1914-2014: Shifting the balance between peace and war

1914 2014To mark the centenary of The First World War, we will be publishing a series of articles looking at what has changed over the last century in a number of domains. In the first article in the series, Alan Whaites team leader, Governance for Peace and Development at the OECD, discusses peace-building and conflict. In a second article on Wednesday, Alan will look more in detail at the role of the state.

In the early summer of 1914 my great grandfather was a poor labourer working in the sprawling docks of the Manchester ship canal. He supported a large family in a tiny slum dwelling in the Hulme area of the city. Within a few months he was a soldier, and by the end of April 1915, after 28 days at the front, he was dead. For him, like millions of others, the political process that transformed civilians into participants in large-scale industrialised warfare was both prolonged and, at the same time, remarkably sudden.

Christopher Clark captured this duality in the title of his book, The Sleepwalkers. The actors in this drama were first lulled by a long sequence of events that slowly created the potential for conflict, and then they were carried along by a sudden chain of events. In the lead-up, the development of two major alliance systems, the purchase of new weapons and the expansion of militaries were seen by many as contributing to reducing risk. But an assassination quickly turned these precautions around, creating a system that propelled Europe towards war.

The consequences of 1914 are embedded in our collective psyche: millions dead, the horror of trench warfare, and a further chain of post-war changes that would play out through the rest of the 20th century. In essence, the fundamental problem that unfolded on a grand scale 100 years ago remains familiar, and continues to characterise many, if not most, conflicts today. Actors take steps in the belief that they are providing protection and security, often in a defensive rather than an offensive frame of mind. Over time, their positions become fixed and mechanisms for dialogue and crisis management are neglected, so that when a political crisis does occur, actions are often based on assumptions (e.g., regarding the motives of others) that may be unfounded. Von Clausewitz said that war is policy conducted by other means; in reality, it is too often an unintended consequence of actions whose repercussions seemed eminently limited and safe at the time.

This can be the case at whatever level conflict occurs. As a professional my focus is predominantly on areas of internal conflict: civil wars, insurgencies, and breakdowns of political systems because of violent competing interests. And as in 1914, the steps that lead people into such conflicts may seem rational. In Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing, Christopher Cramer points out that often there are serious, considered motivations at play. Important factors may include assessments of ideological or communal risks and interests. People think themselves into relational corners – from which conflict becomes a logical step. In 2011 the World Bank’s World Development Report pointed out that the “who” of conflict (including instigators of urban or organised crime) doesn’t necessarily change the strategic dimensions involved; behaviours centred on calculations of risk can be essentially the same.

But if the human dynamics that create the potential for conflict remain stubbornly similar across the decades, is it possible to change the outcomes? Perhaps. The challenge is to change the logic – to move the rationale towards peace, not war. While this theory is nothing new, mechanisms have been elusive. A positive change over the last decade has been the level of engagement and agreement among richer countries and conflict-affected states on collaboration in peace-building. These new approaches to co-operation are encapsulated in the internationally-agreed New Deal for engagement in fragile states.

The New Deal aims to change calculations of risks and the logic of conflict by mutually supporting factors that shift the realities for those involved: justice, legitimate politics, sound economic management, trust and focus on new ways of working. It potentially offers a framework for creating sustained support for peace; building confidence that the future lies in development – not war. Of course, human nature and politics mean that there are no guarantees of success, and changes are unlikely to be trouble-free. Shifting the balance between peace and war is often non-linear, a process of persistence buffeted by crisis and turmoil. But at least the New Deal offers a platform for local and international actors to engage and act – and to do so with fragile states themselves setting the direction.

It is important to stress that a dose of realism is still needed, or “strategic patience” in the words of Helder da Costa (general secretary of the g7+ group of fragile states). There are no miracle solutions and without real political will no approach can work. The New Deal will also come under scrutiny, potentially because of unrealistic expectations and timeframes that are far too short. But the willingness by the international community to engage constructively in these situations has clearly grown. The lessons that enabled the agreement of the New Deal – the hard-won experience of what does and does not work in changing the dynamics of conflict and distrust – offer all stakeholders something to work with when trying to resolve conflict, in whatever region or state.

