist of a short-term outlook, but also of really considering the question of how we can support the country economically and politically in the long term on its way out of this post-war scenario. This will hopefully materialise at one point. Ukraine needs to be offered prospects for medium- and long-term reconstruction that will enable it to integrate into the EU and at the same time prevent the establishment of undemocratic structures and networks in the shadow of this war.
And how realistic is EU membership?
First of all, we have to realise that Ukraine is a huge country. We are not talking about the integration of small states like the Western Balkans. This is a big challenge for the EU. Politically, I think there is no doubt that Ukraine will join the EU. We see this in the opening of accession negotiations. But the EU enlargement process is not only a political process, it is also a highly technocratic process. It is about the adoption of the acquis communautaire – which is all of the directives, regulations and EU law – and the integration of Ukraine into the European market with all the rights and obligations that this entails. The devil is often in the detail and, so to speak, in administrative capacity. However, Ukraine’s EU membership is politically desirable and therefore realistic. This means that it is not so much a question of if, but only of when.