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CPA 1998 Conference Report

December 11, 1999
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]


The conference was made possible by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Century Foundation. We thank the Center for Preventive Action’s research associates, who participated fully in the planning and organization of the conference. Susanna Campbell was responsible for the entire organization of the conference, including the preparation and design of all printed materials, and also participated in planning the content. Kurt Low, now at the Ford Foundation, greatly contributed to the early stages of planning. Veronique Aubert, his successor, bore responsibility for carrying out much of that planning and for many logistical arrangements. This report was produced by Barnett Rubin, Negar Katirai, and Susanna Campbell.


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Failure of Early Warning in Kosovo by Steven L. Berg

Financial Crises and Conflict: Indonesia and Russia by Peter M. Lewis

Aid to Civil Society as a Tool of Conflict Prevention by Michael W. Foley

Curbing the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons by Michael T. Klare

Keynote Address: A Conversation with George Soros by Haleh Nazeri

Conference Program Agenda

Short Biographies of Program Participants


Every year since 1994, the Center for Preventive Action of the Council on Foreign Relations has hosted a conference devoted to analyzing and debating the year’s experience in preventive action and debating new ideas. On December 11, 1998, a group of over 200 people assembled for the fifth annual conference, The Application of Prevention. After a brief opening plenary, they divided into four working groups that met throughout the day on different topics. Over lunch they held a discussion with the day’s keynote speaker, philanthropist and financier George Soros. At a final plenary, they assembled to share their conclusions and questions.

As CPA director Barnett R. Rubin noted in the program, "Specters of failed prevention came back to haunt the international scene in 1998, while a few modest successes continued against the odds." At the previous year’s meeting, he noted, representatives of groups that had organized dialogues among Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo warned that unless major states took swift coordinated action, disaster would be imminent. A paper on the Great Lakes region of Central Africa warned that years of international involvement in the region had not addressed any of the underlying causes of genocide, war, and mass flight, and had arguably made the situation worse. Indeed, new wars broke out in both of these areas in 1998.

One breakout group of the conference directly attacked this failure by examining the failure to respond to early warning about Kosovo. This was a clear case where everyone concerned knew with near certainty that violence would occur, but no political actor devoted major resources to preventing it until the blood had started to flow. The discussion clarified how difficult it can be to overcome the obstacles to action, even when there is already a major international presence in the region, and the danger is clear.

Intervention in a specific crisis, however, is only one form of prevention, what is sometimes called "operational" prevention. Longer-term strategies try to strengthen the capacities of societies to resist conflict (structural prevention) or transform the international system so as to make resort to violence more difficult (systemic prevention). Two working groups dealt with structural prevention. One examined how to strengthen resistance to economic causes of conflict in the specific context of the past year’s financial crises in Indonesia and Russia. Another examined how to strengthen the social and political capacity of societies to manage conflict by aiding and strengthening the institutions of civil society, as in the cases of Tajikistan and Sierra Leone. The fourth working group dealt with one aspect of systemic prevention, whether it was possible to curb the proliferation of powerful small arms and light weapons that facilitated the resort to violence.

In a speech delivered after lunch, George Soros argued that intervention once a conflict has already developed is too late. He noted that his foundations had tried to prevent conflict in a more sustainable way, by strengthening civil society. But such support is not neutral; it means supporting a particular model of society. These principles, he claimed, should define the basis for international organization and international action. Rather than retreat from international organizations in the name of sovereignty, the U.S. should support stronger but more principled international organizations.

At the final plenary, while many questions remained unanswered, and new ones were posed, several speakers remarked how much the participants seem to have learned about conflict and conflict prevention since CPA started holding these conferences. Furthermore, as CPA chair Gen. John W. Vessey observed, the working groups did not only make recommendations to the government but also for what those in the room and others could do themselves.



Steven L. Burg

Brandeis University

The panel began with a vigorous discussion of whether early warning can be considered to have failed in the case of Kosovo. Several participants with policymaking experience noted that all international actors had plenty of warning that a potentially catastrophic conflict was building in Kosovo. A European participant reported that not one of his colleagues in the diplomatic service failed to anticipate that there would be a conflict in Kosovo, and that all of them believed this would lead to a catastrophe in the region. One American participant suggested that policymakers were conscious of the dangers present in Kosovo as early as 1988. A panelist reported that Kosovo had been the subject of efforts to mediate or negotiate a solution since the establishment of the European Community’s Conference on Yugoslavia (ECCoY) in 1991. It had been the subject of negotiations in a working group of the ECCoY. These negotiations continued under the auspices of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia (ICFY) after September 1992. After the Dayton agreement, the Office of the High Representative continued efforts to find a solution. But international actors were unable to make progress, this European diplomat argued, as long as they remained dependent on Milosevic for cooperation in Bosnia.

Milosevic used his role in Bosnia as leverage to keep international actors out of Kosovo. A European participant reported that negotiators working under the High Representative in Bosnia secured the agreement of both Albanian and Serbian negotiators on a framework for direct negotiations between the two sides over Kosovo, but Milosevic rejected it. The lesson of Dayton for Kosovar Albanians, this participant concluded, was that only violence and bloodshed could draw international actors into direct involvement in Kosovo. Indeed, this lesson may have been reinforced by the failure of the international community to support implementation of the Serbian-Kosovar Albanian agreement on schools mediated by the Community of Sant’ Egidio in September 1996. That failure may represent the most significant "missed opportunity" in the current crisis.