It was only after a second, even more costly, world war that Europe understood the need to shift incentives to peace, and away from conflict. That of course took considerable investment, trust and new forms of partnership (including the creation of the antecedent to the OECD). The principles and needs have not changed, nor the importance of working toward long-term peace now.

Useful links

OECD work on peacebuilding, statebuilding and security

Conflict management is at a low point

Click to see the Index
Click to see the Index

In today’s post, Rosa Gosch interviews the team responsible for the latest edition of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BTI), launched in cooperation with Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster

What exactly is the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index, the BTI?

Hauke Hartmann (Senior Project Manager at BTI): The BTI team is interested in observing transformation processes from authoritarian systems to democracies based on rule of law and socially just market economies—and learning from what we see at the global level. To achieve this, the BTI analyzes and assesses the progress being made by 129 developing and transition countries with respect to political and economic transformation and governance quality.

Sabine Donner (Senior Project Manager at BTI): Our Status Index looks at these countries’ current state of development in terms of democracy and the market economy. We believe that we need to examine both the political and the economic transformation to get a complete picture of societal change. Since quality of democracy is more than free and fair elections, our indicators also examine the extent to which citizens can participate politically and freely express their opinions. They also investigate the extent to which an independent justice system provides equality before the law and how parties, interest groups and NGOs act as liaisons between policymakers and society. Of course, a sustainable market economy needs more than growth and fiscal stability; creating and maintaining social balance is essential. So we look into the quality of a country’s social safety nets, its investment in education and the environment, and whether there is a framework that enables economic participation for all people. Our Management Index examines how successful governments are shaping the change towards a democracy based on the rule of law and a socially just market economy. Key aspects of this are whether political players are able to set strategic priorities and implement their policies, whether they are successfully fighting corruption, and whether they are managing to create consensus between all parts of society about the path of transformation.

What are the findings of the newly published BTI 2014?

Robert Schwarz (Project Manager at BTI): We are seeing an increase in protests around the world. These protest movements are by no means limited to underdeveloped and hopelessly mismanaged dictatorships—Chile is a case in point. In many places, a well-connected, self-confident civil society is putting up more resistance against growing social inequality, bad governance, despotism and corruption. Governments need strategies for how to enter into constructive dialogue with protesters and how to moderate their interests without hurting the national transformation process, as appears to be happening in some countries right now.

Is developing such strategies one of the goals of the BTI?

Robert Schwarz: One of the goals of the project is to identify successful strategies from the trove of data and analyses that we have collected on transformation management. And to stimulate a learning process for decision-makers in other countries.

Hauke Hartmann: If there’s anything we’ve learned from the work we’ve been doing during the ten years since the BTI began, it’s that we can only develop those kinds of strategies through dialogue. It only works when we meet with scholars and decision-makers in politics and society to discuss the BTI’s findings.

Sabine Donner: The basic premise of our work on the BTI is that transformation processes can only succeed if there are clear strategies for how to promote social change. And this strategic approach has to take into account that a very broad consensus needs to be reached regarding the direction in which the country is to develop.

What did each of you find to be the most remarkable finding in the BTI 2014?

Hauke Hartmann: I am impressed by how pervasive, intense and numerous the protests against despotism, mismanagement and corruption have been. It’s remarkable that so many people are going to the streets for very similar reasons and saying, “No way! We don’t want this kind of government! We don’t want this kind of system!”

Sabine Donner: We are observing that many governments around the world seem to be helpless, inadequately dealing with these protests. Everywhere, including in Western European democracies, people are obviously asking similar questions, like, “Is this system capable of finding solutions to the burning questions of our time?” In democracies and autocracies alike, no one seems to be able to answer this question with a clear “yes” right now.  I don’t exactly find that encouraging, but it does raise other questions, like, “Where can we find new ideas or even old ideas to help strengthen democracy and democratization?”

