Excerpt: Cases and Strategies for Preventive Action

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Introduction: Experiences in Prevention

By Barnett R. Rubin with Susanna P. Campbell

The Council on Foreign Relations established the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) in 1994 to build up and disseminate knowledge about the relatively new field of conflict prevention. In an initial phase of operations, CPA would, it was envisioned, itself engage in part of the process of preventing conflict by undertaking missions and other activities relating to a number of regions in which conflict was in danger of breaking out or escalating. The four areas chosen were Burundi, then expanded to the whole Great Lakes region of Central Africa (which also includes Rwanda, Eastern Congo-Zaire, Uganda, and Tanzania), the South Balkans (Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania), Nigeria, and the Ferghana Valley (a densely populated region of Central Asia including portions of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan). These four cases constitute a sample of different problems of conflict prevention, providing us with a diverse set of comparisons from which to learn about preventive action.[1]

In order to reinforce networks of cooperation and promote regular evaluation of what we have learned about conflict prevention, CPA has held an annual conference each December since 1994. At these conferences, to which we have invited colleagues from NGOs, international organizations, government, business, and academia, we have attempted to establish a baseline of knowledge and analyze further successes, failures, and ambiguous outcomes.

CPA's third annual conference, held in December 1996, included six workshops.[2] Three discussed papers on CPA projects (in the South Balkans, Burundi, and Nigeria), while three others considered themes that have emerged from our work on several cases: the utility of economic sanctions and incentives, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the role of religion and religious actors in conflict prevention. This volume presents the papers that framed those discussions, revised to take into account comments made by participants and subsequent discussion.

Responding to New Conflicts

The Challenge of Prevention

Among the most disturbing challenges to security in this era has been the proliferation of civil wars, or intrastate conflicts, often engulfing whole regions in chain reactions of violence. The cold war structured international relations around a large-scale conflict, but the discipline it provided created a management structure for that system by integrating numerous states, including many that were nominally nonaligned, into networks of hegemonic control. The disappearance of this structure left regional states and nonstate actors freer to pursue local agendas.[3]

In Southeast Europe, the Horn of Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and elsewhere states have failed, well-armed militias have proliferated, and various forms of collective identity have provided the symbols that have motivated so many to kill. As has been the case increasingly in this century's wars, civilians have often been the main targets and always been the principal victims. Refugees and displaced people have crowded the routes of flight, whether mountain paths, decrepit ferries, or overtaxed international airports.

For major powers, and particularly the United States, these conflicts have posed new problems. Without the simplifications of the cold war to fall back on, they have seemed difficult to understand and to relate to a national interest or purpose. The new simplification--that the end of the cold war had unleashed "ancient hatreds"--has served as a rationale for inaction or despair. The intermittently and selectively televised spectacle of context-free death, mutilation, hunger, and disease has made the moral challenge clear but has not elucidated what acts would meet that challenge or whose responsibility--or in whose interest--it was to undertake them.

In the absence of major states willing to take political and military risks to end conflicts decisively, responses have taken the form of humanitarian aid and limited peacekeeping operations, often intended mainly to protect the humanitarian effort. Although most of these efforts have been carried out under the aegis of the United Nations, regional organizations, interested states, and nongovernmental organizations of many types, with diverse agendas and capacities, have also played important roles. Nonetheless, the rising costs of humanitarian efforts and frustration with the inadequacy and impermanence of their results have led many organizations to focus on means of preventing such conflicts.[4]

Prevention of war between states through peaceful settlement of disputes has always been the first task of diplomacy, but international initiatives to prevent wars within states or among nonstate actors is relatively new. Prevention of intrastate conflict has posed peculiar difficulties for the UN, as well as for other official bodies, because of the doctrine of state sovereignty. As civil wars became more violent, produced refugees, and threatened to expand, the worldwide body and other state-based organizations could justify intervention on the grounds that such wars posed threats to international peace and security. It has been harder to justify preventive intervention in conflicts that have not yet reached such a level of violence and might appear to be simply domestic disputes within states. Furthermore, action by governments or intergovernmental organizations will ultimately depend on whether government leaders will be able or willing to mobilize the resources and support necessary to take effective action to prevent conflict. Inaction and flawed, counterproductive action can be equally harmful.

This volume seeks to present many of the challenges of conflict prevention through exploration of specific cases and tools. Each case presents different facets of the overall problem of prevention. All of the tools and general problems discussed in the thematic chapters are relevant to each of the cases. Combining these often ambiguous general lessons with a unique approach suited to each case in a way that produces the political support needed to sustain action is the core of the art of preventive action.

Descriptions of Chapters

Case Studies/Regions

The three case studies presented in this volume were chosen as projects by CPA because they reflect different issues in conflict prevention. Two were drawn from very different regions of Africa and one from the post-Communist world--two broad areas where much of the conflict prevention effort has been concentrated. The three cases illustrate different stages in the development of conflict. At one extreme, Burundi has not only seen repeated massacres bordering on genocide since the 1970s but had also just emerged from another such round when CPA became involved at the beginning of 1995. Burundi was further endangered by the regional environment, including war and genocide in Rwanda and the subsequent refugee crisis in Zaire. Efforts concentrated on managing an existing violent crisis and preventing further mass killings.

