If War Is Not the Answer, What Is? The Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict

October 25th, 2008 - by admin

Friends Committee on National Legislation – 2008-10-25 11:11:04


In the fall of 2002, the Bush Administration enshrined in U.S. policy a unilateral right to take military action against “emerging threats before they are fully formed.” (1) Months later, in March 2003, against widespread global protest and without United Nations Security Council authorization, the Administration put its new policy of “preemptive” war into practice by invading and occupying Iraq.

The costs of the war, the path of fractured alliances left in its wake, the ongoing crisis with North Korea, and the growing realization that the war may have fueled the very threats it was intended to thwart, have demonstrated that the Bush Doctrine is far from a complete success in forging peace and security. In fact, military force and unilateralism are tragically ineffective instruments against the current threats facing the U.S. and the global community. But, if war is not the answer, then what is?

Article 51 of the UN Charter reserves to states the right of self-defense against military attack. Preemptive war may be justified under the Charter if the military threat is so imminent, substantive (combining capability and intention), and substantial that an attack is virtually certain. However, the Bush Doctrine, as presented in the September 2002 National Security Strategy and implemented in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, upends the concept of self-defense.

All this Administration needs is a U.S. unilateral determination that at some undefined future time, using means that might be acquired or developed, another country possibly could constitute a challenge to U.S. national interests. Because these conditions do not meet the prerequisites for preemptive self defense under international law, the word “preemptive” will be placed in quotation marks throughout this booklet.

A More Effective Path to Lasting Security
The Bush Administration’s focus on earlier response to emerging threats is an important and necessary step in U.S. policy. For too long, the world has responded too late to escalating conflicts, genocide, gross human rights abuses, failing states, the threat of terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Since the early 1990s, the international community has been facing up to and striving to overcome this “culture of reaction” by moving toward a “culture of prevention.” Unfortunately, the administration’s emphasis on U.S. military and economic dominance and the use of force as its main instrument of foreign policy diverges drastically from the international community’s deepened understanding of how to effectively reduce conflict and prevent war.

A growing body of research is contributing to a global movement for the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. The publishing of the report of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict in1998 2, followed three years later by the release of the Secretary-General’s Report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict 3 and the report Responsibility to Protect by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty 4 marked important steps in the world community’s effort to better understand, predict, and prevent the outbreak of violent conflict.

In 2001, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the development of new capacities within national governments, multilateral regional organizations, civil society, and the UN to undertake genuinely preventive actions in all stages of conflict–from latent tensions to hot wars to post-conflict peacebuilding.

Such actions include developing early warning systems and enhanced preventive diplomacy capacities, strengthening international law and good governance, reducing the proliferation of weapons and protecting human rights, supporting sustainable development and the fair distribution of resources, ending poverty, tackling HIV/AIDS and other public health crises, reducing ethnic tensions, building strong institutions of global civil society, and ensuring basic human security for all the world’s people.

Many in the international community are already making progress to develop and implement policies of peaceful prevention.

The European Union, African Union, and other multilateral organizations are working to develop new mechanisms for regional conflict prevention. Sweden has created a national policy for the prevention of violent conflict.

The UN Development Program, World Bank, and national development agencies including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are exploring methods of integrating conflict prevention into their program work in countries worldwide. Non-governmental agencies across the globe working in humanitarian assistance, development, and peacebuilding have formed the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and are planning a conference to be held at the UN in 2005 that will help strengthen the role of civil society in conflict prevention.

A new agenda for the peaceful prevention of armed conflict originally grew out of the recognized failure of the international community in the post-Cold War world to adequately prevent mass humanitarian crises, including the Rwandan genocide and mass slaughter in Srebrenica. The international community, including the U.S., was growing tired of reacting too little, too late to humanitarian crises, ethnic conflicts, and state failures that might have been prevented.

A paradigm shift away from 11th hour response to a model of early prevention was needed. In the summer of 2001, the UN Security Council, with the Bush Administration representing the U.S., passed a resolution pledging to “enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations in addressing conflict at all stages, from prevention to settlement to post-conflict peacebuilding.”

Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the global community “to make prevention the cornerstone of collective security in the twenty-first century.” 5 In July 2003 the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution in which Member States, including the U.S., committed to working towards the prevention of armed conflict, and laid out the roles of states, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector in preventing armed conflict. (6)

The attacks of September 11, 2001 and ongoing threats of terrorism have highlighted the importance of implementing a security agenda that can better predict emerging threats, prevent their outbreak into violence, diffuse current disputes, and address the root causes of violent conflict.

Rather than applying the lessons of peaceful prevention that the international community has been gathering, however, the U.S. has reverted to the outdated tools of unilateralism and overwhelming military force — instruments which promise to fuel the threats of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist attacks. Military action may stamp out some elements of a threat, but it cannot remove the roots of conflict and may instead deepen their reach.