The efforts of Western actors to resolve the Kosovo issue before it exploded were hampered by the lack of coordination among states and multilateral organizations. One panelist reported that European efforts to involve the United States in a cooperative effort were rejected by the Americans, who preferred to pursue their own bilateral effort. The High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was unable to secure support from member governments for his efforts, it was suggested, because of the general lack of enthusiasm of governments for independent actors. The European Union simply was unable to achieve a consensus among its member states. The resulting multiplicity of Western actors pursuing uncoordinated approaches to the conflict allowed all of the parties to the dispute to engage in "forum shopping" in pursuit of their own goals. The decision in September 1997 to activate the Contact Group with respect to Kosovo can be seen as an attempt to overcome this problem.

So was the failure solely of action, or also of early warning? Some participants argued that early warning processes cannot be considered successful if they bring only knowledge of an impending crisis to the attention of policymakers. Warning means linking knowledge to action, and if early warning fails to produce action that averts catastrophe, it must be considered a failure. But a former official cautioned that policymakers often resist the action implications of the information they receive, because they take such actions and their implications very seriously. Hence, inaction cannot be seen as failure of warning.

Participants pointed out that policymakers are driven to act by a variety of factors. For U.S. policymakers, the Somalia experience provided a cautionary lesson not to commit resources to a conflict in haste. That lesson informed policymaking toward Bosnia and continues to inform policymaking with respect to Kosovo. According to one participant with direct experience in the U.S. government, the decision to become involved in any conflict depends first of all on whether any national interest is perceived to be at stake. Furthermore, according to one commentator, action cannot be unilateral; there must be international support for action. Yet several participants underscored the fact that the perception of interests even among close allies can differ. In the case of Kosovo, such differences have led to sharp disagreements between the United States and its European allies.

Several participants also argued that policymakers cannot act unless their foreign policy analysts present them with effective options. One panelist argued that information itself never leads to action. There must be analysis of that information and the presentation of strategic alternatives for policymakers to act. In order to develop such options, it was suggested, it is necessary to develop mechanisms for bringing expert knowledge of cases to bear on the policy process. Yet, one American participant suggested, no good mechanisms for doing so were in place. Another participant decried the absence of an effective international network for conducting such analyses and identifying collective interests and options. The absence of either domestic or transnational mechanisms for turning the information generated by early warning mechanisms into practical options for policymakers was characterized by one participant as an institutional failure of the West.

A former U.S. official provided one example of such failure. This participant observed that the "Christmas warning" issued by the United States in December 1992, when President Bush warned Belgrade of U.S. action in response to violence in Kosovo, should have led to an effort to identify what might happen in that province, to decide what it would take to activate the commitment embodied in the warning, and to develop options for action. But this did not happen. This former policymaker also argued that for early warning to result in action the problem must be "tractable," and mechanisms for dealing with it must already exist. Another participant cited the need for an "exit strategy" before any intervention could take place.

While there was widespread agreement that domestic public support for action must be deep, there was strong disagreement over the specific effect of the mass media on policy decisions. One participant argued that as long as Kosovo did not appear on "the front pages," policymakers would not act. There seemed to be "compassion fatigue" in the West; the public was simply tired of conflicts in the Balkans. In the view of one participant, as long as there were no atrocities committed in Kosovo that might conjure up memories of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the West would not intervene in the conflict in Kosovo.

Participants debated the quality of broader Western responses to the escalation of conflict in Kosovo since early 1998. Some participants asserted that not much more could have been done. Others noted that Western actors might have undertaken a stronger diplomatic effort in early 1998, or threatened NATO action earlier, or stopped the flow of arms from Albania into Kosovo.

One panelist attributed the failure to act not to bureaucratic resistance but profound political failures. He argued forcefully that the West had missed several opportunities to prevent the current violence. He criticized the failure of the United States to capitalize on the momentum created by Dayton, the failure of the United States to appoint a Special Envoy for Kosovo, the lack of American support for the democratic opposition and civil society in Serbia, and the shift in U.S. policy toward Albania which, he argued, marginalized President Sali Berisha and led to the implosion of Albania that resulted in the flow of large quantities of arms into Kosovo. This panelist suggested that the Europeans failed to act because of their close ties to Yugoslavia and Serbia, their interest in expanding their economic activities in the region, and their reluctance to see another predominantly Muslim state established in Europe. This panelist also criticized the UN, the War Crimes Tribunal, and the OSCE for their lack of decisive action in Kosovo.

The panelist characterized the absence of Western action as an "unwillingness" to act. But one participant asserted that the Western response, while not as strong as it could have been, has been "effective." This participant asserted that policymakers have "the means" and "the will" to deal with the crisis if things take a turn for the worse. One former official responded to this issue by pointing out that policymakers operate within a universe of "constrained choices" and called for banishing the term "will" from the analysis of policymaking. This suggestion received enthusiastic support from many participants.

Another panelist objected to the suggestion that the United States had failed to include Kosovo in the Dayton agreement. He reported that it took all the energy that American negotiators could muster to achieve an agreement at Dayton, and that it simply was not possible to include Kosovo.

Another participant reiterated the argument that European responses to the conflict in Kosovo were shaped by anti-Muslim sentiment by suggesting that European diplomats had repeatedly asked him whether he wished to see the establishment of a Muslim state in Europe. Other members of the panel and other participants rejected this view. Many participants agreed, however, that the biases or prejudices of policymakers played a crucial role in shaping responses to crises, including Kosovo.