The South Balkans and Nigeria are cases wherein the potential for violent conflict has not been realized to the same extent, at least recently. Neither has recently been the site of mass violence (though both have been in decades past), but tensions are high in both areas, aggravated in different ways by their respective regional environments--for the South Balkans, the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars; for Nigeria, the civil wars and state disintegration in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In two cases, Burundi and Macedonia (one of the foci of the South Balkans project), states and international institutions have been actively involved in prevention efforts, while in Nigeria, the appearance of calm, combined with disagreements among major international actors, has produced a certain paralysis or inattention. Nigeria has also provided us with a case in which significant U.S. domestic constituencies were engaged, including oil companies, human rights and environmental groups, and a divided African-American community. Hence, these three cases present sufficiently contrasting contexts of preventive action to illuminate the decisions, choices, and issues involved.

The South Balkans. In the South Balkans (Serbia/Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania), both conflict over national and ethnic rights and the weakness of states threaten to erupt into violence. In the new state of Macedonia and the contested region of Kosovo the issues of state, nationality, and ethnicity are as tense as those that gave rise to the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, even if a variety of factors have so far prevented a similar bloody conflagration. The status of Albanian populations defined as minorities by both Macedonia and Serbia remains unsettled. The explosion in Albania as a result of the collapse of corrupt financial institutions spread more weapons throughout the region. It also effectively split that tortured country along long-standing subethnic lines, pitting the Northern Geg rebels (drawn from the clan that had dominated that country's Stalinist regime) against a government controlled by Southern Tosks.

In his chapter entitled "Nationalism and Civic Identity: Ethnic Models for Macedonia and Kosovo," Steven L. Burg takes a step back from the immediate disputes in the region to examine different institutional models for multiethnic states. The "consociational" model of Arend Lijphart, which advocates explicit recognition of ethnic differences and a polity based on interethnic elite accommodation, has dominated the political science literature. This model, however, derives from a primordial understanding of ethnicity and in practice has not proved to be a sturdy means to prevent interethnic conflict. Furthermore, recent experiences have convinced most analysts that ethnic identity is highly contextual and malleable. Where possible, therefore, Burg advocates institutional reform designed to promote crosscutting identities and a nonethnic civic society. Nonetheless, there are cases, especially involving racial identity, but also when differences and antagonisms are well established, where some form of official recognition of autonomy or other such measures is the only means of meeting ethnic aspirations. Burg concludes that Kosovo is one of those cases where autonomy or an even stronger separate status is necessary. In Macedonia, however, Burg finds that opportunities remain for integrating Albanians into political and social life through pluralistic institutions and a civic rather than purely ethno-national identity. He analyzes examples of projects designed to work toward that end and outlines a set of reforms consistent with it.

Burundi. In Burundi, relations between the main contending identity groups are far more violent than in the South Balkans, or even arguably than in Bosnia. Dominance by the Tutsi minority through control of the army, educational system, and state service has pushed the Hutu majority into revolt several times, while the harsh rhetoric of some Hutu leaders and the actual genocide of Tutsis by a Hutu-power regime in neighboring Rwanda stiffen resistance to any concessions. Like the states of the South Balkans, Burundi is part of a region of conflicts linked to the formation of states and national communities through violence and population movement, often motivated by intense fear and mistrust.

In their chapter entitled "Learning from Burundi's Failed Democratic Transition, 1993-96," Michael S. Lund, Barnett R. Rubin, and Fabienne Hara document the extent to which Burundi, like Macedonia, has become a focal point of efforts at conflict prevention and resolution on the part of a range of public and private international organizations. These efforts began after the assassination by Tutsi military officers of Melchior Ndadaye, the country's first freely elected president and a Hutu, in October 1993. The assassination was followed by massacres on both sides that killed tens of thousands of people.

Despite all the efforts, conflict in Burundi continued to escalate, though international action may have prevented at least one major crisis.[5] Given the intensity of the conflict, any peace effort had a high risk of failure. Using indicators derived from comparative research, the authors show that Burundi is one of the countries most at risk of violent conflict, a potential that has been repeatedly realized for decades. Only comparison with Rwanda, where one of history's few incontestable genocides occurred--on television--in 1994, made it possible to characterize international action in Burundi as preventive. Indeed, Lund prefers to view the effort in Burundi as crisis management rather than prevention.

Effective stabilization of Burundi requires effective means to counter that country's pervasive violence, protected by what has come to be known as a "culture of impunity." International action, however, concentrated on supporting political agreements for democratization and power sharing. While there have been many Burundian political actors who would have preferred a peaceful society based on compromise, the degree of insecurity and the risk of assassination prevented the political institutions that were supposed to embody such values from becoming a reality. Despite repeated calls for action on the issue of security, expressed for instance in the Security Working Group of the Burundi Policy Forum, no effective action was ever taken either within Burundi or in the broader region.[6] The authors argue that effective action in crises such as Burundi will require a more forthright analysis of the role of violence and either a greater international capacity for internal policing in such regions or greater willingness to use what force is available.

