We were very sorry to hear the news about Tony de Reuck’s passing. He was one of the pioneers of conflict research and a delightful and unforgettable character.
Tony saw the potential significance of conflict research very early in its development. Johan Galtung had started the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and a diverse group of mathematicians, economists and psychologists had started a Centre for Conflict Resolution in Michigan. These two centres became the basis of the Journal of Peace Research and the Journal of Conflict Resolution, stilll the two prime journals in the field. But nothing equivalent had yet started in Britain. Tony was then the deputy director of the CIBA Foundation and convened a series of conferences on health and social issues for them. In that capacity, he took the initiative of holding a conference on Conflict in Society, whicvh brought together leading lights of the new field, including Kenneth Boulding, John Burton, Morton Deutsch, Johan Galtung, Anatol Rapoport, Michael Nicholson and others. Tony worked with Jack Mongar and Cedric Smith of University College London – Cedric of course went on to chair the CRS for many years and was himself a distinguished biomathematician, working in the Galton Lab. Tony edited a book on the conference and wrote of the significance of the ‘new discipline, or more properly perhaps, a multi-disciplinary field of inquiry into the causes and control of conflict in human society.’
The conference laid the basis for a new group working on conflict resolution in Britain under the leadership of John Burton, who had served in a senior role in the Australian foreign ministry, but had come to believe that a problem-solving approach based on conflict analysis and facilitated communication could yield dividends that traditional positional bargaining could not. Challenged to demonstrate this approach, Burton chose the then contemporary conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia, and with the permission of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, he convened the first problem-solving workshop, which seems to have been remarkably successful in heading off a potential armed conflict. Tony supported Burton’s initiative and arranged for the CIBA Foundation to provide the accommodation, meeting facilities and travel support to enable the meeting to take place.
This first meeting has become the model for literally hundreds of track two diplomacy initiatives, which have had positive effects in many parts of the world. Tony’s personal characteristics – his easy charm with people, a ready wit and a shrewdness in seeing opportunities where others saw none – must have contributed to the positive outcome.
Tony also supported Burton in setting up the Conflict Analysis Centre, first at University College, and later at the University of Kent, where it became a network for people interested in promoting problem-solving workshops and conflict studies. The Centre has now developed into the Conflict Analysis Research Centre at Kent, which is the administrative base of the CRS.
The Conflict Research Society, which Tony helped to establish, has become increasingly well-known and successful in recent years, thanks particularly to the efforts of our former chair Gordon Burt. Its conferences have been addressed by leading lights of today’s field, including Steven Pinker, Joshua Goldstein, Stathis Kalyvas, Kevin Avruch, Kevin Clements, and Kristin Bakke. And there are now some 20 or 30 universities in the UK where conflict studies are offered. The approach that Tony pioneered has come to have a recognised place in international studies.
Tony’s written contributions were always penetrating and engaging. He had a knack for crisply formulating the essence of a matter, as when he described conflict as a predicament people had to work on together, rather than a battle to be won. His interview for Chris Mitchell’s ‘Parents of the Field’ project is still available on the internet and gives a nice sense of how he used to talk.
Gordon Burt wanted to add the following personal note:
‘Tony had been central to the CRS from the very beginning. When I joined in 1982, he was one of a small group of people at the centre of the CRS and of the joint CRS-PSS(I) conference in Reading in 1982 he gave a vivid and emotionally intense account of the CRS problem-solving workshops in Cyprus. Thereafter I have met him on many occasions, and he encouraged me in my work and it was always a pleasure to be in his company. The last time we met was at the celebration of John Burton’s life at Kent in 2010 (the special event was organized by John Groom and attended by John Burton’s family). I joked with Marjorie and Tony that I had always placed them extremely high on the social scale, not realising that their address, ‘The Mall’, was in full ‘The Mall, East Sheen’! (My childhood knowledge of London was based on the Monopoly Board.’
Tony had a sizzling intelligence and a very engaging personality and his life has demonstrated how much can flow from seeing a new possibility and committing yourself to its fruition.