Almost all participants agreed that events in Kosovo underscore one of the central lessons of Dayton: that U.S. leadership is essential if early warning of a crisis is to lead to an effective response. One former U.S. policymaker cautioned, however, that "the U.S. is a state, not an international organization," and that U.S. interests would therefore shape its responses to any crisis. This view underscores one of the central conclusions of the panel: that early warning alone can be expected to have only a limited impact on Western responses to impending crises. There is a need to develop mechanisms to ensure the application of area expertise to the policymaking process in a timely fashion, so that policy alternatives can be formulated in time to meet the needs of policymakers. Discussions at the panel revealed a long list of what might be considered "missed opportunities" for action in Kosovo but also revealed that knowledge of a crisis, or even of an opportunity to act, does not by itself produce action. Above all else, it is the national interest of outside actors that drive policy. Most participants argued that at present there are no clearly perceived national interests at stake in Kosovo for the U.S.

While most of the discussion focused on the actions of Western states and their policymakers, some participants did point out that it is the parties to the conflict in Kosovo — the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians—who hold the keys to its solution. One participant argued that each side was unwilling to agree to an "obvious solution." There was agreement among participants that a long-term, stable solution in Kosovo required changes on both sides: Serbia would have to be transformed into a more democratic state, and the Kosovar Albanians would have to accept something less than the full independence they have been demanding. Absent a political formula for settling the conflict in Kosovo agreed to by both parties, more extensive direct intervention by the West is unlikely to produce a solution. Yet, as one panelist observed, there remains an enormous gulf between the abstract formulations devised as solutions by international negotiators and the emotion-laden concepts that drive each side in the conflict.



Peter M. Lewis

American University

In the course of 1998, Indonesia and Russia were gripped by economic crises. The "Asian contagion" buffeted Indonesia and then Russia, as global financial markets lost confidence in these economies, and the abrupt withdrawal of capital caused local currencies to plummet in value. The currency crises were accompanied by distress in the banking system, adversity throughout the private sector, and widespread popular hardship.

Pressed by severe balance of payments problems, these governments turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions (IFIs) for new resources and debt alleviation. These programs were contentious, and there was uneven performance on key conditions of the loans. The resulting interruption of IMF financing caused a further loss of international credibility. Meanwhile, currency values remained depressed, domestic prices climbed, enterprises folded, and unemployment mounted.

In both countries, the emerging economic crisis has been entwined with political instability. This has been most evident in Indonesia, where in May 1998 a succession crisis led to the resignation of President Suharto after 32 years in power and his replacement by Vice-President B. J. Habibie. Political unrest has involved student protests, ethnic and religious violence, and separatist pressures.

In Russia, as one participant noted, the process of political and economic reform has been "conflict-ridden from day one." Russia’s travails reflect dissension within the executive branch, between the President and the legislative Duma, among the political factions in the Duma, between Moscow and the outlying regions, and between the government and various social groups.

The group considered the potential effects of economic crisis on political instability and conflict. This was approached from three perspectives:

First, what are the domestic sources of strife in these countries, and how are they likely to be affected by protracted economic malaise?

Second, what are the capacities of these governments to deal with their economic problems and to manage the accompanying political stresses?

Third, how do the programs of the IFIs affect domestic political stability? Are there viable reforms in the procedures of the multilateral institutions that can enhance the prospects of political stability in countries undergoing economic reform?

With regard to the latter question, the session reviewed conclusions from the working group on conflict prevention and the role of the IFIs held at the CPA’s 1997 annual conference. The initial presenters at that session argued that some economic stabilization and adjustment measures have the potential to exacerbate conflict in countries undergoing reform, and that IFIs should make conflict prevention an explicit part of their calculus in designing and administering reform programs. The participants concluded that the IFIs should avoid aggravating economic inequalities and social cleavages that might foster instability. They suggested that the IFIs might modify conditionalities in some instances with a view toward easing tensions.

The discussion of Indonesia and Russia began with an overview of the crises in each country. The analysis of Indonesia drew partially upon the conclusions of a study group convened by CPA, published as Action Plan for Preventing Ethnic Violence in Indonesia, March 16, 1998. In Indonesia, a commentator noted, the financial crisis was a catalyst, though not the fundamental cause, of an ongoing political crisis. The dilemma of succession from Suharto’s rule and the deeply entrenched privileges of the ruling family and its cronies created basic tensions in the political system. Pressures for democratization and economic reform mounted throughout the 1990s.

The financial crisis beginning in July 1997 brought these problems to a head, as economic dislocation sparked discontent among students, Muslim organizations, labor, and other interests. These protests augmented the activities of democratic and human rights activists. Basic questions about the role of the Indonesian military (ABRI) in the political system and the organization of parties and elections came to the fore.

The situation worsened throughout 1998, and the succession of President Habibie failed to resolve the political crisis. Calls for democratic reform have been joined by pent-up aspirations of Muslim popular organizations, ethnic resentments toward the minority Chinese community, and demands for autonomy or independence among peoples on several outer islands, notably Aceh and East Timor. The deteriorating conditions for the middle class, urban workers, and farmers have added to the restiveness. The large and expanding pool of unemployed youth creates a particular source of discontent.