Nigeria. Nigeria poses a different but no less daunting set of challenges. Sub-Saharan Africa's most populous state, the home of vast deposits of high-quality petroleum and natural gas, Nigeria has a history of ethnic civil war, military rule, and pervasive corruption. Its past intervals of elected civilian rule led to group conflict and money-driven politics that helped to legitimize military coups that in turn aggravated the same basic problems of the Nigerian state: ethnic and regional diversity that requires federalism and decentralization, combined with a lopsided dependence on oil revenues that concentrates power in the small, central elite that controls the wealth. The result, as Peter M. Lewis shows in his chapter entitled "Nigeria: The Challenge of Preventive Action," has been the decay of institutions and the gradual slippage of this huge country toward conflict.

International debate about Nigeria intensified after the annulment of the June 1993 presidential election and the execution of nine leaders of the Ogoni ethnic group, including writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, in 1995. This group was found guilty of murder in rushed, grossly unfair military trials.[7] The activists had led a struggle against both the government and the Royal Dutch-Shell oil company, seeking greater benefits for the Ogoni from the oil wealth in their Niger Delta land. Since then debate has been polarized between those who favor stronger sanctions against both Nigeria and the corporations who operate there and those who favor more engagement with the government to press it to honor pledges of a return to civilian rule and economic reform.

Rather than judge between these two options, some combination of which is clearly necessary, Lewis argues for greater emphasis on a third component of international policy toward Nigeria--support for civil society. While dislodging the military from power and supporting a representative government are not only inherently right but also necessary to quell Nigeria's growing conflicts, they would not be sufficient to stabilize that country's future. As Lewis has argued elsewhere, coalitions of civil society groups often act as important catalysts of transition from military rule and as guardians of the process.[8] Even more important, however, civil society coalitions could help overcome the fragmentation of the Nigerian political class, resulting from years of military politics and corruption, as well as act as watchdogs on any new regime. The latter function is particularly important if the Nigerian state is to become accountable to its people and to the rule of law. Hence a more long-term program of conflict prevention for Nigeria would support efforts by Nigerian religious, human rights, business, academic, journalistic, and other groups to form coalitions both within the country and with their counterparts in West Africa and elsewhere. These ties could also help make Nigeria a genuinely stabilizing force in its region, where its activity has so far been largely military.

Issues in Conflict Prevention

Through its case studies, CPA has identified tools of conflict prevention. In order to further analyze the effectiveness of particular tools, CPA commissioned papers from experts on three areas that have been relevant to each of its case studies--economic sanctions and incentives, small weapons disarmament, and religion.

Economic Sanctions and Incentives. CPA asked George A. Lopez and David Cortright, noted scholars of sanctions, to evaluate the usefulness of both sanctions and economic incentives in preventive action. In their chapter entitled "Carrots, Sticks, and Cooperation: Economic Tools of Statecraft," they argue that neither sanctions nor economic incentives are likely to be effective in changing the behavior of elites pursuing essential goals in their own domestic politics. To the extent that either is successful, their effectiveness depends strongly upon the context and the overall mix of policies. Incentives work better in the context of an overall positive relationship; both sanctions and incentives work better when the sanctioning state also has a credible (even if unspoken) alternative of using coercion. Sanctions and incentives can also be mixed so as to provide a stronger set of alternatives to the receiving state. Overall, Cortright and Lopez prefer incentives to sanctions as both more effective and more conducive to a peaceful outcome, but they recognize the possible moral hazard of offering rewards for ending aggression or violations of human rights that should not have occurred in the first place.

In the South Balkans, Burundi, and Nigeria, international actors have identified certain political leaders as responsible for conflict and imposed sanctions against them or the states they lead:  

  • The United States stated at Dayton that the "outer wall" of sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), including suspension of membership in international organizations and financial institutions and of full diplomatic relations, would remain in place until certain conditions were complied with, including significant progress toward the protection of human rights in Kosovo;[9]
  • The United States and some European states, assisted by the UN, banned from international travel a list of Burundian political leaders suspected of involvement in the massacres there, by supplying their names to Interpol; the Rwanda Support Group (an interstate aid consortium) adopted a Canadian-sponsored aid package for Burundi that would be released only after certain political conditions were met; and East African states, with international support, imposed a trade and transport embargo on the country after the August 1, 1996, military coup.
  • The United States, the EU, and the Commonwealth have all imposed various sanctions on Nigeria, pending fair and free elections as well as full cooperation against narcotics smuggling. These measures have included restrictions on issuance of visas to top authorities, suspension of membership in the Commonwealth, termination of arms transfers and military training, and limits on direct air links.

In light of Cortright and Lopez's analysis, it seems that while sanctions may reduce the likelihood of new Serbian aggression in Kosovo, they are unlikely to bring about a settlement or major changes; for these, other initiatives will be needed. In Burundi, travel restrictions will probably not affect political actors who think they are fighting for their lives, though difficult-to-enforce financial sanctions against some individuals may cripple their ability to mobilize their followers for violence and to arm them. Finally, the implication for Nigeria is that sanctions must be supplemented with a more comprehensive policy including intensive communication with the regime, an offer of incentives in the event of a regime change (perhaps in the form of debt relief, infrastructure development, and even amnesty for past rulers), and positive support for civil society.