Does the BTI give answers to those questions?

Hauke Hartmann: The BTI offers suggestions on where one might look for answers. I’m thinking of countries like Benin, Uruguay and Taiwan, which according to our findings are doing a very good job at getting civil society involved in political decision-making processes. In Uruguay they discuss education and security questions in a group that includes decision-makers from civil society. Benin is a very ethnically diverse society but the government keeps the country together by fostering consensus. As a result, Benin has a very clear national identity, unlike many other countries in West Africa.

How are transition countries doing in the realm of conflict management in 2014?

Hauke Hartmann: They are still limited in terms of their ability to moderate and de-escalate. This has always made it more difficult for them to steer transformation processes. But the new BTI shows their conflict management abilities reaching a new low. No other management indicator in the BTI showed a sharper decline. And the countries that take a moderate, balanced approach to dealing with forces that polarize and create conflict are located in regions that are not particularly prone to conflict. In other words, the regions where good conflict management is missing—in the Sahel, North Africa and the Middle East—those are the regions that need it more than ever. That is alarming. Governments feel very helpless right now because there is such extreme mistrust within these societies and everyone is so dug in. The people have experienced too many human rights abuses and crimes to see things differently.

Robert Schwarz: And in those very same regions, which have inadequate conflict management to begin with, the influence of religious dogma on national legal systems and political institutions has increased. When the state is usurped by religious dogmas or fundamentalism, it is even more difficult to enter into dialogue with the opposition.

Hauke Hartmann: In most cases, especially in polarized societies, there are two opposing sides that have a pretty clear idea of what they can gain at the polls, on the streets, and through an escalation of violence. And they often back different positions depending on which side they are on. For example, Thailand’s current government knows very well that it will get all of the “red-shirt” votes from the rural areas and win the next election hands-down. Of course, the opposition in Bangkok won’t play along. On the other hand, the opposition has absolutely no mandate to demand the resignation of a democratically elected government. It’s counting on an escalation and the possibility of military intervention. Neither side has any interest in listening to the other side’s mediation strategy.

Who uses the BTI?

Sabine Donner: To start, other organizations use our data to compile their own indices. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance are two examples. Transparency International uses our data to fight corruption in its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), as does the Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index (AML). In addition, many foreign ministries and development ministries use our data and country reports as an additional source when they assess their partner countries. In particular, the BTI’s qualitative evaluations appear to be helping them by opening the door to political dialogue with governments in developing countries and transition economies. And those countries in turn can use the BTI as an additional, independent source to help them identify areas in which they are doing very well and areas in which they need to improve.  We are delighted to see that more and more civil society organizations in developing and transition countries are using the BTI as a way of holding a mirror up to their governments and demanding accountability for social change.

Translated from the German by Douglas Fox

Useful links

OECD work on peacebuilding, statebuilding and security

Why Finland isn’t fragile – and three reasons for linking gender equality to statebuilding in the post-2015 framework

Click to see OECD Wikigender
Click to see OECD Wikigender

Today’s post is by Diana Koester, a consultant working with the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF).

On Thursday, 26th September, the UN’s Conference Room 1 was packed with over 25 ministers from around the world. They had accepted an invitation by the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and UN Women to discuss “women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding” only a day after the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Special Event on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

You may wonder why that’s especially worth noting. After all, outside of this event the UNGA week heard pleas for related causes: a post-MDG framework that would “make the 21st century the century of women” and a post-MDG framework that would “make the 21st century the century of peace”. And these pleas echoed the proposals for respective standalone goals that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his High-Level Panel had already expressed in their visions for the post-2015 development framework.

What makes the PBC/UN Women event especially worth noting is that discussions of the post-MDG approach to building peaceful and effective states have typically proceeded as though the century of women and the century of peace would take place in parallel worlds. There has been little emphasis on the specific links between these goals and their achievement.