Although the political and economic crises have been integrally linked, there was some consensus at the session that a resolution of the political situation is necessary for economic recovery. Participants considered the possible emergence of a military-led technocratic regime, along the lines of previous governments in Thailand. Many, however, believed that ABRI cannot be an effective force for reform, and that a democratic resolution is essential for stabilization of the economy. Despite the flaws in Habibie’s approach to reform, this remains the most viable course.

The Russian situation has perhaps been less explosive in the short term, though no less acute. The weaknesses of the Russian state, the polarization of politics, and the dislocations of market liberalization have been evident throughout the 1990s. A mercurial president, associated with a team of brash young reformers, has been at odds with a parliament in which hardliners predominate. The contention among communists, nationalists, and the executive branch has led to policy stalemate and recurring political confrontation.

The challenges of renovating state institutions provide a backdrop to the political struggle. There is a pressing need to develop basic "rules of the game" to govern a competitive market economy and a stable democratic order. Fundamental problems of property rights, the rule of law, and regulatory structures remain unresolved. The essential fiscal and managerial capacities of the central government are also extremely weak. Ironically, while there is a critical shortage of investment in Russia, as much as $50 billion may be held domestically as private savings, and there has been a capital flight of several hundred billion dollars. Without a credible framework for the market economy, however, there is little possibility of attracting and mobilizing these resources.

Federal-regional relations present a further area of contention. Moscow has little ability either to extract revenues from the regions or to effectively distribute resources to them. The regional governments, for their part, have adopted different responses, with some opting for an "outward-looking" strategy relying on international competitiveness, while others continue to look inward toward Moscow for subsidies and patronage. In some instances, notably Chechnya, there is an impulse toward autonomy or separation.

The dramatic social inequalities associated with market liberalization and the extensive corruption and criminality arising in the past decade are also causes for concern. The disruption of traditional social benefits and the emergence of stark new disparities in wealth have created pervasive tensions. The lopsided effects of "insider" privatization have sharpened these resentments, while also concentrating economic and political power. The latest round of economic shocks raise questions about the threshold of instability within Russian society.

One commentator noted that, paradoxically, a "revolutionary" situation is emerging in Russia, yet there has been little evidence of revolutionary popular pressure. An explanation may be that the winners from reform have outnumbered the losers, or perhaps that the most aggrieved groups lack a framework permitting large-scale mobilization for collective action.

The group then turned to comparisons of the two cases. One observer noted that both countries are "large, yet small," i.e. these populous states each hold a dominant position in their regions and are strategically important, yet their economies are far less consequential in global terms. The economic crises in these countries are important mainly as an expression of the contagion effect in international markets.

There is an evident crisis of the state structure in both countries. Each confronts problems of transition from authoritarian rule, in addition to the challenges of providing credible policy guidance, economic management, and basic internal security. Their institutions are precarious, and there is a lack of authority or legitimacy.

These countries also face severe economic disarray that intensifies the political crisis. Economic decline is accompanied by the degradation of social and human capital. Economic problems are not the basic cause of state crisis, but political and economic failure have become mutually reinforcing. This raises the question of which problem should be addressed first: how can the cycle of decline be broken?

Furthermore, in each case there is a crisis of the nation. National identities and the relations of center and periphery are being contested. The current crises in these countries reflect an overlay of military, religious, and ethnic issues, raising questions about the nature of central control, the autonomy of regions and localities, and the basic principles of nationhood. Issues of decentralization are salient, and this requires an enhancement of regional or local capacities.

These interlocking crises present dilemmas for U.S. policy. Both countries are important to the United States, and Washington has a strong interest in preventing the escalation of instability or conflict. Recent events have weakened the interests favored by the U.S., notably liberalizing reformers within the government. At the same time, groups such as nationalists, communists, xenophobes, and Islamists have gained influence. The United States is concerned with avoiding polarization and disorder, but a clear, constructive policy is not evident.

The session also examined the role of the international financial institutions, especially the IMF, in responding to the crises in Indonesia and Russia. The IMF has been the coordinator of emergency financing and the architect of policy conditionality in both countries. There was substantial agreement among participants that the IMF’s role has been ambiguous, but in many respects the Fund’s prescriptions have not been conducive to economic recovery or political stability.

Commentators noted that IMF programs in Indonesia and Russia have been "overreaching" in scope, excessively detailed, and inflexible in their application. They noted a basic contradiction between many of the conditions for creditworthiness in global financial markets and the foundations for domestic political or social stability. In particular, IFI programs overlook the need to preserve social safety nets and to develop the capacities of state institutions. The IMF has also set a pace of stabilization that is difficult for weak governments to fulfill. When these governments fail to meet key targets, they face a suspension of external lending and investment, which deepens the economic morass.

While critical of the IFIs, participants also stressed the importance of restoring creditworthiness in global financial markets. This requires credible and consistent economic policies, including balancing budgets, controlling inflation, raising interest rates, floating currencies, privatizing firms, allowing banks to fail, and opening labor and capital markets. These reforms are difficult and politically risky, although the hazards can be reduced through careful design and oversight.

The discussions concluded with several prescriptions and recommendations. First, participants concurred that, for both countries, political improvements are necessary to restore confidence in markets and foster economic recovery. This includes general stability as well as movement toward an effective and legitimate political order. Relations between the executive and the legislature should be clarified, and key agencies of economic management must be strengthened.

Second, there is an evident need to alleviate the most severe social costs of economic crisis and reform. Governments and IFIs must give attention to the basic elements of a social safety net, and these programs must be adequately funded. Some modification in the terms of the IFIs might be necessary to mitigate the distress of stabilization.

