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Strategies for the Prevention of Conflicts

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 2806 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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How can we stop people from harming others?          

 ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of intervention’ (Menkhaus, 2004). The process of intervening in conflicts that have already broken out is both costly, time consuming and often results in failure. The prevention of conflicts, on the other hand, holds a greater appeal. When successful, prevention has the ability to avoid large scale deaths, displacement within countries and saves countries large costs in terms of resources. Even if conflict is ended successfully, there are further long term dangers that can be forgotten. Such as, the spread of disease, political instability, arms trafficking and surges of refugees seeking to migrate to established countries preventative strategies, in this regard, are appealing to both liberal and realpolitik logic (Menkhaus, 2004). The idea of conflict prevention grew throughout the 1990s and soon became a dominant feature in international discussions after the end of the Cold War. As a result, prevention has been successfully incorporated into global security and governance agendas on a long term basis. As General Kofi Annan, a past United Nations (UN) secretary stated, ‘there is a near-universal agreement that prevention is preferable to cure’. In addition, ‘strategies of prevention must address the root causes of conflicts, not simply their violent symptoms’ (Mack and Furlong cited in Price and Zacher, 2004, pg. 65). Since the 1950s an abundance of research on conflict prevention has been produced (Ramsbotham et al, 2011), alongside an array of preventative mechanisms on an international scale. Scholars suggest that conflict prevention remains underdeveloped and ineffective in some regards. Many avoidable conflicts, such as that of Rwanda and Yugoslavia, have encouraged prevention to be a method used in stopping people from harming others. Therefore, this essay will aim to answer the question of ‘how can we stop people from harming others’ by analysing the effectiveness of conflict prevention in ensuring the avoidance of conflict both regionally and internationally. This essay, will first look at whether conflict prevention has been successful method of peacekeeping. Before examining the key obstacles of implementing this method of peacekeeping.  Finally, prevention will be scrutinized and a conclusion will be formed on the basis of whether or not the method can stop people from harming others.

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Before proceeding further into the essay, it is important to explain how the term ‘we’ will be defined throughout this discussion. ‘We’ refers to a lawful authority and the international community. ‘Harm’ will be interpreted based on a United Nations (UN) understanding ‘cultural or socio conventional motives which have harmful consequences on the rights’ and security of individuals (UN, 2009). In the context of this essay, conflict prevention, refers to ‘a situation where the conflict parties enter into an agreement that solves their central incompatibilities, accept each other’s continued existence as parties and cease all violent action against each other’ (Wallensteen, 2018).

Conflict prevention is by no means new to international diplomacy. A shift in emphasis towards preventative diplomacy was manifested by the UN in 1992 after the publication of the ‘An Agenda for Peace’ report (http://www.un-documents.net/a47-277.htm). Preventative action was then universally accepted as ‘the most desirable and efficient’ option for preventing conflict (Boutros- Ghali, 1992). Since, the UN has successfully reinforced the importance of conflict prevention and its requirements for success, including; early warning, fact finding capabilities and an ability to rapidly deploy preventative peace forces (http://www.un-documents.net/a47-277.htm). The idea of hybrid peace, sees the combination of both global rules regarding peace, partnered with local specifies. This bottom up approach to peacekeeping, has ensured countries, such as Liberia, can avoid a relapse into civil war. Two major civil wars in this country between 1989 and 2003, claimed the lives of over 250,000 people and led to the breakdown of law and order in the first independent African state. The UN successfully managed to get the parties involved to sign a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2003. Following this 150,000 UN troops were sent into the country in order to monitor a ceasefire, extend state authority and help to train Liberian law enforcement on how to build and maintain a working democratic state. Since the signing of the CPA, the country has successfully avoided a relapse into civil war and is working towards long term stability (United Nations Conflict Prevention and Preventive Diplomacy In Action, n.d). This proves that conflict prevention, if implemented properly, can be effective.

Institutions, such as the UN, are not always the most appropriate way to prevent conflict. Ackermann (2003), suggests that the way to overcome this is by taking a more decentralised approach to shift the responsibility down to regional level operations. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe has developed its use of preventative methods for regions; including field missions, monitoring and fact finding tasks (Ackermann, 2003). Similarly, the European Commission (EC) has begun to develop prevention tasks in regards to civilian crisis management. Conflict prevention missions have since been launched in countries such as Fiji and Napal (European Commission cited in Ackermann, 2003). For effective conflict prevention to occur non-governmental organisations must also incorporate preventative policies into their programmes. For example, Oxfam, are listening to this advice and adapting their aid programmes to address peacebuilding as a theme of their relief missions (Menkhaus, 2004). As a result, these agencies have become an integral part of preventing the harm of others as they are placed at a ‘grass root’ level and so, have the ability to monitor the tensions of particular cases. This further reiterates the success of a bottom up approach to peacekeeping.