We need to work to bridge this gap by emphasizing women’s important role – and challenges – in peacebuilding and statebuilding, as well as the need for targeted and integrated responses in the post-2015 approach to institutions and conflict.  There are at least three good reasons why.

First, statebuilding in fragile and conflict-affected situations can provide critical opportunities to pursue gender equality. Empowering the world’s women requires special efforts to tackle the severe and specific challenges women face in fragile situations. Sexual and domestic violence, economic marginalisation, and exclusion from the decisions that determine women’s futures help explain why fragile and conflict-affected states have made relatively slow progress on the MDGs overall, but also have notably lagged on most of the gender-specific MDG areas.

The good news is that post-conflict situations also offer immense opportunities to “build back better”, for example by supporting women’s participation in peace negotiations, constitution-making and emerging political processes. In this context it is interesting to note that about one-third of the countries with 30% or more women in parliament are also countries that have experienced conflict, fragility or recent transitions to democracy. Taking the example of Rwanda and Burundi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Judy Cheng-Hopkins highlighted during the PBC/UN Women event how such increased participation can in turn lead to better outcomes for women, thus transforming vicious into virtuous circles.

Second, gender equality is not only “smart economics” – it’s also smart peacebuilding and statebuilding. The fundamental aim of statebuilding should be a state that is legitimate, responsive and accountable to all. Tackling the marginalisation of women and girls is a precondition for realising this vision.

What’s more, women’s empowerment can help achieve internationally agreed peacebuilding and statebuilding goals. “Women’s political participation is associated with lower levels of corruption, more inclusive decision-making, greater investment in social services, job creation for women, and family welfare”, the new Executive Director of UN-Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out.  In like manner, PBC Chair and Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusić recalled the strong evidence that “women’s access to land and productive assets, to jobs and markets, results in improvements in family well-being, community stability and poverty reduction.”

In other words, gender equality goes beyond “smart economics”. It can strengthen key pillars of peace. Reflecting on his own country the day before the PBC event, Finland’s Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, affirmed these links: “If I was asked to give one specific reason why Finland is rated in the index of failed states as the least failed state in the world, I would answer that it is gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

Finally, the post-2015 framework offers a historic opportunity to realize women’s rights in fragile states and make smarter peacebuilding and statebuilding the norm. Current approaches tend to neglect women’s potential and priorities. “Let’s face it”, Cheng-Hopkins proposed, “women play peacebuilding roles every day (…) Sadly though, when negotiations get serious, when stakes get high and when money shows up, women are pushed into the background.“ The OECD INCAF’s forthcoming policy paper on Gender and Statebuilding aims to address this gap by offering a set of specific recommendations to help donors integrate a gender perspective into their work on statebuilding.

The post-2015 framework is one of the key opportunities the new INCAF publication highlights in this regard. In the words of the President of the UNGA, John W. Ashe, this is a “historic opportunity to define development.” The post-MDGs can therefore also be a historic opportunity to make women’s full participation in peacebuilding and statebuilding the norm and the PBC declaration’s call for “further measures to improve women’s participation during all stages of peace processes” a reality. We can and must seize it.

Useful links

OECD work on gender equality and development

OECD work on conflict and stability

OECD work on gender

Should aid money go to peacekeeping?

Peacekeeping Mission
Pay them from aid money?

Today’s post is from Brenda Killen, Head of OECD’s Global Partnerships and Policy Division and Donata Garrassi from the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

Is peacekeeping a cost-effective way of spending aid money, as UK Prime Minister David Cameron implied last week in remarks quoted by the BBC?

In 2010, some forty countries in situations of fragility received around $50 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA), as aid is formally known. This represents 38% of total ODA according to OECD figures. Global peacekeeping has cost an estimated $8 billion a year over the past few years.

These are significant sums, especially when governments are seeking ways to reduce their deficits. But compare them with the costs of military operations. Between 2009 and 2010, for example, US Department of Defense spending alone for Afghanistan grew from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month. According to US government data, the cumulative total for the War on Terror and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 9/11 is $1.283 trillion, of which about $1.2 trillion went to the Department of Defense with only $67 billion, or 5%, going to State/USAID.