Small Weapons Disarmament. Edward J. Laurance has been involved in the development and analysis of several small weapons disarmament efforts. His chapter in this volume, entitled "Small Arms, Light Weapons, and Conflict Prevention: The New Post-Cold War Logic of Disarmament," explores how the end of the cold war both released a vast supply of arms originally intended for various cold-war conflicts and left the developed countries and others with production capacities in excess of their needs. The resulting glut on the market created a drop in prices as these devastating small arms and light weapons were circulated wherever parties to conflicts wanted them. The arms do not cause the conflicts, he reminds us, nor can their production or sale be banned, as they are still considered legitimate means of defense. Furthermore, international law recognizes that even unofficial groups have the right to take up arms in certain circumstances, though what these are remains controversial. Nonetheless, the presence in unprecedentedly large numbers of a new generation of powerful, light automatic weapons has imparted new levels of destruction to what might have been containable conflicts and made them more difficult to resolve.

Laurance outlines approaches to disarmament at different stages of conflict: preconflict, during the conflict, and postconflict. Not surprisingly, the greatest successes are in the postconflict period, but even there the obstacles to gaining control over and destroying or disabling such a valuable resource are serious. (An automatic weapon may be worth more than a year's average salary in some countries.) The unclear borderline between warfare and crime in many of these conflicts complicates the task, as citizens who arm themselves for the apolitical task of protecting their personal security may also form an ethnic or political militia. Efforts have been under way for only a few years now, but there are initiatives both to create a more effective arms control regime for small arms and light weapons (including better reporting, monitoring, and access to information, generally known as "transparency") and to develop techniques to interdict supplies to key areas. A great range of policies has been tried, especially as part of peace settlements, and Laurance presents the evidence of their relative success. Even in preconflict situations, however, Laurance argues for greater transparency with respect to arms flows, more security for legitimate weapons stocks, controls over the production and marketing of ammunition, and greater attention to fighting crime and promoting personal security. All of these measures have the potential to decrease the accumulation of capacities for lethal harm among groups potentially in conflict.

In the South Balkans, Burundi, and Nigeria, the spread and trafficking of small arms and light weapons has contributed to making conflicts more lethal. Weapons flowing into the Great Lakes region of Africa, especially to the militias and armed forces responsible for the Rwandan genocide, attracted attention in 1995 when reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International led to a Security Council resolution. Reports that arms were flowing into Nigeria after the annulment of the 1993 elections were one reason CPA decided as early as 1994 to investigate Nigeria as a possible case study. And in the spring of 1997 the uprising in Albania led to the looting of arms stocks throughout the country. Reports have spread of the diffusion of these supplies to Albanian militants in both Macedonia and Kosovo, seriously raising the stakes in the region.

Religion. We asked Donald W. Shriver, Jr., a member of CPA's advisory board and former president of Union Theological Seminary, to contribute an essay on the role of religion in violence prevention. While noting religion's sometime role as a fomenter or legitimator of violence, in his chapter entitled "Religion and Violence Prevention" Shriver finds several ways in which religious beliefs, institutions, and leaders have prevented violence and promoted peace. Some basic religious concepts, such as the common humanity of all under God, provide basic values undergirding peacemaking. Religious institutions, because of the special status they sometimes enjoy, provide protected space for civic action. And religious leaders, to the extent that they are genuine and sincere and are perceived to be so, can inspire greater trust in antagonists, if only by listening to them more deeply than others.

Depending on the religious composition of a society, religion may reinforce efforts at pluralism or veer dangerously off into identity politics. Political accords based on religious values may implicitly or explicitly exclude those who do not share them--contradicting the goal, espoused by Steven L. Burg in his essay, of a civic society. In the discussion at the conference, Andrea Bartoli of the community of Sant' Egidio emphasized that religion needed secularism in order to provide the public context in which it could do the most in defense of human rights and basic values.

In the South Balkans, Burundi, and Nigeria we have encountered the full force of religion, for good and ill. The role of the hierarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church in supporting nationalism is well known, and attachment to some important religious sites in Kosovo is one reason cited by Serbs for their insistence on maintaining control. At the same time, the Community of Sant' Egidio, the Rome-based Catholic lay community that mediated the peace settlement in Mozambique, had built up enough trust on both sides, as a result of years of humanitarian and religious work, that it was able to do what no one else could--persuade Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and Ibrahim Rugova, president of the unofficial "Republic of Kosova," to sign an agreement on reopening the Albanian schools.

The Community of Sant' Egidio was also able to bring together the representatives of the Tutsi military government of Burundi with those of the principal Hutu-led guerrilla force for cease-fire talks. The Mennonites were among the few international NGOs who kept people on the ground in Burundi at even the most dangerous times. And some local religious leaders in Burundi participated on one side or another of the conflict (a phenomenon even more pronounced in neighboring Rwanda, where the local Catholic hierarchy seemed largely complicitous with the genocidal regime), while others were outspoken enough in favor of peace to be assassinated.

In Nigeria we found that as overtly political opposition was repressed, religious organizations and movements increasingly became the voice of excluded segments of the society, whether through statements by major church leaders, the rise of new syncretic churches in the South, or uprisings by Islamic militants in the North. Some efforts at interreligious dialogue and conflict resolution have also indicated that religious actors could play a key role in bringing together Nigeria's fragmented civil society.  