Third, it is essential for these countries to make credible commitments to economic reform. This requires clear and consistent adherence to key policies, as well as resolution of political problems that might reduce market confidence. Decisive leadership and a strong economic reform team can aid this process. Efforts to attack corruption and the strengthening of property rights and commercial law can also help to develop a competitive market environment.

Fourth, the reform of state institutions is a crucial ingredient in economic growth. Both governments, and especially Russia, must develop greater capacities for extracting and allocating revenues, delivering basic services, and enforcing the rule of law. Building state capacity is a long term process, and it will require not only sustained domestic efforts but also support from donors and the IFIs.

Fifth, both countries face serious issues related to decentralization and state restructuring. After exercising dominance for decades, central governments face increasing pressure to cede control to regions and localities. Centralism and unitary government should give way to federalism. This entails not only greater autonomy for various sub-national units, but also greater capacity to deliver resources and services.

Sixth, civil-military relations require urgent reform. In Indonesia, a clarification of ABRI’s role will be necessary for democratic reform and effective federalism. It is important to define a less political role for the military. In Russia the demobilization and restructuring of the military is a crucial issue. The Russian armed forces were reduced by half in only four years. There is a critical need to provide for demobilized personnel, as well as defining the new roles and resources of the Russian military.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there is a pressing need to reform the procedures and policies of the IFIs. The conditionality associated with IMF programs, especially, should be modified significantly. Programs should be simplified and extended, goals must be more flexible, and the course of economic stabilization should be more process-oriented and less focused on scheduled.

Moreover, the IMF should consult more regularly with other organizations to assess the potential effects of stabilization programs on conflict and instability. Appropriate institutions might include the World Bank’s post-conflict unit, relevant agencies at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations. A more explicit consideration of conflict prevention in the context of economic reform can help to ensure recovery, while avoiding the unintended consequences of adjustment.



Michael W. Foley

The Catholic University of America

The session opened with a discussion on the role of foreign assistance to civil society in post-conflict peace building efforts. The discussion illuminated how a stronger civil society prevents violent conflict and how foreign assistance can strengthen authentic civil society in a sustainable way.

One presentation stressed general lessons to be learned from the experience of Tajikistan and, in particular, the importance of adopting "new lenses" in approaching conflict resolution. A "peace process," stressed one participant, is quite different from traditional diplomacy, because it describes a cumulative series of negotiations coupled with efforts to change relationships among conflicting parties. The focus is on process, on changing conflictual relationships, and not just on agreements. In this view, it is not possible to talk about states alone; a peace process must address whole bodies politic. This is because genuine peace requires a multi-level process which connects the people on the ground to those at the top negotiating a settlement. Only governments can sign binding agreements; but only citizens can change conflictive relationships. (The speaker resisted the designation "second-track diplomacy" for this process, because it is sometimes the only process at work for long periods of time.)

In sum, argued this speaker, the new lenses need to focus on human beings, and in particular on the human character of conflict, and on all those factors which affect relationships within society: identity, interests, patterns of interaction, power, perceptions, and misperceptions.

Another participant emphasized the need to focus on civil society in these efforts, because that is where relationships lie, where the "re-weaving" of social relationships needs to take place, and where much the strength of a society to do so lies. Any process of dialogue based in civil society must be based on three assumptions: first, that conflict is inter-societal, not purely with the government. Violent conflict means that deep societal relationships have been broken, on both the individual and collective levels. Second, existing or traditional social structures are important to forging new and better relationships. In the case of Tajikistan, efforts to extend the "public dialogue" among respected civic leaders to local level dialogues have taken into account traditional "councils of elders." And, third, local actors must be considered agents of change, not merely passive victims of violence or clients for international aid. A focus on civil society, conceived of as the mediating institutions between individual and government, must respect all three of these assumptions.

Conflict resolution, in this view, encompasses multiple levels or forums. That most evident in the Tajikistan experience was the private dialogue among respected members of civil society. Here the question is how to institutionalize such efforts to continuously address outbreaks of conflict. Participants cited the spin-off of non-governmental organizations led by participants in the dialogue and devoted to conflict resolution as evidence of the beginning of such institutionalization. Equally important for ensuring a perduring peace at the local level are what might be called "mini-dialogues" among diverse social actors, perhaps through local community boards with real decision-making powers on local issues. Another important component is opening up the political process, giving people the skills to participate, the forums they need, and the sense that it will make a difference. Working with civil society to ensure equitable treatment across groups and responsiveness to citizen grievances is also important. Finally, though so far missing in the Tajikistan work, would be efforts directed at the media and the schools to deal with images of the enemy propagated through these means.

Along similar lines, in his commentary the leader of a conflict resolution NGO stressed the importance of promoting a "transformative process" — shifting societies from adversarial to more cooperative stances and practices. In his view, despite verbal assent to the sort of cognitive shift advocated by Harold Saunders and others, the international community has not really changed its general approach, which would entail attending "to the subjective dimension." Nevertheless, he stressed, a whole range of things can be done to bring people to "understand their differences, act on their commonalities." The speaker offered a number of principles for effective action with civil society. First, such work entails a long-term commitment, with permanent offices on the ground. It must be multi-pronged, directed at multiple actors and diverse goals. It must be committed to the process, not to a determinate outcome. In this respect, it differs from other necessary sorts of action, human rights work, for instance, which must necessarily take sides in pursuit of important ends. There must be a "profound cross-cultural immersion" as part of the work; foreigners have to shed their ethnocentrism in order to learn from local actors. The work, accordingly, must be open-ended, responsive to new possibilities for action. This is a stance, the participant pointed out, that funders have difficulty backing. Finally, the work must be flexible and persistent. There are no quick fixes.