ODA covers a broad range of activities from humanitarian interventions to stabilization, peacebuilding and statebuilding. (although peacekeeping is funded by a blend of ODA and non-ODA funds). Why is it better to use ODA as opposed to defence budgets for these initiatives? Because with ODA, taxpayers have a clearer idea of where and how their money is being spent. ODA is an accountable and transparent way to deliver development assistance, even if it is not the only one. ODA funding to fragile states is reported regularly by donors, providing taxpayers in these countries and governments and people in recipient countries with as clear as possible a picture of how much money comes in, from where, what it is used for, and how effectively it is provided. Military aid, on the contrary, and enforcement aspects of peacekeeping, are not reportable as ODA. It is difficult to know how much is spent, how, and on whom, let alone to assess the impact on national governments and populations.

The main issue is about the best way to support countries during the difficult transition out of conflict and fragility. It’s also about preventing conflict flaring up again, by addressing the  root causes of conflict, and promoting the growth and development that make conflict less likely in the future.

These are huge tasks. The human development record in fragile states is not good. Not one conflict-affected fragile state has achieved any of the Millennium Development Goals., and the share of world poor living in fragile states is expected to exceed 50% by 2015. What do these trends suggest? Tackling fragility and instability requires a long-term development strategy. A military solution (even one that drags on for years) will not solve the underlying problems. An army may manage to provide stability, but it is not designed to address the inequalities, sense of injustice and frustrations that lead to conflict in the first place.

Lasting peace needs more than peacekeepers. It needs economic development to  provide jobs, education, health care and other services. It needs the political involvement of the whole population, especially those with grievances, to promote social justice and to seek solutions other than violence. It needs well-functioning government and institutions. Building a lasting peace may take decades, so it needs long-term commitment from national and international actors to develop the local capacities and potential that will eventually make aid irrelevant.

This is not a military strategy or timescale. Un-glamorous development departments and personnel have the skills needed to implement cross-governmental approaches, use pooled funds wisely, and work in the multidisciplinary teams best suited to conflict-affected and fragile states. But vital as their contribution may be, it is secondary. Ultimately, transitioning out of conflict and ensuring long-lasting peace depend on the country itself, not foreign aid, whether civilian or military. So maybe we should start by asking conflict-affected and fragile countries for which we are designing strategies, re-allocating funds, and planning operations, what would work best.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

Evaluating Peacebuilding Activities in Settings of Conflict and Fragility

International Network on Conflict and Fragility

From Guns to Ploughshares: Reducing armed violence

Today’s post is from Sarah Cramer and Erwin van Veen of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF)

Film fans may be aware that Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond has the highest body count of any Bond ever (an average of 33.9 kills per film). But in the real world, few of us have such an accurate picture of armed violence. For instance, many would be surprised to learn that El Salvador has been the deadliest country in recent history. In fact, between 2004 and 2009 more people per capita were killed in El Salvador than in Iraq. Jamaica follows closely in third place, according to the Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011.

While casualties of war often grab headlines, they only represent 10% of the 526,000 lives lost annually as the direct result of armed violence around the world. Crime is the biggest driver of violent killing, and armed violence in post-conflict settings, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, can sometimes surpass levels seen during actual periods of conflict.

Surprising facts about armed violence and linkages to poverty were on dramatic display in a photo exhibit last week in the OECD Conference Centre. The photographs were drawn from the Visions of Hope collection compiled by the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, a diplomatic initiative aimed at addressing the interrelations between armed violence and development.

Click on the photo to see the exhibition

Violence and insecurity take a high toll on society. Apart from human suffering, violence leads to increased public and private security costs, and decreased productivity and investment. The global cost of homicidal violence is $95-160 billion each year, and the burden is much higher in developing countries, where 10-15% of GDP is spent on law enforcement, compared with 5% in developed countries.