Lessons Learned

Experience with CPA's cases and its various techniques has also led us to several more general conclusions about what it takes to make preventive action effective.

Conflict Prevention Must Be Integrated into International Policy

An essential lesson is that the prevention of violent conflict should not become a separate agenda in international affairs, competing for attention with strategic goals, human rights, development, trade, democratization, or any other agenda. The prevention of violent conflict should be a component of an overall strategy aimed at enhancing human security and welfare through peaceful relations among accountable states that respect basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law.

As critics of the field often remind us, in the struggle for these goals conflict is inevitable and sometimes healthy; even military conflict at times seems tragically necessary to resolve problems.[10] Most violence, of course, is not a tragic necessity in the pursuit of noble goals, but a result of misfortune or even crime. In seeking to prevent such acts, however, we must bear in mind that the goal is not stability at any cost, but a legitimate order in which people have opportunities to seek their many goals and pursue their inevitable conflicts without violence. Many authoritarian rulers claim, some sincerely, that only repression or other forms of state violence can prevent chaos or mass violence. While it is naive to insist on the immediate imposition of the entire package of Western democratic institutions and rights in poor countries torn by violence and with weak or fragmented institutions, experience shows that repression does not provide a sustainable solution. It can only insulate predatory rulers and postpone the day when society will demand accountability, the sole lasting alternative to violent protest.

The Great Lakes region illustrates that prevention of conflict per se cannot always be the main goal of policy. The predatory regime of Mobutu, a relic of cold war clientelism for which the Western powers that had supported him failed to take responsibility, was a principal source of endemic conflict across the region. Attempts to broker peace with that regime in order to prevent civil war would have preserved a major long-term destabilizing force in the name of peace. Nonetheless, rebuilding--or building--the political, economic, and security structures of the region so as to prevent further conflict is a preeminent preventive task.

The intertwining of prevention with a broader agenda requires its integration into policy at all stages of conflict. The model of prevention as intervention in a growing conflict before the outbreak of mass violence treats conflict as a particular event with a finite life cycle.[11] This model may be particularly applicable to conflicts set off by unique historical events, such as the breakup of the Soviet Union. Most conflicts, however, are chronic rather than acute; they are conditions of life that flare up, die down, and flare up in new forms over time. While we should continue to look for early warning signs of new conflicts and attempt to prevent outbreaks of violence before they occur, we should also integrate concern over the potential for violent conflict into a broad range of policies. As we develop better tools of conflict prevention and better understanding of the causes of violent conflict, we should integrate those tools and that knowledge into the pursuit of all other policy goals. Economic development strategies that provide for equitable means of dispute resolution with respect to the stresses caused by large-scale social change will be more sustainable than policies that ignore the potential for conflict. Democracy promotion policies that recognize partisan competition's potential for igniting fears and insecurities and incorporate means to overcome them will make for more sustainable and peaceful democracies (as Lund, Rubin, and Hara show in the chapter on Burundi).

A Regional Approach Is Needed

Today's pervasive conflicts generally occur in and spread through entire regions of weak states.[12] The nature of the conflicts that we now confront fits poorly with existing juridical categories and with the diplomatic modalities that exist for dealing with them. International law distinguishes interstate conflicts from others, which are usually described as domestic or intrastate. Recent conflicts, however, require severe conceptual stretching to fit models of either domestic or interstate conflict. In many respects, intrastate conflict is the continuation of interstate conflict by other means. More precisely, these conflicts often constitute a new form of transnational warfare, including armed groups with cross-border ties to states, social movements, markets, criminal cartels, and corporations. In the Great Lakes conflicts, while Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire each exhibited a unique history and particular configurations of actors, coalitions also formed across borders in a conflict that can only be described as transnational and regional.[13]

The regional dimension means that sustainable prevention of conflict will require a comprehensive regional approach. Yet within a common region, some areas or countries may not yet have experienced armed conflict, others may be in the midst of it, and others may be emerging into a peace settlement or moving from one condition to another. Preventing violence in the areas that have not experienced it may require stable conflict resolution and postconflict settlements in other parts of the region, and these settlements must be based on principles that tend to promote conflict resolution elsewhere. Recognition of the Bosnian Serb Republic at Dayton led to greater militancy among Albanians in Kosovo; failure to address the chronic problems of Zaire (including the presence of Rwandan Hutu militias) rendered peacemaking in Rwanda and Burundi (not to mention Angola and Uganda) far more difficult. And the effect of the Nigerian military regime's apparent success in leading a peacekeeping operation that presided over elections in Liberia may be to strengthen its legitimacy or to strengthen the emerging African norm against military governments.

The need for a regional approach (especially when the regions that are politically relevant may not coincide with specific international organizations) finds many inherited forms of international action wanting. Diplomats are generally accredited to individual states or agencies; most agencies, official or not, have national programs that interact with their diplomatic counterparts. The regional nature of conflict, however, requires institutional innovations such as the appointment of special envoys to entire regions, the convening of regional meetings, and attention in mediation activities to cross-border alliances, rather than assuming that each country's conflict can be negotiated separately. The need for a regional approach also means that conflict prevention cannot be neatly segregated from other stages of conflict management. Prevention of armed conflict in one country may require resolution of an ongoing conflict or successful postconflict reconstruction in a neighboring one.

