International Community Knows the Consequences of Deadly Conflict but Does Little to Prevent It, Argues Barnett Rubin

November 13, 2002

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November 13, 2002 — Given the dramatic loss of life, attacks on our fundamental values and the fall-out in terms of refugees and other serious problems, preventing deadly conflict and the disorder it sows should be a much higher priority for the United States, other governments, international organizations, and non governmental organizations. This is the key conclusion of Barnett R. Rubin, former director of the Council’s Center for Preventive Action in Blood on the Doorstep: The Politics of Preventive Action.

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Rubin— who combines hard-headed commentary with expert analysis of recent deadly conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and Afghanistan— shows that violence grows not only from internal conflicts within poverty-stricken societies, but also from external political manipulation and failures on the part of global institutions.

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He explores other factors that contribute to conflict and lead to violence such as the demand for illegal drugs; weak banking regulations that facilitate looting by corrupt rulers; arms trafficking by terrorists; and the economic marginalization of entire populations

Some societies, Rubin demonstrates, experience a toxic combination of economic decline, growing inequality, and ethnic difference, while other states are further weakened by the exploitation of natural resources—like diamonds and drugs—that are routinely plundered to finance war. Leaders in these countries profit from conflict and pursue strategies to gain power through violence, especially where there are limited alternatives for political gain.

Rubin spells out a three-pronged approach to help solve these problems:

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  • Use the international system to control marketing in resources that fund conflict; and deter mass killing through the International Criminal Court.



  • Attack the structural failures in governance and development that make societies most prey to deadly conflict



  • Keep conflict from spreading or becoming more violent through sanctions, incentives, diplomacy, mediation or even military intervention.




Recognizing this goal will not be the principal focus of U.S. foreign policy, Rubin recommends partnering with other governments, international organizations, and non governmental organizations to achieve these goals. He does not advocate "global governance," through radical organizational change, but concludes that more informal international networks—combined with some reorganization—are more likely to insure accountability and save lives.

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Conflict Prevention

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Rubin wrote Blood on the Doorstep during his six-year tenure as director of the Council’s Center for Preventive Action, which seeks to mitigate deadly conflict by offering tangible and practical solutions for peace.

He is now director of studies at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University, and was part of the UN team that mediated the negotiations in Bonn that established the interim administration of Afghanistan.


For more information or to read an excerpt from the book, click:
Blood on the Doorstep: The Politics of Preventive Action


Contact: Marie X. Strauss, Communications Office, 212-434-9536


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