The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recognises that reducing violence and insecurity is a pre-requisite to realising development outcomes such as the MDGs. No low-income fragile states are expected to achieve a single MDG by 2015. Understanding the dynamics of armed violence and what can be done about it is an important first step. Through the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), the DAC is gathering evidence, filling analytical gaps and providing practical recommendations for strengthening support for core peacebuilding and statebuilding functions, notably security and justice, that can reduce armed violence.

Evidence suggests that armed violence can be successfully addressed, reducing human suffering, psychological trauma and negative spill-over effects at regional and global level. Good interventions share six common characteristics.

  1. A good evidence base, including a nuanced understanding of the context. For example, in Sudan, UNDP’s Threat and Risk Mapping and Analysis Project works with local communities to map security threats and socio-economic risks. Collected data is pooled with information about basic rainfall patterns, suspected oil and mineral extraction sites, service provision, livestock migration routes and other issues. This approach provides a robust understanding of the context to inform programming decisions.
  2. Engagement of municipalities and non-state groups, actors that are well-placed to influence armed violence. This can be done by working through NGOs and decentralised development agencies. Providers of development assistance – who tend to work most with the state’s central executive – need to consider what changes might be required in their approaches, staffing and networks to engage effectively at such critical sub-national levels.
  3. A flexible mix of perspectives and methods, bringing together a range of experience in areas that have proven to be effective at reducing armed violence, such as public health, law enforcement, urban planning, community services and job creation. For example, in Bangladesh, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (an NGO) used a public health approach to map the risk factors that render children and youth vulnerable to recruitment by armed criminal gangs and as potential future soldiers.
  4. Combining local with global action, as drivers of violence originate from all levels. All too often, country-specific strategies guide interventions without paying adequate attention to necessary complementary regional and global factors.
  5. Sufficient time, balancing the need to show short-term results with the time and patience needed to yield real success. For example, it took Viva Rio, a local NGO operating in Rio de Janeiro, ten years to contribute toward a drop in the annual rate of gun deaths. Activities needed to be structured and funded on a long-term and flexible basis to achieve sustainable success.
  6. Integration of armed violence reduction within development strategies, as reducing violence is a pre-requisite for achieving other development outcomes.

Useful links

OECD work on armed violence reduction

Armed Violence Reduction: Enabling Development

Conflict – the enemy of development

War or Peace in Heglig, South-Sudan?

They're right to be worried

Today’s post is from Erwin van Veen of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility, established in 2009 as a subsidiary body of the OECD Development Assistance Committee and Ann Fitz-Gerald, a senior academic with Cranfield University’s Department of Management and Security.

The excitement in Juba when South-Sudan declared its independence in 2011 has given way to anxiety now that the two Sudans seem close to falling into the “conflict trap” where countries with recent experience of conflict are more likely to fall back into conflict. On April 10, the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) took control of Heglig, an oil town on the border between Sudan and South-Sudan. It is unclear whether this is another incident in a long series, or the spark that will explode the powder keg. But it is urgent to assess whether anything can be done to prevent a slide back to violent conflict.

The natural response of the international community when faced with such escalations of violence is to call for restraint and dialogue, which is precisely what the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the US government and the African Union’s mediator Thabo Mbeki have done. However, to assess whether this call for dialogue is likely to be heeded, at least two questions need to be answered.

First, how much pressure is the international community willing and able to exercise? This is difficult to assess from the outside, but it is likely that key global players such as the US and UN may prioritize Syria and Iran over Sudan. Regionally, the situation is hardly more favourable with Kenya and Ethiopia embroiled in Somalia and Egypt focused on domestic issues. Libya’s chaos ensures a ready supply of highly mobile manpower and weapons, as evidenced by the situation in Mali. Calls for dialogue may sound louder than the pressure and support the international community can actually generate.