The Importance of Unofficial Actors and Civil Society Must Be Recognized

In response to the rising importance of many actors other than international organizations and governments, CPA has focused much of its attention and analysis on the growing and potential role of unofficial actors. The number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in conflict resolution and prevention (as well as the allied field of early warning) has grown more quickly than one can easily keep track of.[14] Some of these organizations work on policy analysis, some in the field; some work in only one conflict or region, while others attempt to be more global; but taken together they have all augmented the capacity of the international system to deal with conflict, at the same time presenting it with new dilemmas.

In focusing on unofficial actors, however, CPA does not have in mind only those NGOs whose missions explicitly deal with conflict. An analysis of each of the three cases in this volume of incipient or developed crisis has shown that the weakness of civic organizations in processing and absorbing conflict and in holding state leaders and institutions accountable is a chronic condition that leaves societies vulnerable. Governments can create a framework within which civil society can work, but by its nature civil society can develop and flourish only through nongovernmental initiative. Although much more evaluation of this experience is needed to determine how and to what extent these networks strengthen the capacity of various societies to prevent violent conflict, all of our work leads us to suspect that international networks of mutual support can play an important role in sustaining institutions that enhance civic peace.

Implicit in our approach has been the recognition that changes in communications technology, migration patterns, the cost of travel, financial markets, and other institutions have blurred the boundaries between domestic and international politics. While international affairs has never been monopolized by states, the range of actors with international links has expanded. Religious groups, corporations, labor organizations, scholars, professionals, and other sectors of society have expanded direct contacts with their counterparts to the extent that we may speak of an incipient transnational civil society, a network of ties through which resources, information, and advocacy flow according to a logic partly independent of states.

Nonetheless, the goals and impact of nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and many other unofficial actors may or may not be consistent with that of conflict prevention. Some religious organizations, such as the Community of Sant' Egidio, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Society of Friends, or the Fellowship of Reconciliation, are among the most effective mediators.[15] On the other hand, other religious groups may promote conflict through aggressive proselytism or unbalanced support lent to one or another group in a divided society or region. Business may seek stability, security, predictability, and the rule of law, all of which are consistent with the goals of conflict prevention; it may also have an interest in the goodwill of host governments, in avoiding sanctions, in quiescent labor, and in extracting valuable resources from territories controlled by illegitimate authorities--all factors that may aggravate conflict. Business and others are also engaged in a debate as to whether management's sole responsibility is to shareholders or whether it also, to one extent or another, has obligations to a broader set of "stakeholders" in the enterprise and in the communities where it operates. Human rights organizations support institutions of accountability and transparency that are essential to managing conflict peacefully and deterring future acts of violence; in their pursuit of these goals, however, they may oppose compromises such as amnesties for past abuses that may seem necessary to convince antagonists to lay down their arms. Similar analyses apply to other sectors. These examples also illustrate that conflict prevention is not a self-evident, all-encompassing goal. Like other interests, values, or goals, it may come into conflict with others--the free dissemination of religious faith, the pursuit of wealth, or the punishment of crimes against humanity.

Despite the contradictions, the potential power of such unofficial actors is too important to neglect. They are both active themselves on the ground and form important constituencies for (or against) action by governments. Finally, only well-organized societies can hold their governments accountable and create the institutionalized channels of collective problem solving and dispute resolution that can make violence obsolete.

The Efforts of a Multiplicity of Partners Need Coordination

The multiplicity and variety of actors involved in generating conflicts requires a similar multiplicity of international partners to resolve them. The UN, regional organizations, states with global reach, important regional states, humanitarian organizations, NGOs working with civil society, conflict resolution organizations both religious and secular, potential and actual investors, international financial institutions, aid donors, and many others bring specific, needed capacities to bear. At the same time, the multiplicity of partners can pose difficulties. Their efforts can undermine each other, communicating different messages; and relevant actors may either play different would-be interveners off against each other or seek to incorporate some of them into their own political coalitions.

Hence, one of the major needs in dealing with conflicts and the situations that give rise to them is for new forms of coordination among international and local actors. While the UN in one or another guise is often the logical home for this coordination effort, much more creativity is needed. The UN finds it difficult to coordinate the sometimes disparate efforts of powerful member states, which need to find their own means of policy coordination. As an organization of states staffed largely by diplomats conscious of the limits sovereignty places on their mandate, the UN may find it difficult to work directly with many NGOs, or with civil society organizations or religious groups. Aid donors and international financial institutions must make their activities consistent with whatever political efforts are under way.[16] Various attempts are in progress to institutionalize interaction among all of these groups in order to promote at least transparency and regular discussion.[17]

Action by this multiplicity of partners requires more than coordination, of course; it requires genuine complementarity in pursuit of common goals. Complementarity is the key: NGOs, official international organizations, and governments can each bring different capacities to bear, but they cannot substitute for each other. The rise of NGOs does not mean that foreign policy (and political responsibility) can be conveniently privatized. The three case studies in this volume provide examples. In Kosovo a combination of firm official pressure and discussion with the government of Serbia is necessary to create the conditions for NGO-organized dialogue on the ground that might lead to an interim settlement. (Such dialogue, in turn, must not raise expectations of external assistance that cannot be met, leading to disappointment and, perhaps, further radicalism.) Humanitarian and conflict-resolution work by NGOs and international organizations in the Great Lakes region came to naught when governments failed to suppress the remaining genocidal organizations. Aid to civil society in Nigeria will fail without pressure on the government to permit political space for it to flourish, and pressure on the government will not lead to democratic accountability without civil society partnerships that can sustain that accountability.

