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Conflict Prevention and the EU: Setting the Scene, Gareth Evans

Notes for Presentation by Gareth Evans, President of International Crisis Group, to Folke Bernadotte/Madariaga Foundation Workshop on Conflict Prevention: Creating a Leading Role for the European Union, Brussels, 9 March 2006

The world as we see it around us does not immediately suggest that we have learned much about preventing deadly conflict. Whether it’s Iraq or Israel, Sri Lanka or Nepal, Darfur or the Eastern Congo, Colombia or the Caucasus, London or Bali, or wherever else in the world the day’s blood is flowing, we are assailed with a constant flow of news about war, potential war or violent extremism which seems depressingly endless.

But for all that has gone wrong and continues to go wrong when it comes to war, civil war, mass violence and terrorism, conflict is not inevitable. We have learned, as an international community, a number of lessons – and I’ll spell out eight of them - as to how better to prevent the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of deadly conflict and mass violence. We are doing better on this front than we have in the past, and better than most people believe. And if we take note of these lessons, and learn further from them, we can do better still.

Lesson 1: The best way to prevent deadly conflict is not to start it.

The first rule for preventing deadly conflict is not to start it, a message the U.S. is certainly now pondering after its rush to war in Iraq – and I hope it’s applying to the situation in Iran. It’s a lesson that Europeans seem to have learned better than most as a result of the horrific experiences of the first half of the 20th century, with the EU itself standing as the strongest testimony to that commitment (and European enlargement – may the process continue – being one of the best of all recent conflict prevention measures)

But we have to recognise that sometimes there is something worse than going to war, and that is not going to war. There are circumstances in which there will simply be no alternative to taking military action, to respond to real and immediate cross-border threats, and – in the case of man-made internal crises of the kind we confronted in the Balkans and Rwanda and elsewhere so often in the last decade (and perhaps are confronting now in Darfur) – to do so in the context of the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’. The 2003 European Security Strategy explicitly recognises that there are circumstances demanding ‘early, rapid and, when necessary, robust enforcement’.

But military action should only ever be undertaken in the most serious cases, as a last resort, and in circumstances where it will do more good than harm: unfortunately, one of the many things the UN Summit failed utterly to do was address the guidelines for Security Council action in this respect that had been proposed by the High Level Panel, and the Secretary-General in his own In Larger Freedom report.

Lesson 2. Conflict prevention effort does make a difference.

This is a very important message to get across to political masters and bean-counters as well as to sustain our own morale. The best evidence that those of us who spend our time in the conflict prevention and resolution business are not wasting our time is now laid out in the long-awaited Human Security Report, launched in October 2005 at the United Nations. The product of a project supported by five major governments (Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK), edited by Andrew Mack of the University of British Colombia and formerly Director of Kofi Annan’s Strategic Planning Unit, and published by Oxford University Press, this seeks to bring together for the first time in a really comprehensive way data about wars within and between states, terrorist acts and atrocity crimes that is presently not collected by any international agency. Among its key findings are these:

There has been a dramatic decline in the number of armed conflicts since the early 1990s – by 80 per cent in the case of conflicts with 1000 or more battle deaths in a year. Paralleling the number of conflicts, the number of battle deaths is also dramatically down, both in absolute numbers, and in terms of the deadliness of each individual conflict. Whereas back in the 1950s and for years thereafter the average number of deaths per conflict per year were 30-40,000, by the early 2000s this number was down to around 600 – reflecting the shift from high to low intensity conflicts, and geographically from Asia to Africa. Of course violent battle deaths are only a small part of the whole story of the misery of war: as many as 90 per cent of war-related deaths are due to disease and malnutrition rather than direct violence. But the trend decline in battle deaths is a significant and highly encouraging story.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of conflicts resolved by active peacemaking, involving diplomatic negotiations, international mediation and the like: The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change which reported to the Secretary-General in the lead-up to this year’s UN Summit, and on which I served, recorded that more civil wars have been ended by negotiation in the last 15 years than in the previous two centuries.

The only unequivocally bad news is the dramatic increase in high-casualty terrorist attacks since 9/11 – but even here the annual death toll from international terrorist incidents remains only a small fraction of the annual war death toll (so far anyway: things will be different if terrorists ever manage a nuclear attack). There are a number of reasons contributing to these turnarounds in relation to the prevention and resolution of conflict. They include the end of the era of colonialism, which generated two-thirds or more of all wars from the 1950s to the 1980s; and of course the end of the Cold War, which meant no more proxy wars fuelled by Washington or Moscow, and also the demise of a number of authoritarian governments, generating internal resentment and resistance, that each side had been propping up.