Second, is dialogue welcomed by participants? Political dialogue requires a sufficient degree of commitment from both parties to have a chance of success. Several considerations must be taken into account here. To start with, the trail of broken agreements and promises between Sudan and South-Sudan is a long one and mistrust runs deep.  Recent analysis suggests that the SPLA has been stockpiling weapons and that both the SPLA and the Sudanese Armed Forces are arming South Sudanese rebel militia groups. However, little reliable analysis is available on what exactly is happening in the contested border areas. One also needs to take into account that South-Sudan has limited diplomatic capacity to tell its side of the story. Publicly, however, both sides state they welcome dialogue, which the international community can capitalize on. Yet it is also clear that they are gearing up for other scenarios.

In addition, South-Sudan may well take the view that it now must defend its hard-won independence. The country took a drastic step in January by shutting down its oil production in protest over transit fees, and escalation may well be one of its few strategic options left. The South has proven before that it can survive with food distribution lines cut off and oil wealth denied – large parts of its territory have no electricity anyhow – but its leaders would have to make radical political and financial decisions and be accountable to their people for the ensuing hardship. South-Sudan’s domestic peacebuilding and statebuilding agenda would certainly suffer setbacks, its recent commitment to the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding notwithstanding.

And yet, on the face of it, there seem to be sufficient common interests to provide a basis for dialogue.  For one, the human suffering and economic damage of renewed conflict will be huge. Collier and Chauvet have conservatively estimated the domestic and regional cost of a civil war to amount to about $85 billion. Two thirds of the economic damage resulting from states descending into conflict accounts for external spillovers that hurt neighbours. This is the figure against which Sudan, South-Sudan and their neighbours must gauge their appetite for dialogue and war.

In short, the signs are not hopeful that calls for dialogue can or will be heeded. What can the international community do to help prevent another war? Three lessons stand out from the international intervention in the FYR Macedonia in 2001, one of the most successful examples of conflict prevention.

Co-ordinated, fast action between the OSCE, NATO and EU proved critical for an integrated political-security response that was sufficiently context specific. In the case of Sudan, it would be easy to argue that UNMIS and the AU need to swiftly deploy peacekeeping troops into disputed areas like Heglig and that their mediators must immediately commence facilitating a longer-term process to resolve the range of outstanding issues.  However, a lesson from the last few years is that third party intervention, of the UN in particular, has not always been welcomed by Sudan. Moreover, President Kiir stated on April 12 in the South-Sudanese parliament that he had rejected calls from several international leaders, including Ban Ki-Moon, to pull his troops out of Heglig. Hence, a leading UN role near the contested border seems unlikely. In keeping with the model which kept the pre-Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) talks on track, an alternative option could be that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) partners’ forum steps up and provides an AU-led initiative with logistical, financial and advisory support. The UN could consider supporting this quietly from behind the scenes.

Strong leadership is essential. Kenya kept the many pre-CPA talks on track and helped realize several goals towards the CPA, such as the Machakos protocol of 2002. Such leadership was also a key ingredient of the successful international intervention in FYR Macedonia, where Mr Van der Stoel, personal envoy of the OSCE chair, enjoyed the confidence of all parties. Kenya may not be able to fulfil this role again at this point. In that case, Ethiopia remains one of the few parties trusted by both sides. If it could convince the presidents of Sudan and South-Sudan to work towards a political agreement, the tide might be turned and Ethiopia would render the region a very valuable service. Given the trail of broken promises, however, the conflict must be addressed at the highest levels, and it would help if both sides could refrain from any aggression towards Ethiopian peacekeepers patrolling Abeyei.

Finally, the intervention in FYR Macedonia showed that confidence building is vital. This could begin with credible and verifiable information being collected and shared from the conflict-affected border area. Rumours spread quickly, feeding distrust and possibly catalyzing ill-considered action. An international monitoring mission, possibly IGAD sponsored and AU-supported, might be a way out of this conundrum – but speed will be of the essence.

Useful links

OECD work on peacebuilding, statebuilding and security

In praise of conflict

Sometimes, conflict is inevitable

Today’s post is from  Brad Allenby, Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics and Professor of Law at Arizona State University

Absent the occasional nihilist, anarchist, or arms dealer, it is hard to find anyone sane who wishes conflict well.  The human costs of war, from Afghanistan to the Congo to the Balkans, are all too real; the backdrop of a century of global conflict all too recent.