All Prevention Is Political

Acknowledging the need for complementarity is, in a sense, a mild way of expressing a much greater problem: Not all would-be interveners aim solely or primarily to prevent violent conflict or to promote human rights and accountability. Conflict prevention does not consist of actors (in some Third World country) who cause problems and interveners (in developed countries or international organizations) who try to solve problems. All the actors have political interests, and all are involved in a common problem. Both official and unofficial organizations that intervene have multiple goals, and both may be part of the problem as well as (or instead of) part of the solution. Those who see themselves as external interveners aiming to prevent or resolve conflict are themselves part of the political process that generates and reproduces the conflict. Not only is intervention itself a political act that the protagonists will try to exploit, but also those actors intervening to prevent or resolve conflict may be acting in other arenas in ways that generate or aggravate the conflict.

Attempts at intervention may also have unintended consequences. Mediators, as we have seen, may convey different messages, undermining each other's work. An even more serious problem has been the gap in time between the announcement of a planned intervention and its implementation--or, even worse, cases when an intervention is announced and then not implemented. As Lund, Rubin, and Hara discuss, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali's call for an international preventive force in Burundi, followed by months of inconclusive debate, may have encouraged fighters on both sides to escalate military activity in order to prevent any such intervention or to assure themselves of an advantageous position when it arrived. In the event, it never arrived, leaving the victims of violence defenseless. The vaguely defined "security assistance" to which the Burundian negotiators agreed at Mwanza, Tanzania, in the summer of 1996 set off a similar reaction, including the military coup against President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, assuring that the "assistance" could not be delivered. Announcement of the September 1996 agreement on reopening the schools in Kosovo before the details of implementation had been worked out was followed by an escalation of threats by Serbian nationalists and violence by the Kosova Liberation Army, creating a political environment in which the agreement could not be implemented.

More fundamentally, conflict prevention can at times seem like a weak palliative applied to problems generated by the "normal" functioning of the relationships--economic and other -- that define the international system. In no sector is this more evident than in the manufacture and trade in small arms and light weapons. Few of the societies subject to devastating conflict (the former Yugoslavia being a notable exception) have the capacity to produce the weapons and ammunition needed to continue waging war. As Edward Laurance shows, the legitimacy of the production and sale of arms and ammunition in general and the particularly weak regulatory regime for small arms and light weapons provides the environment that makes illegitimate and destabilizing arms transfers and secondary markets possible. The international financial system that hides and circulates ill-gotten wealth makes destabilizing predatory rule much easier and more rewarding, as the history of both President Mobutu and the various corrupt rulers of Nigeria shows, as well as the less well known underworld of drug traders and car thieves that supports South Balkans violence.

Nigeria provides an arresting example of how the normal operation of the international economic system creates conditions that facilitate conflict. The coincidence of immense ethnic diversity (a result of colonial bureaucratic statemaking) and centralized oil revenues derived from one small region of the country have defined that dysfunctional state. The social structure requires decentralization, while the economic structure (dependence on oil revenues) dictates extreme centralization. Control over the revenues from the international oil market provides rulers with the means to undermine federal or other institutions that they fear may weaken their control or threaten their power. Hence financial corruption undermines many Nigerian institutions. International efforts to pressure the predatory military regime toward reform have foundered in part on the complicity of oil-consuming societies with the processes that support that regime. Nor is it so simple as blaming the oil companies, who are responding to our developed societies' vast and still growing demand for energy. As Peter Lewis shows in the chapter on Nigeria, a more stable Nigeria will require changes in the way the rest of the world does business with Nigeria, not just a change in Nigeria itself.

Hence, while reacting to events and palliative tactics remain necessary, long-term prevention of violence may require institutional changes, not just in the societies at direct risk but also in how they interact with the rest of the world. Such changes will, of course, affect important interests, and it is not surprising, therefore, that policies depicted by their proponents as needed to prevent violent conflict may be resisted by others. Since conflict in one form or another is inherent in all collective human activities, no single policy alternative is likely to present itself as a unique way of avoiding conflict. Different political forces will have different interests in and beliefs in the rightness of different policies, some of which may prevent at least some kinds of conflict. The issue cannot be segregated in an apolitical, humanitarian discourse. The political reality of prevention efforts is the reason, as argued above, that they must be integrated into a broader set of strategic policies, rather than treated as a separate "humanitarian" concern.