But as the authors of the Human Security Report argue, the best explanation is the one that stares us in the face, even if a great many do not want to acknowledge it. This is the huge increase in the level of international preventive diplomacy, diplomatic peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations

The UN has been the key player, but not the only one: regional intergovernmental organisations, not least the EU, have played an increasingly significant role. The EU’s contribution has been steadily growing, with its evolving machinery of Early Warning and Policy Planning Unit, Situation Centre, Watchlists, Country Strategy Papers and the like, and with the 14 missions – 10 of them still current – that have been mounted under ESDP in Africa and Asia as well as Europe, with a particular focus on policing and rule of law issues.

Other significant players have been the international financial institutions and, of course, key individual states. And so too have been NGOs and other civil society actors, working alongside the UN system and governments, needling them into action, acting as partners in delivery, or playing critical support roles in, variously, institutional capacity building, community dialogue and confidence building and actual peacemaking through mediation and conciliation. My own International Crisis Group, which didn’t exist ten years ago, but which now plays quite an influential role with our analysis and advocacy across some fifty actual or potential conflict situations worldwide, is a case in point.

Lesson 3. One size analysis doesn’t fit all: every conflict is different.

To understand how to prevent and resolve conflict it is necessary to understand what causes it, and one of the products of the much enhanced focus on conflict prevention is much more academic and institutional analysis than we have ever had before on what generates conflict. There is a whole literature now, for example, on the economic causes of war within, as well as between states, and the respective roles of greed and grievance in fostering and sustaining violence.

But the starting point in approaching conflict and extremist violence has to be to recognise that it is always context specific. Big overarching theories about conflict – whether cast in terms of clash of civilizations, ancient tribal enmity, economic greed, economic grievance, or anything else – may be good for keynote speeches, and certainly good for royalties. They may also be quite helpful in identifying particular explanatory factors that should certainly be taken into account in trying to understand the dynamics of particular situations. But they never seem to work very well in sorting between those situations which are combustible and those which are not.

For every case of religious or ethnic or linguistic difference erupting in communal violence, there are innumerably more cases around the world of people and groups of different cultures and backgrounds living harmoniously side by side; for every group economic grievance that erupts in catastrophic violence there are innumerably more that don’t; for every instance of economic greed - for control of resources or the levers of government – generating or fuelling outright conflict, there are innumerably more that don’t; for every assertion of power or hegemony - internal, regional or global - that results in outright military aggression there are many more that don’t; for every Muslim in the Arab-Islamic world whose feeling of grievance or humiliation against the U.S. or the West takes a violent form, there are many millions more for whom it doesn’t; and for every alienated second-generation immigrant, not succeeding in the new world but feeling adrift from the cultural moorings of his old, who translates that rage or despair into indiscriminate terrorist violence, there are innumerably more for whom that is inconceivable.

Every conflict has its own dynamic, and there is no substitute for comprehensively understanding all the factors at work.

Lesson 4. Conflict is cyclical: The trick is to stop the wheel turning.

One of the things we now understand most clearly about conflict is that the countries and regions most likely to lapse into it are those that have been there before. There is not a straight line or step-ladder sequence between the anticipation of conflict and attempts to prevent it breaking out; the resolution of conflict, by negotiation or force, when it has broken out; and post-conflict peace-building. Rather there is a cyclical process, in which each post-conflict environment contains the potential seeds of the next round of destruction.

What follows from that is that far more effort has to be put into consolidating the peace after it has been won. Sustainable peace cannot be guaranteed just because a diplomatic peacemaking initiative has apparently been successful: the worst horrors in the Angolan civil war came after the Bicesse Accords in 1990, and the Rwandan genocide exploded just a year after the Arusha Peace Agreement of 1993, in each case because manifestly inadequate arrangements were made for peacekeeping and general implementation follow through. Similarly, peace cannot be ensured simply because a clear-cut military victory has apparently been won – think of Afghanistan and Iraq right now.