At an individual level, few people seek increased torment and conflict in their personal lives.  Activists and experts in domains from sustainability to Marxism to various religions seek the balm of peace: surely as a species we can finally craft the simple principles that eliminate conflict and lead us forward to the Golden Age that is our due?

Striving for peace, the absence of conflict, is not a bad thing, and most folks that do it are also realistic about the need to keep one’s guard up in a dangerous world (as Trotsky is reputed to have growled, “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”).  But there is perhaps a more important nuance, as pointed out by those eminent social critics, The Jefferson Airplane: “Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for, in the only way it is granted, in a place among the fossils of our time.”  Less poetically, the obvious costs of violence and war tend to blind most people to the importance of conflict to innovation and creativity.  Elizabethan London, the Athens of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Renaissance Florence, the chaotic Spring and Autumn Period of Confucius in China, the India of Gandhi – none of these highly creative periods were stable and peaceful.

But there is constructive conflict – the conflict inherent in trading cities as different cultures meet, for example – and there is destructive conflict.  What we have now in many places is the latter, either as physical conflict – war – or, more widely, as destructive conflict over foundational values.  Ethics, morality, and values are usually at play in various political environments, of course, and the dialog among them can be an important source of cultural evolution.  But a different dynamic begins to dominate when conflict over moral absolutes gains ascendancy over the usual political arguments.  Constructive conflict can be resolved through traditional rational discussion and dialog, political solutions which spread benefits among constituencies, and the like; destructive conflict is phrased in terms of moral absolutism, of good and evil.  The latter is accordingly far less amendable to rational discourse and compromise.  I can talk to you about different ways to raise taxes; I can’t talk to you about taxes when to you they represent primordial evil.  I can talk to you about ways to manage climate change; I can’t talk to you when anyone who doesn’t accept your perspective on the phenomenon is the equivalent of a Nazi.  The tactic of terrorism is ineffective, indeed fails dismally, in an environment of constructive conflict; it is a signature activity of destructive conflict.

The apparent shift towards destructive conflict may be partially illusory, but there are some reasons to suspect it may not be.  We are, after all, in a period of unprecedented technological change across essentially the entire technological frontier, as a result of accelerating evolution in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technology, robotics, applied cognitive science, and similar technology systems.  Technological change at this scale causes accelerating social change; the flexible thought necessary for success in high technology environments undercuts traditional social norms and practices.  And, of course, how do individuals react to a complex and unpredictable world if they are left behind, baffled and unable to cope, as technological and social change continues to accelerate and a global technocratic elite increasingly captures economic and political power?  They retreat to belief systems: they’re simple and provide psychological refuge, and, equally important, because they rely on faith rather than reason, they are resilient against scientific and policy discourses that are complex and demand unpleasant change.  Destructive conflict is thus a predictable outgrowth of modernity.  Conditions favor not the creative interplay of pluralistic democracy creating adaptability and flexibility in the face of an uncertain future, but retreat to simplicities that are both enormously powerful and yet profoundly dysfunctional when deployed against irreducible complexity.  Creationists are not arguing the factual basis of evolution; rather, they are rejecting a fundamental tenant of modern science and Enlightenment rationality, and they are doing so for very real and important reasons.

So at a social and cultural level, we should not wish for peace (although, in the interests of generating the pluralism that must underlie social wisdom, we should support institutions and individuals that do so).  Conflict cannot be avoided and, in the age of the complex and anthropogenic Earth, that would be a dysfunctional goal in any event: we need if anything to accelerate the social and cultural innovation that constructive conflict generates.  Rather, our challenge is to learn to incent and protect constructive conflict, while at the same time reducing destructive conflict before it overwhelms us.  So perhaps somewhere in the Department of Defense we need the Institute for Creative Conflict, a necessary oxymoron for the challenges of our complex modern world.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility