Twenty-five Iraqi diplomats are due to arrive in Geneva next month to get a taste of how the international system works.
Ahead of the visit, Gérard Stoudmann, director of the Geneva Centre For Security Policy (GCSP), told swissinfo that it was important for Iraq to be prepared for what the future might bring.
The Iraqis will attend a two-week course at the GCSP where they will be introduced to various aspects of the multilateral system from the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law through to the United Nations and Nato.
During their visit, which is being jointly funded by Switzerland and France, they will also attend briefings by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN refugee agency, and meet non-governmental organisations.
Ambassador Stoudmann has been director of the GCSP since 2002 when he was seconded to the organisation by the Swiss foreign ministry.
The GCSP is an international foundation set up by Switzerland in 1995 within the framework of the country’s participation in Nato’s Partnership for Peace.
swissinfo: What is the main purpose of this visit?
Gérard Stoudmann: The Iraqis are in the process of rebuilding the foreign ministry after what happened over the past few decades. Under the former regime the ministry was in a way quite efficient but was quite cut off from the realities of the present world. Some of these people have been diplomats under Saddam and they need to be "recycled" so to speak; others are new recruits.
In both cases they need to better understand how the multilateral system works. In Geneva they will have the advantage of attending meetings with the operational agencies of the UN, international NGOs and with all the international community, so it will open a window for them on how the international system works.
swissinfo: How difficult a task do you envisage this being, because as you say Iraq has been cut off from the international community for decades?
G.S.: We’ve already had an initial experience with a mid-level Iraqi diplomat coming to one of our regular courses. It went very well and he was extremely hungry for information because he had been "starved" so much. So I’m not worried about this.
But it’s going to be a two-way street and we are also going to learn something from this by better understanding their perception of the West and the international community. This is probably very much marked by what they see every day in their country, which is not the complete picture. I hope they will go back with a better understanding of all the nuances that exist in the world.
swissinfo: These diplomats have lived under a dictatorship and their first taste of democracy has been a very bloody one. Are you hoping to be able to show them how Iraq could be five or ten years down the line?
G.S.: That’s very ambitious and I’m not ready to predict what’s going to happen in five or ten years’ time in Iraq. Personally, I think Iraq and the rest of the world will be in a mess for a long period of time.
But certainly they need to understand how things are organised in the rest of the world, the pros and cons of the UN system etc. If one day there is a large UN presence in Iraq again it’ll be absolutely essential for them to understand how such a mission is set up. As professionals they need to understand this mechanism and I’m pretty sure that most of them have little idea. So that’s a more limited but realistic objective than to paint a rosy picture of the future of Iraq.
swissinfo: Unlike most diplomats attending courses at the GCSP, these Iraqis won’t be able to return home and put into practice everything they learn here, because of the unstable situation back home.
G.S.: Quite right. Part of what they will learn may remain theoretical for a while, but the interaction with the UN system is something that they need to understand straightaway and this is immediately applicable despite the situation in Iraq. The briefings with the ICRC will benefit those working in the ministry in Baghdad who may have to interact with and understand the role of humanitarian actors. They will also be briefed about international conventions and the international legal system. So there are a number of areas targeted for immediate consumption whatever the situation on the ground.
swissinfo: These diplomats are coming to Switzerland to learn about peaceful diplomacy at the same time as the Swiss government is selling 180 personnel carriers to Iraq. Is this not sending out a slightly contradictory message?
G.S.: My agenda here is set by the foundation council [the governing body of the GCSP], which is made up of 33 countries, and what member states of the board are doing otherwise – in this case Switzerland – goes beyond my mandate.
Others may have problems with this but as the director of an international foundation, it is beyond my mandate what the Pentagon is doing in Iraq or what the Swiss, Russians and French are doing in Iraq.
swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont in Geneva
Studied law at Lausanne University and international relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.
1995: deputy head of the Swiss delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
1997: appointed ambassador and elected director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw.
2002: director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
The primary activity of the GCSP is to provide expert training in international security policy for mid-career diplomats, military officers and civil servants from foreign, defence and other relevant ministries.
Overall, the GCSP trains over 200 participants from more than 40 countries each year.
The Swiss government is the principal contributor to the budget of the GCSP, whose work is overseen by 33 member countries.