Another set of comments drew on the work of World Vision in Sierra Leone, where civil society had played a major role in overthrowing military rule and is very active in monitoring the development of the new military regime. At the same time, that role is complicated by the role of the Nigerian army in the overthrow of the military dictatorship. In Sierra Leone, civil society faces the common problem in transitional societies that many of its leaders have either left the country or have moved up into government positions, leaving a vacuum in leadership in NGOs, professional and community organizations.

Despite these differences, the speaker stressed similarities with the Tajikistan case presented earlier. Dialogue among members of civil society has been important in rebuilding and in dealing with consequences of the Nigerian intervention. Indigenous actors, accordingly, have to be treated as agents of reconciliation in their own communities, and World Vision, accordingly, has established project offices throughout the country. People need and desire training in collaborative problem-solving skills. Much depends upon the political conjuncture, however, which currently provides an open climate in which civil society can be strengthened.

A commentator drew attention to the often slippery quality of the notion of civil society. How does civil society differ from "society?" What does it add to our understanding to speak now, as we did not ten or fifteen years ago, of "civil" society? The term is seductive, but it may be dangerous if used uncritically and without introducing distinctions among those actors that fall under the general umbrella of "civil society." The crucial question may not be whether "civil society" in general is strong or not, but which actors need to be strengthened for what purposes.

From recent work on democracy building and development, we might derive some lessons about civil society applied to questions of conflict prevention. First, we should not equate civil society with NGOs to the exclusion or neglect of other sorts of associations. Churches and other religious bodies are important actors in civil society, as are labor unions. Cultural associations, professional organizations, and kinship organizations all can play important roles. Moreover, we should be aware that in any foreign assistance effort, we are not strengthening "civil society" per se, but only certain parts of civil society. Which parts international actors focus their efforts on can have a powerful impact on outcomes.

Second, we must not assume that NGOs represent anyone but themselves. They may claim to speak on behalf of broad interests — and hence draw attention to themselves from Western donors — but they do not necessarily represent such interests in the usual political sense of the word. Whomever and whatever we choose to fund, moreover, we need be aware of the extent to which we serve our own agenda versus that of the recipient. Another important question has to do with the legitimacy of external support, especially when it comes from a foreign government. This is always an issue, the commentator warned, and it may at times affect the ability of our collaborators to work and the effectiveness, accordingly, of our assistance. The question of sustainability, already raised in earlier remarks, is likewise always present. Generally, the speaker argued, if an organization cannot come to sustain itself without outside aid, it does not have genuine roots in its own society.

Civil society and NGOs are sometimes presented, the speaker noted, as pristine, above politics. In fact, a great many organizations in civil society can be expected to have political identities, particularly in conflictual settings. These are not above politics, somehow pure expressions of human solidarity, and they should not be approached as such. Finally, seconding earlier remarks, he argued that it is difficult to have widespread effects through work with civil society, as some of the work on "civic education" by USAID and other organizations has shown. Change may come as a result of such effort, but it is apt to be slow, incremental in its effects on the larger situation, and manifest in surprising ways.

These critical reminders were seconded by some in the audience. Particularly important was the observation that it remains necessary to determine under precisely what conditions civil society work of the sort described here can have positive effects on a peace process, and when such efforts are more apt to fail. In the case of Tajikistan, a key condition was the on-going official process. Though this process began over a year after the unofficial dialogue, it eventually displayed considerable political will for a solution to the conflict. There are other situations where such will is obviously lacking. Similarly, one participant pointed out that not all conflicts can be resolved amicably, that just as human rights concerns express a standard of justice that we should not gainsay, some wars may need to be won before the underlying conflict can be "resolved" in any meaningful fashion. One participant wondered, indeed, if the "depoliticized" attitude towards outcomes suggested by some versions of conflict resolution didn’t lead to "real moral trouble."

Although these issues were not taken up in depth, in response one panelist returned to the theme of the utility, over the long term, of efforts to change relationships, at least among key actors, in order to create the "political will" for negotiation.

Equally important was the discussion of just to whom in civil society foreign assistance efforts should be addressed. As one panelist put it, "Civil society strengthening shouldn’t be the front-line question. Rather, [we should ask] who are we working with, and why?" In Tajikistan the team organized by the Kettering Foundation and the Russian Center for Strategic Research and International Studies chose individuals who were respected by their communities and seen as community leaders to participate in a dialogue over issues related to the conflict and the peace process. They were not intended to be representative, in part because they could not include those who still advocated violence if they were to play a constructive role in the dialogue. Rather, they were expected to model what a unified Tajikistan might look like and to promote that model wherever they had influence, including on the local level.

One participant, however, suggested that it is one thing to seek out or help construct groups that can do conflict resolution among themselves and for others, but quite another to support groups that will work to build a society that is just and equitable and that can resolve conflict in a peaceful way. If the goal is really conflict prevention, then perhaps the latter should guide the selection of groups to support and strengthen. A panelist countered that both are necessary, though one and the same foreign effort could not do both at once. The "bad guys," moreover, need to be included at some level if conflict is not to escalate (or continue to escalate) into violence.