A New Security Strategy
A more effective, less costly path to national and global security is available.

Some years ago, the New York City fire department made a fundamental paradigm shift away from fire emergency response toward fire prevention. The department changed the way it approached its job and turned more energy and resources into public education, early detection systems, better building codes, and addressing some of the most persistent causes of fire.

They saved lives and, over a few short years, began fighting fewer and less devastating fires. A similar shift in approach to conflict could save lives and reduce the occasion of war.

The U.S. can help lead this shift. The threats of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist networks, oppressive regimes, ethnic conflict, failed states, and devastating poverty and disease can be diminished through policies and programs designed to peacefully prevent the outbreak of violence and address the root causes of conflict.

As U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (DE) proposed in late July 2003, “Instead of a preemption doctrine, what we need is a prevention doctrine which diffuses problems long before they explode in our face.” Such a U.S. policy framework would build on the efforts already underway within some U.S. government agencies, at the UN, among European allies, in regional organizations, and among civil society groups to develop stronger capacities for early warning, early response, and addressing root causes. It would replace the policy of “preemptive” war with one of war prevention.

If War Is Not the Answer, What Is?
Conflict Resolution & International Grassroots Networking
Great Lakes Region, Central Africa, 1995- Ppresent

“The exceptionally creative thing about an AVP workshop is that a new community is forged during the intense, intimate time that people spend together, laughing, playing, thinking, no matter whether the participant be an old Buddhist farmer, a young Baptist university professor, a middle-aged atheist biker…or a politically radical ex-felon. Or a Hutu or a Tutsi.”
— Elaine Klaasen,”Alternatives to Violence Project Goes to Africa,” July 2002

After the devastation of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, communities of Quakers in Uganda began searching for ways to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation in the societies of their region. Uganda Yearly Meeting reached out to the Alternatives to Violence Project, a conflict resolution program designed by Quakers and NY prison inmates in the mid 70s. AVP’s workshops are designed to be highly adaptable, and had already been conducted in diverse communities across the globe by the mid 90s.

Since 1995, AVP facilitators have conducted hundreds of workshops in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, and have trained over 100 local facilitators who continue grassroots resolution and reconciliation work. In 2002, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda announced a plan to process genocide suspects through a renewed version of the traditional, community-based gacaca court system.

Rwandan Quakers met with the secretary general of the gacaca commission in the summer of 2002, and are planning to conduct AVP workshops with thousands of genocide suspects, as well as the judges who will be deciding their cases. The Quaker Prevention Network links these and other efforts of Quaker organizations and individuals working to break long cycles of violence and prevent future conflicts around the world.

1 — The National Security Strategy is a document published by every Administration, sometimes annually, and required by Congress. It outlines the basic policy framework for U.S. security policy under the authoring Administration. The 2002 National Security Strategy has received considerable criticism in the U.S. and abroad for its emphasis on U.S. global military dominance and declaration of a unilateral right to take “preemptive” action against emerging threats. The document text and analysis from FCNL is available at http://www.fcnl.org/issues/mil/sup/national_security-strategy.htm

2 — In 1998, the Carnegie Commission on the Prevention of Violent Conflict published a hallmark report that helped create the language and theoretical framework of peaceful prevention. The report described preventive activity in terms of operational (late-term preventive actions that address the proximate causes of conflict as it is unfolding; examples include mediation, arms embargoes, and peacekeeping operations) and structural (early preventive actions that address the underlying structural causes of conflict; examples include preventive development programs, interreligious or interethnic peacebuilding, and democratic institution building). Following its 1998 report, the commission published a series of other studies on revention, all available at http://wwics.si.edu/subsites/ccpdc/index.htm

3 — In June 2001, at the request of the UN Security Council, the Secretary-General published a Report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict. The report outlines actions, roles, and recommendations for the international community in the prevention of armed conflict. The report was well-received by UN Member States, and the theme of conflict prevention was anticipated to be a major topic in the opening speeches of the 56th General Assembly. However, the attacks of September 11, 2001, coming just before the UN session opening, eclipsed other topics and became the central focus. Work to implement the recommendations of the report at the UN level, among regional organizations, at the country level, and among civil society groups has continued. The report is available at http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2001/sgrep01.htm

4 — The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty was established by the Canadian government to lead an international consultation process on the issue of international intervention in interstate conflict or humanitarian crises. Rather than focusing on the international community’s right to intervene, the report emphasized the responsibility of every state to protect its people and prevent violent conflict. The report is available at http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/iciss-ciise/menu-en.asp

5— See UN Security Council Resolution 1366, available at http://www.un.org/Docs/scres/2001/sc2001.htm
6 See UN General Assembly Resolution A/Res/57/337, available at http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/resguide/r57.htm