The Primacy of Relationships

The most complex, difficult, and yet in many ways strongest lesson of our experience thus far has been that both conflicts and conflict prevention or resolution result from relationships among people. Both social scientists and strategists normally analyze these relationships in terms of power and wealth. And few indeed would be naive enough to claim that violent conflicts involving vast resources and claiming the lives of thousands, even millions, of people result only from psychological causes. Real issues are at stake. But at the same time, people imbue these struggles with meaning and feeling. Competition over resources or power leads to mistrust, images of enmity, dehumanization, hatred. Outsiders are sometimes able to design solutions that would seemingly ameliorate many of these conflicts, provide for sharing of resources, and build institutions of coexistence. Even when the plans for a solution are valid (as they are not always, of course), the process through which a mediator can gain a hearing for such proposals--or through which the parties to the conflict can trust and communicate with each other well enough to devise, consider, or adopt such proposals--itself encounters many psychological and interpersonal barriers. Both the material and the psychosocial relationships among the parties to the conflict must change, and neither can change without the other's participation.

Starting and sustaining such a process often requires a leap of faith: trust in some person, institution, or ideal; belief in something that transcends the overwhelming reality of conflict. While religion can motivate parties to a conflict with a transcendent reason for combat, a transcendent belief system can also provide the faith needed to test the possibility of peace, as Donald Shriver argues in his chapter. Diplomats, NGOs, and others working in conflict resolution, while never neglecting the practicalities of power and resources, must also attend to the spiritual resources that may ultimately be necessary to escape from conflict. We cannot neglect the difficult practical work of devising the right mix of sanctions and incentives (as analyzed by Cortright and Lopez), building institutions of ethnic separation or power sharing (as analyzed by Steven Burg), curbing the flow of small weapons and disarming former or potential combatants (as analyzed by Ed Laurance), providing security to potential negotiators (as Lund, Rubin, and Hara argue the international community failed to do in Burundi), or working with partners to strengthen civil society until it is strong enough to hold a predatory state accountable (as Peter Lewis argues is necessary in Nigeria). But without cultivating long-term relationships--based on solid values--with our fellow humans caught in the trap of violence, we cannot even begin.


  1. ^ Please refer to the Preface of this volume for a more detailed description of the Center for Preventive Action's activities.
  2. ^ Please refer to Appendix A for the program of the conference, which was held on December 12, 1996.
  3. ^ For an analysis of this phenomenon in Southwest Asia, see Barnett R. Rubin, The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From Buffer State to Failed State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). On the proliferation of conflicts, see Leslie H. Gelb, "Quelling the Teacup Wars: The New World's Constant Challenge," Foreign Affairs 73, no. 6 (November/December 1994): 2-6. On deregulation of the international system, see Richard N. Haass, The Reluctant Sheriff: The United States after the Cold War (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1997).
  4. ^ No one did more to focus attention on prevention than former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who included it as one of the four basic elements of UN peace operations in his 1992 Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peace-Keeping (New York: United Nations Doc. A/47/277, S.2411, June 1992).
  5. ^ When Burundi's second Hutu president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was killed in the April 1994 plane crash that killed Rwandan president Habyarimana in Kigali, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, the UN secretary-general's special representative, coordinated a crisis response effort that effectively prevented a possible repetition of the 1993 massacres. As usual it is impossible to prove what might have happened otherwise, but the fact that there was no violence is quite striking.
  6. ^ The Security Working Group is a confidential meeting sponsored by the Great Lakes Policy Forum. Please refer to the Preface for a description.
  7. ^ See "Report of the Fact-finding Mission of the Secretary-General to Nigeria," Annex I of Human Rights Questions: Human Rights Situations and Reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives (New York: United Nations Doc. A/50/960, May 28, 1996).
  8. ^ Peter M. Lewis, "Nigeria: The Challenge of Preventive Action," in Barnett R. Rubin, ed., Cases and Strategies for Preventive Action (New York: Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1997), p. 109.
  9. ^ The other conditions were full compliance with the Dayton Accords and delivery of indicted war criminals to the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
  10. ^ Stephen John Steadman, "Alchemy for a New World Order-Overselling 'Preventive Diplomacy,'" Foreign Affairs 74, no. 3 (May/June 1995): 14-20.
  11. ^ Michael S. Lund, Preventing Violent Conflicts: A Strategy for Preventive Diplomacy (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1996).
  12. ^ Kalevi J. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  13. ^ Gerard Prunier, "The Geopolitical Situation in the Great Lakes Area in Light of the Kivu Crisis" (http: //www.unhcr.ch /refworld/country /writenet /wrilakes.htm, February 1997).
  14. ^ Guides to this field have also proliferated. See Appendix B for a partial list.
  15. ^ See Donald W. Shriver, Jr., "Religion and Violence Prevention," in Rubin, Cases and Strategies. See also Cameron Hume, Ending Mozambique's War: The Role of Mediation and Good Offices (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1994).
  16. ^ Alvaro de Soto and Graciana del Castillo, "Obstacles to Peacebuilding," Foreign Policy, no. 94 (Spring 1994): 69-83; James K. Boyce, Economic Policy for Building Peace: The Lessons of El Salvador (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1996).
  17. ^ Among these efforts are the Great Lakes (formerly Burundi) Policy Forum in Washington, cosponsored by CPA, Search for Common Ground, and Refugees International, and the EuroForum on the Great Lakes in Brussels, cosponsored by CPA, the European Centre for Common Ground, and International Alert. Together with the Carter Center and Synergies Africa, CPA also sponsored an international and multisectoral consultation with Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, special envoy to the Great Lakes of the UN and OAU.