The conflict containment structures and capacities that need to be applied in a post-conflict environment, to prevent violence recurring, are essentially exactly the same as those that need to be applied in failed or failing states to prevent violent conflict breaking out in the first place. The focus in each case must be on structural prevention – building institutional structures and processes (military, political, legal, economic and social) which are capable of relieving non-violently all the crucial stress points that arise between individuals and groups. Post conflict peacebuilding is a hugely complex and often hugely costly enterprise. It has all too often been neglected or mismanaged, and when this happens it is only a matter of time before the boil erupts again.

The critical recent development on this front has been the agreement to establish the Peacebuilding Commission - filling a huge institutional gap in coordination and sustainable resourcing.

Lesson 5. Conflict prevention requires complex strategies: One-dimensional fixes rarely work.

As a result of the much more systematic focus on conflict prevention since the early 1990s we now have a much better understanding not only of the causes of conflict but the repertoire of measures available to deal with them. The Communication from the Commission on Conflict Prevention of 2001, culminating in the Council-endorsed Gotenburg Program of the same year, squarely recognised the complexity of the issues involved, and gave good general guidance as to how to tackle them.

There are many different ways of categorising and classifying them, and there is a voluminous literature on the subject, but the simplest way of getting one’s head around the options available in any given situation may be to think of a toolbox with two trays – for long term structural prevention and short term more direct operational measures. Each tray in turn has four basic compartments for, respectively, political and diplomatic measures, legal and constitutional measures, economic and social measures, and security sector an military measures. And there are sub-compartments within each of these – for example direct economic measures might include positive incentives , negative incentives or sanctions, and focused humanitarian aid.

The crucial thing is to recognise not only that each situation has its own characteristics, and that one-size spanners don’t fit all, but that each situation is likely to require a complex combination of measures, the balance between which is bound to change over time as circumstances evolve.

Lesson 6. Conflict prevention requires effective institutional structures.

These are necessary at the global, regional and national government levels.

Globally, there are at least three major structural problems, which were only very incompletely tackled in last year’s World Summit. One is finding a better way of assisting the stabilisation and normalisation of the many existing failed, failing and fragile states around the world, in both pre and post conflict situations, which is a cross cutting problem in meeting many security challenges, not least terrorism: the trick will be to find an institutional arrangement which brings together, effectively, all the key players, including the UN and its agencies, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the key bilateral donors. The Peacebuilding Commission has gone part of the way to solving this, but only part.

A second big problem is Security Council- not just ensuring its commitment and and effective delivery, both of which have often been problematic, but in ensuring its continued legitimacy, when its structure is so manifestly a reflection of the world of 1945, not 2005. The complacency of the Permanent Five veto-wielding members is misplaced: their powers will be a diminishing asset unless the credibility issue is seriously addressed before much longer.

A third issue is Secretariat reform: getting more resources into the peace and security area, ensuring their quality, and enabling the Secretary-General to have available to him a large store of early warning and analysis capability – a function that has been largely denied it so far by member states anxious not to be seen as suitable cases for treatment .

At the regional level, much more needs to be done, as you hardly need to be told in relation to the European Union, where major, effectively coordinated effort both at the diplomatic and military levels remains – to put it gently – very much work in progress. But there certainly has been progress. The biggest problem remains, as recognised particularly in the European Security Strategy, delivering coherently focused policy which effectively coordinates Europe’s political, military, civilian, aid and trade capabilities. The task, as amply demonstrated in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, is essentially to get Europe punching at its weight – not below it, as is so often the case notwithstanding the enormous resources the EU so often mobilises in conflict situations.

There have been some very specific regional conflict prevention arrangements that deserve wider emulation elsewhere, notably the OSCE's appointment after the end of the Cold War of a High Commissioner on National Minorities, who devised and encouraged many preventive measures, especially of a legal minority rights protection character, to stop ethnic communities tearing at each other's throats in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

So far as both regional structures and national governments are concerned, increasing efforts have been made to develop structural arrangements both ‘mainstreaming’ conflict prevention – requiring all relevant policy officers to give attention to this dimension in developing aid and other external policies – and also specifically ‘tasking’ it by giving particular individuals or groups within the government the specific responsibility to think about prevention, and devise and recommend up the decision-making food chain appropriate policy responses. ‘Mainstreaming’ conflict prevention was a theme strongly emphasised in the Commission Communication of 2001, but experience has shown that effective policy delivery requires a combination of both institutional approaches: well resourced conflict prevention units are critical elements in ensuring, in complex bureacracies, that more than mere lip service is paid to these issues.