To some degree, both this dispute and the preceding discussion of the conditions under which conflict resolution was appropriate represent old arguments between proponents of conflict resolution and other approaches, including both traditional diplomacy and those that insist on the importance of a just resolution of existing social conflicts as a precondition for a peaceable society. At the same time, in this context, the discussion also represented a certain rift between those focused on conflictive or post-conflict settings and those more concerned with what one participant called "preventive development," i.e., development aimed, at least in part, at forestalling conflict by addressing its root causes. For the latter, strengthening civil society as a tool of conflict prevention must entail helping build more just and equitable societies. For those who work with elements of civil society from a conflict resolution perspective, on the other hand, considerations of justice and equity may well be part of the agenda which participants bring to the table, but only part of it; and conflicts may be resolved by finding mechanisms whereby such concerns might in the future be addressed peaceably, without, in the short-term, actually addressing those questions. Thus, the peace process in El Salvador was notable for leaving to one side questions about land distribution (except as they immediately affected the rebels and their civilian support network in the countryside) or the structure of the Salvadoran economy, questions that remain largely unresolved to this day.

In this respect, the approach represented by the majority of the panelists was in fact closer to a traditional realist approach, which holds that the key to forging a lasting peace is a political settlement, that is, an agreement on how to resolve future conflicts and commitments to honor those mechanisms. The chief innovation presented here was the notion that work in and with elements of civil society can be as crucial to ensuring continuing commitments to peace as the diplomatic agreements between armed parties that are the usual stuff of traditional diplomacy. Left unresolved, however, was the earlier question of under what conditions such work might flourish and under what conditions it is, at best, a shot in the dark.

In closing remarks, a discussant summarized some of the most important conclusions. First, he stressed that it remained important to distinguish efforts to involve citizens in processes of conflict resolution and peace building from those aimed at fostering the long-term health of civil society. Both may contribute to conflict prevention, but the discussion did not bring us very far in understanding how, and under what conditions, the latter might do so.

Second, there are some lessons from the efforts of international actors to incorporate civil society into democracy-building and development work that are very similar to those offered by this discussion. One is that such work presents a real challenge to donors, who must be wary of letting their own institutional mechanisms determine what groups they fund in place of a considered judgment of whom they want to support and why. Another lesson is the importance of putting money in the hands of groups on the ground, rather than funding short-term training and consultants. Another is to work with what is there, including traditional forms of association and "politicized" groups, rather than what one would like to see. Finally, the discussant underlined that working with civil society requires high transparency as to motives, priorities and funding mechanisms.

In general, the discussion focused more on work with civil society in a context of post-conflict peace building than on the larger question of aid to civil society as a tool of conflict prevention or "preventive development." Nevertheless, the larger question was broached, if not answered, in discussions of the conditions under which aid to civil society might contribute to solutions and of whom to aid and to what ends. In the latter respect, panelists stressed the importance of building both forums for dialogue among actors at all levels of civil society and conflict resolution skills among recognized community leaders. While several panelists spoke of the need to reach the larger populace, most of the work reported here in fact focused on "community leaders," local notables and "elders," or NGOs. Several panelists stressed the importance of working with "all sides" of what were seen as essentially "intra-societal" conflicts.

Alternatively, some members of the audience insisted that it was important to help build capacity within civil society for defending both justice and the peace, for insisting on good governance, and for working together where government failed. Though this line of argument was not pursued in the discussion, it represents an alternative vision of how civil society might be strengthened as a means for preventing conflict. Some of the caveats given by speakers would undoubtedly apply: it is important to recognize that crucial civil society organizations carry significant political identities, that foreign assistance may be highly charged (and often suspect), and that any choice of partners implies specific goals that may themselves be politically charged.

Such realities may mean, as one participant observed, that aid to strengthen elements of civil society actually exacerbates conflict rather than resolves it. At the same time, it was apparent to all that lasting peace requires a just and equitable social order and responsive governments, and that a strong and active civil society is important to achieving those goals.

Whatever the choice of group and general orientation of foreign assistance to civil society, panelists insisted, aid organizations and donors should remain flexible and open to innovation. Conflict resolution, in particular, is an open-ended process. More generally, the very scale of the task of "strengthening civil society" (or "transforming relationships") suggests that no very immediate, far-reaching results can be expected of such work. Rather, aid should be targeted judiciously but flexibly, recognizing opportunities to have an impact where they arise.

Such an approach is also consistent with another central claim, that the most effective programs must have indigenous ownership. Local actors must be seen not as passive victims but as active participants. Local institutions, existing organizations, and traditional approaches to conflict resolution should have first claim on the attention of the donor community. The agenda for action should come from the society in question and the situation as perceived by local actors, not from the aid agency or donor; and that agenda should be open for revision as these actors see fit.

Both conditions put strains on traditional donor and agency procedures, calling into question the rigid cost accounting standards of many government agencies, the demand for predictable outcomes among donors, and the penchant for pre-fabricated "projects" among agencies. Such tensions undoubtedly reflect the newness of the field, which may well settle down eventually, and against the strictures enunciated here, into familiar paths of well-recognized projects funded with stringent requirements for financial accountability and pre- and post-project evaluation. There are signs, nevertheless, from the experience of several of the panelists, that donors and agencies are finding new ways to fund more flexible and innovative projects.

