‘Peace writ large’

By Scilla Elworthy

Time for a strategy for the transformation of conflict worldwide?

Globally, in the 21st century, two unprecedented factors are affecting war: violent conflict is being prevented with the skills of fast-growing localised peace building initiatives, and more wars are ending through negotiation rather than military victory.

Yet military expenditure has increased 45% over 10 years, and only minute amounts are spent on the prevention of conflict. Does this extraordinary situation call for a global strategy to change the way the world deals with war?

Consider the following:

• More conflicts are now ended by negotiated settlement than by military victory.

• Local civilian initiatives to prevent killing are now widespread in conflict areas. The trend is increasing; in 2000, to prepare War Prevention Works, the Oxford Research Group was able to identify 400 civilian peace-building initiatives worldwide, of which it reported on 50 of the most effective. The total identifiable now would be over 2,000.

• The use of IT is transforming the speed and efficiency of local peace building. For example, the Ushahidi Engine is a platform allowing anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualise it on a map or timeline. It developed from the civilian movement to quell violence in Kenya in 2008, and has since been used in Haiti, Gaza and other crises.

• The cost effectiveness of preventing conflict, although hard to prove, is becoming obvious.


• Governments still spend 1,885 times as much on the military as they do on the prevention of conflict, and spend almost nothing on supporting civilians to stop violence.

• Current global military expenditure stands at over $1.46 trillion per annum. This represents a 45% increase over the 10-year period since 1999 corresponding to $217 for each person in the world. The entire budget of the United Nations, set up primarily as a peace making/keeping agency, is only 1.8% of the world’s military expenditure, corresponding to about $4 for each of the world’s inhabitants.

• Each year between $45-60 billion worth of arms sales are agreed, of which some two-thirds to developing countries. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany and Italy account for over 80% of the arms sold between 2001 and 2008.
Note also that 40% of peace agreements fail, leading to a resumption of conflict within 10 years. In addition, a conflicted society may have many dozens of initiatives addressing issues of conflict that rarely connect each other, and therefore cannot ‘add up’ to what is ultimately needed to prevent, manage or end violence.

Is it time for an advocacy strategy for the transformation of conflict?

There is fatigue worldwide with military intervention, given the lack of results in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the global public would be receptive to viable alternatives. Realpolitik concerns often prevent the development of the necessary political will to address conflict prevention.

Good precedents e.g. the Convention on Cluster Munitions was successfully negotiated in 2008 against all odds. The issues are so complex, deep-rooted and inter-related that no one strategy is conceivable.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines yields invaluable lessons for strategy, in bringing about the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

In 2003, Oxfam launched its Control Arms campaign in alliance with IANSA and Amnesty International as part of a global push for tighter regulation of the arms trade. In 2009, after pressure from the Control Arms campaign, 153 countries again voted to start negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty, and to conclude negotiations in 2012. Military spending and the global trade in arms are forces too massive and complex to confront.

If it is time for a co-ordinated advocacy strategy, it’s important to focus on setting objectives.

To be effective, a strategy would need specific aims with target dates. Just to get us thinking, those specific aims might include:

• A global campaign over 5 years to bring these facts to 10% of the world’s population, via soap operas, twitter campaigns, live stories of those who risk their lives daily to save others, etc.

• Challenge global media to report in real time on conflict transformation, so that the public can follow developments and support them, as in a major sporting event like the World Cup.

• A 2-year research programme in universities North and South to establish the cost effectiveness of non-military methods of transforming conflict.

• Prepare a ‘Prevention Convention’ whereby over half the world’s countries appoint a senior level executive in charge of conflict prevention strategy, to attend a global meeting to co-ordinate strategies to prevent, reduce and end violent conflict.

• Convene the ‘Prevention Convention’ to increase the % of world military expenditure to be spent on conflict prevention, by 2015.

A focussed set of representatives of NGOs, IGOs, civil society, government departments and researchers could work to agree a strategy. This group would need wise and clear-sighted co-ordination. Organisations who might be consulted (please add):

• Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict
• International Alert
• Saferworld
• Conciliation Resources
• Responding to Conflict
• All Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues
• Search for Common Ground
• Crisis Action
• Committee for Conflict Transformation Support
• Peace Direct
• The Dili Declaration resulting from the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding 10 April 2010. This Declaration builds on the g7+1 statement agreed in Dili on 8 April 2010.
• US Alliance of International Conflict Prevention
• 3D Security Initiative
• Conflict Transformation Collaborative
• Coexistence International
• The Reflecting on Peace Practice project of the Collaborative Development Action
• Bradford Department of Peace Studies
• Brandeis University Mari Fitzduff is currently Professor and Director of the MA program in Coexistence and Conflict
• US State Department Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization
• USAID Conflict Management and Mitigation Unit
• UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery
• Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA)
• African Union Peace Faculty
• Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs
• Swiss Government
• UK Government/DFID Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department
• Oxfam Control Arms Campaign

Natural allies
Today, there are at least 44 internal units and departments within governments around the world specifically dealing with issues that are germane to the field such as equality, diversity and interdependence.

In addition, an increasing number of governments, and inter governmental agencies have developed units within their organizations which specifically address issues of conflict and peace building.
Worldwide there are hundreds of academic modules dealing with conflict and its resolution at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with approximately 46 Masters graduate programs and 14 PhD programs in the field.

* This article was written in 2011. Notes and references available upon request from the author.

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