Lesson 7. Conflict prevention requires application of resources.

Like many other worthwhile public policy activities, conflict prevention struggles to get its share of public resources. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t generate immediately visible returns: you succeed most in conflict prevention when nothing happens, and nobody notices. And for most people in public office performing good works without anyone noticing it is like having your teeth pulled.

But there is no doubt a formidable case can be made for conflict prevention on pure financial cost-benefit grounds alone. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw estimated a few years ago that the small preventive military deployment in Macedonia, stopping the slide to war there, cost the British taxpayer ?14 million: fighting the war in Kosovo, by contrast, cost Britain ?200 million, and in Bosnia over ?1.5 billion. He could no doubt make an even stronger case, if he chose, based on what the recent Iraq war, eminently preventable as it was, has already cost his taxpayers and the expenditure benefits elsewhere that have been foregone in the process.

That kind of calculation has been done recently in the US, where a New York Times published study in October 2004 showed that the $144 billion already spent in Iraq could have paid for, among other things, the more or less complete safeguarding of US ports, airports and airliners ($34 billion); the security from theft of the world’s stock of weapons-grade nuclear materials and the deactivation of warheads (another $34 billion); the complete rebuilding of Afghanistan, including drug crop conversion ($20 billion); the addition of another 65,000 U.S. troops, if anyone thought this necessary ($40 billion); and another $10 billion in development assistance (which would fill, for one year anyway, nearly 20 per cent of the gap presently identified if Millennium Development goals relating to poverty, disease and the like are to be met).

It is not only additional money that is needed for conflict prevention and resolution, but a more intelligent application of money already being spent, for example on armed forces. A critical resource problem constantly facing planners is the availability of deployable military assets of the necessary quality for peacekeeping, peace enforcement and peacebuilding tasks. As we become more and more aware of the magnitude of the peacekeeping/civilian protection tasks in Darfur and the Congo, and the task in post-conflict follow-through task in countries like Afghanistan, it becomes more and more obvious that the developed countries have a greater burden to bear than they are currently shouldering.

A major part of the problem is the lingering on of Cold War configurations in force structures - for example in Germany, where of 250 000 men and women in uniform in recent years, only some 10 000 are deployable at any given time on international peace operation tasks. One recent estimate (Thomas Donnelly, AEI) is that ‘of the 2.5 million personnel nominally under arms in Europe, at most 3 per cent are deployable’. A good many of the rest are presumably still waiting by their tanks for the Russians to come…

Lesson 8. Conflict prevention requires political will.

This is hardly a new lesson, but as in many other areas of public policy it is always the bottom line: unless the relevant decision makers, at the national or international level, want something to happen it won’t. What we perhaps still need to learn is that merely lamenting the absence of political will – as so many commentaries do, stopping the analysis right there - doesn’t help very much: what we have to is work out how to mobilise it. And that requires a combination of good institutional structures – of the kind I have earlier discussed – and good arguments.

The obligation on all of us, both inside and outside government systems, who are concerned about better conflict prevention is to provide those arguments. The most relevant ones are:

moral arguments (however base and self-interested their actual motives are governments always like to be seen as acting from higher ones);

financial arguments (preventive action is likely to be cheaper by many orders of magnitude, as we have already seen, than responding after the event, whether through military action, humanitarian relief assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, or all three);

national interest arguments (bearing in mind that, given the number of international problems, like terrorism or health pandemics, that can only be solved by cooperative action, all countries have an interest not only in the traditional security and prosperity objectives, but in being, and being seen to be, good, cooperative international citizens); and

domestic political arguments (of a kind which appeal to parties in power, and these can include shoring up a political base as much as getting through to waverers: the Bush administration’s preoccupation with its Christian right has certainly been an important element in its wholly desirable commitment to peace processes in Sudan).

At the end of the day, success or failure in conflict prevention and resolution, for Crisis Group as for every other actor, comes down very much to the calibre of individuals, and in particular the key national leaders on whose decisions so much depends, and not all of whom who are quite as forthrightly prepared to accept responsibility for error as President George W. Bush. I’m thinking here not so much of his statement that Iraq was a ‘catastrophic success’ - although that comes close to what I had in mind – as rather his immortal comment at a signing ceremony for a major military spending bill on 5 August 2004, that

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.