Another criticism of conflict prevention is that, for it to be a successful method, accurate prediction of when and where conflict will occur is required. Hence why scholars are pushing for advances to occur in regards to ‘conflict causation’ (Ackermann, 2003). There is ample evidence to suggest that, by identifying the root causes behind conflicts makes prevention easier. The most commonly expressed underlying factors of conflict include; poverty, high levels of income inequality, over population and resource scarcity; political repression and human rights violations (Atmaar H et al., cited in Menkhaus, 2004) If these symptoms of conflict are ignored then conflict is only being prevented on a surface level and the likelihood of a reoccurrence becomes high. Scholars, who take the idea of root causes seriously, state that preventative strategies used must include promotion of human rights and the implementation of political structures. Effective preventative responses should, therefore be proactive and incorporate the conflict factors into their framework. Cockell (cited in Ackermann, 2003), explains that once preventative management has occurred, successful de-escalation can occur and narrowly focused intervention can be avoided. In doing so, root issues can be resolved fully, promoting successful long term stability. However, some critics suggest that, being so deeply involved in the structure of a state implies that some are doing so for their own gains, whether this be for resources or to gain ‘donor funding’ (Menkhaus, 2004).  Current predictive capabilities have been shown to be weak with the most dramatic global events, such as the fall of the Berlin War in November 1991, were not effectively predicated.

Therefore, the ability to predict must include the use of an early warning system. Although, this idea is not new, as Kenneth Boulding called for a global network of monitoring systems decades ago (Weiss et al, 2001). The accumulation of past events and the recent rise in terrorism, more specifically the attacks on September 11, have made it imperative that such system exists. This has lead to the ‘warning response dilemma’. According, to Nyheim (cited in Meyer et al., 2010), if opportunities for prevention are missed as a result of lack of response then this provides a major obstacle to responding successfully. International agencies have since sort to build an early warning system, in order to effectively prevent conflicts. Proposals were first laid down within the UNs ‘Centre of Early Warning’. Created in 1992, the  Department of Peace Operations (DPKO) has a 24 hour situation centre which ensures that links between the UN headquarters and those out on peace keeping missions are maintained. It contains the operations room (OR) which monitors news sources and covers geographic areas of concern. In theory, this idea increases the early warning opportunities, preventing the unnecessary harm to people. Though, staffing for this is inadequate, as only three individuals work at one time meaning if a member of staff  is off sick the whole operation is affected. There is also the research and liaison unit (RLU) which collects data and produces daily, weekly and monthly reports of political, military and security trends that could potentially affect the effectiveness of preventative missions (Zenko, 2011). 

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This is not to say all conflicts have gone unpredicted, when early warning systems have been successful, opportunities for preventative diplomacy have been missed. For instance, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), predicted the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1990 and UN officials sent urgent warnings to its headquarters months in advance of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 (Menkhaus, 2004). It can be suggested here that bad governance remains a key factor to reasons why conflicts exist. One reason, as to why early warning could be ignored is because of the ‘Right to Veto’. This right allows any permeant member state of the security council the ability to reject decisions or actions put forward, by the others in the Security Council, from taking place.  In the case of Rwanda, the UN Security Council failed to act as a direct consequence of the hidden vetoes of both France and the United States (US), who blocked any suggested attempt of UN action (Nahory, 2004). The state centric beliefs of countries within the council meant that only after months of killing did the Security Council see any form of progression. Operation Turquoise was a humanitarian mission which saw the deployment of French troops. By this time the idea of prevention was exempt, as a result 800,000 people died because UN members saw early intervention to be contrary to their interests (Nahory, 2004). A Human Rights Watch report explained the reasoning behind this by stating that the Americans wanted to save money, the French were interested in saving their ‘genocidal government ally’ and the Belgians wanted to save face (Forges, 1999). Vetoes need not to be used to benefit state agendas but to benefit the needs of the international community. There have been calls for vetoes to be disregarded during cases of mass atrocities, however, permanent members of the Security Council have opposed any reforms to the voting system (Melling & Dennett, 2017, pg. 295). Critics of conflict prevention, would justify this viewpoint by arguing that some conflicts are an inevitable reality. The liberal approach to peace, of seeing war as the reason for peace, is justifiable; or that preventative action can stand in the way of ‘just wars’ (Menkhaus, 2004).  Therefore, until countries accept their responsibility to protect, the only just method of conflict prevention takes on a liberal stance. One approach that could be taken is pushing for an expansion of its membership to allow for a more representative stance on conflicts in the future. By following a policy similar to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ‘open door policy’ which allows countries to join as long as they adhere to a set of rules (https://www.nato.int/cps/ie/natohq/topics_49212.htm), ensuring that vetoes can still be utilised, but express the thoughts of international governance. 

To conclude, conflict prevention holds the ability to successfully avoid the harm of others when implemented correctly. There have been significant improvements in the capabilities of both institutions and states in implementing conflict prevention into policies and law. By doing more to address the root causes of conflicts and improving early warning systems, conflict prevention has the ability to become an international norm. Preventative methods also offer the avoidance of countries entering, what could be, costly, unnecessary and lengthy wars. Nevertheless, criticisms of the peacekeeping method imply that more needs to be done to ensure that countries commit to the responsibility to protect and move away from only aiding countries based on their own self-interest. Although prevention is the ideal method, immediate military response should not be ruled out, liberal theorist argue, as sometimes war is a justified method of prevention. Although, more dissemination of the practicality of conflict prevention is needed within the international community, however, in its current state prevention is the most appropriate way to prevent the harm of others.

Word Count: 2035

Reference List

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