The final consideration of importance goes back to the earlier, unresolved discussion of the conditions under which aid to civil society might in fact help prevent conflict. While some argued that such work could lead, at least in the long term, to positive outcomes in the face of seemingly intractable conflict situations, most recognized that a great deal depends on the larger political context. While civil society may be a crucial actor in bringing the parties to a civil conflict to the bargaining table or driving an authoritarian regime from power, the evidence is compelling that it is rarely unified in these endeavors and rarely the only important actor. Indeed, civil society often appears to be supplanted by distinctly political actors as the moment of decision draws near, and the terms of peace accords and transitions often reflect only dimly the platforms on which large sectors of civil society once mobilized. Conversely, vibrant and seemingly healthy civil societies have become the tools of manipulative and violent political leaders in settings as diverse as Weimar Germany and contemporary urban India. Hence, despite the rich discussion and important clues offered by this panel, there remains much to learn about how and under what circumstances the structures, mores, and efforts of civil society might advance the cause of peace or block the course of tyranny.



Michael T. Klare

Hampshire College

The breakout session met at a time when governments and non-governmental organizations were beginning to devote considerable attention to problems raised by the worldwide proliferation of small arms and light weapons and to strategies for curbing this trade. Just five weeks before the group met, on October 31, 1998, representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) signed a binding three-year moratorium on the import, export, and production of small arms. Also, on September 24, 1998, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered a speech at a special ministerial meeting on Africa at the U.N. Security Council, where she called for a wide array of measures to curb the diffusion of small arms in Africa. These, and other recent initiatives at the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States, provided the backdrop for the group’s deliberations.

The very fact of these initiatives led most participants in the session to conclude that the international discourse on small arms and light weapons had entered a new phase: moving beyond a general discussion of the small arms problem and its role in contemporary conflict to consideration of practical measures for addressing this problem. Many people referred to Secretary Albright’s speech of September 24, in which she declared: "All of us whose nations sell such weapons, or through whose nations the traffic flows, bear some responsibility for turning a blind eye to the destruction they cause. And all of us have it in our power to do something in response. Together, we should move now to curb arms transfers to zones of conflict in Africa."

Most participants in the session shared Albright’s view that the international community has a responsibility to curb the flow of small arms into "zones of conflict" and sought to focus the discussion on the merits of various proposals for achieving this end. Some participants, however, expressed skepticism as to whether any such measures would prove effective over the long run. These participants argued that small arms are so widely available that it would be nearly impossible to restrict their flow through conventional arms control arrangements. A few participants also suggested that such arrangements, if successful, could conceivably have a detrimental effect, by tilting the outcome of internal conflicts in the direction of those most capable of obtaining arms through illicit channels.

The discussion thus divided into two major themes: first, a debate on the utility and desirability of international controls on small arms, and, second, an assessment of the relative effectiveness of particular control measures.

With respect to the first topic, participants were clearly divided on the basic question of whether international controls can actually be made to work. Several speakers, alluding to the difficulties encountered in curbing the proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons technology, suggested that it would be infinitely harder to stop the flow of small arms, which are widely available and easy to conceal. The establishment of such controls, moreover, was said to be prohibitively expensive.

These views were contested, however, by those participants who felt that an effective system of controls could be put in place at an affordable cost. The key point to remember, these participants argued, was that small arms need not be treated like nuclear weapons, in the sense that a control regime must aim for 100 percent interdiction; rather, the goal of such a regime should be to so constrict the flow of arms so that potential belligerents are discouraged from undertaking a protracted war and agree to peaceful negotiations instead. A regime of this sort, it was suggested, could be established at a reasonable cost — at least when compared to the combined cost of peacekeeping operations, humanitarian aid and rescue, and post-conflict rehabilitation.

As noted, a number of participants also asserted that the establishment of controls on the small arms trade could have unwelcome side-effects, in that they would tend to favor whichever party to a conflict enjoys superior access to illicit arms — a bias that would generally favor states and other powerful actors as opposed to the weaker parties.

Advocates of constraining the trade argued, however, that a paramount goal of any such control system should be to deny arms to dictators and other abusers of international human rights, thus eliminating any bias in favor of the "bad guys." Advocates of constraint further argued that the victims of violence in war-torn societies are not, for the most part, asking for guns of their own but rather for international efforts to curb the violence being directed against them by those who are equipped with guns.

Accompanying these debates was a parallel discussion on the potential effectiveness of particular control mechanisms. This discussion proceeded from a consensus that the small arms field was different from the landmine area in the sense that there is not likely to be a single, overarching treaty or agreement that can successfully address all aspects of the problem — no "Holy Grail," as Lora Lumpe of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo put it in her prepared paper. Rather, it was generally agreed that a small arms control regime would have to incorporate a variety of complementary treaties or agreements to be effective. This was described as the "synergistic" approach by one participant.

Virtually all participants agreed that the first step in creating such a multi-layered regime should be the collection of additional information on all aspects of the small arms issue. Several people suggested, for instance, that it would be difficult to mobilize significant political support for new controls in this field unless it could be clearly demonstrated — with abundant statistics — that the global proliferation of small arms and light weapons was directly contributing to the frequency and intensity of ethnic and internal conflicts.

While much fragmentary evidence has already been collected to suggest that this is so, many participants felt that additional data was needed to make this point conclusively.

It was also suggested that additional data would be useful to inform the international community of the development of new control mechanisms and to allow for the establishment of early-warning mechanisms. For instance, much discussion at the session swirled around the question of whether the majority of arms being used in internal conflicts were acquired thr