Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gareth Evans speaks on conflict prevention


Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), recently made a closing address to a Toronto conference that makes a good follow up to yesterday's post about the peace movement's need to project how we think the world should work. The full text of Evans remarks is here and very much worth reading in full.

So what is ICG and who is Evans? A look at ICG's board list reveals a "who's who" of retired politicians and functionaries who are no longer in office and perhaps have the distance to try to clean up some of the messes they became familiar with while actively in government -- think the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joschka Fischer, Christopher Patten, and Ernesto Zedillo. Gareth Evans fits the profile; he was a Labor Party Foreign Minister of Australia from 1988-96. Men and English speakers predominate, but not to the complete exclusion of other voices. The organization describes itself as "is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, with 120 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict."

Evans' speech was called "Conflict Prevention: Ten Lessons We Have Learned." It expresses the point of view of someone whose work for peace, however arduous, consists of dealing with the powers that drive the nations, not their peoples. His perspective is not mine. I am uncomfortable with thinking about our world's wars in a "conflict prevention/crisis management" framework. This kind of antiseptic language threatens to erase and overshadow demands for simple justice between people and nations. But peoples that have suffered repeated wars, as did for example Europeans throughout the 20th century, have sometimes concluded that peace may be a greater value than justice when the two collide. So who am I, sitting comfortably in the heart of the empire, to demand that justice come before people's longing for peace?

Evans' blunt assessments of the world of the rulers who he attempts to influence are bracing. Would that we had politicians so able to speak truthes.

Evans points to ten lessons. I'll quote parts of his speech below. (I'm Americanizing the spelling and adding a bit of punctuation to make this read more smoothly.)

Lesson 1. Conflict prevention effort does make a difference.
In the case of serious conflicts (defined as those with 1000 or more battle deaths in a year) and mass killings, there has been an 80 per cent decline since the early '90s, and an even more striking decrease in the number of battle deaths....

...the best explanation is the one that stares us in the face, even if a great many don't want to acknowledge it: the huge upsurge in activity in conflict prevention, conflict management, diplomatic peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding activity that has occurred over the last fifteen years, with most of this being spearheaded by the UN itself (but with the World Bank, donor states, a number of regional security organisations and literally thousands of NGOs playing significant roles of their own.) Conflict prevention is a frustrating business to be in, but those of us engaged in it -- as policymakers, as researchers or as activists -- are not wasting our time.

There's some NGO-touting, funder-pleasing horn tooting in this assertion, but I sure hope Evans is right. Count me skeptical, but willing to suspend disbelief.

Lesson 2: The Best Way to Stop Wars is Not to Start Them.
Enthusiasm for preventive warfare -- preemptive strikes to deal with non-imminent threats -- remains undiminished in some dark and unlovely corners of the US and some other administrations around the world, and we cannot assume that the bottom has entirely dropped out of the market for a strike on Iran's still very early stage nuclear installations. But my sense, from successive visits to Washington -- most recently last week -- that after nearly four years of experience in Iraq, there now a fairly complete understanding of not only the range of demons, both regionally and globally, that we would be unleashed by preventive strikes, but also the limited and short term nature of the gains that would be achieved. Life is a learning experience, even for neo-cons.

None of this means that we should swing to the opposite extreme and forswear military responses in situations where this is both legal, as a matter of international law, and legitimate, as a matter of morality and decency: there are in fact two big problems with military force, not just using it when we shouldn't, but not using it when we should (as was obviously the case in Rwanda and Srebrenica). The responsibility to protect doctrine -- to which the world is at least now paying lip service -- does now clearly acknowledges the legitimacy of coercive military force, if only in the most extreme cases.

Again Evans is a lot more trusting that the war makers have learned some restraint and that they can discern proper occasions for the use of force than I am, but let's hope he knows something we don't. Once he's made his two essentially ICG boilerplate points, he gets more interesting.

Lesson 3. Conflict is cyclical: the trick is to stop the wheel turning.
... post-conflict peacebuilding is not the end of a process of conflict resolution, but the start of a new process of conflict prevention: as Louise Frechette reminded us, 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. We're now doing much better at getting this right...

I think this is Evans' nod to the justice problem. If some force (even just exhaustion) can get the guns to stop, then societies and peoples have to build some measure of equity and justice into their lives or the guns will probably be taken up again.

Lesson 4. One size analysis doesn't fit all: every conflict is different.
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.... The short point I would make is that such general analysis has become extremely helpful in getting us to ask the right questions, but it is a mistake to think it can provide all the answers. Every conflict does have its own dynamic, and there is no substitute for comprehensively understanding all the factors at work.

For a variety of reasons, mainly security and budgetary, traditional diplomats are not performing this function in as much breadth and depth as they traditionally have -- it's hard to get out and about when you are locked up in a fortress or have minimal staff resources -- and both early warning and effective conflict prevention capacity have become more at risk as a result.

This is fascinating. He is pointing out the contemporary privatization of diplomacy. Various think tanks, journalistic entities, non-profit outfits like his, and commercial for-profit consultants like Stratfor are collecting the information that each government used to ferret out for itself. Along with privatization, some democratization is also happening. Even humble bloggers sometimes turn up real information and, thanks to the Internet, often this becomes widely accessible to those willing to look. The U.S. may have huge embassies projecting the empire all over the world, but linguistic incapacity and security threats make them more isolated castles than sources of "intelligence". The U.S. government is both blind and drowning in indigestible information.

Lesson 5. Conflict prevention requires complex strategies: one-dimensional fixes rarely work.
The crucial thing is to recognize not only that each situation has its own characteristics, and that one-size spanners [wrenches] don't fit all, but that each situation is likely to require a complex combination of measures. And the balance between them is bound to change, and to have to change, over time as circumstances evolve. Conflict prevention is a business for the fleet of foot, not the plodders -- but unfortunately in international affairs, as in life itself, the latter usually have the numbers.

That last bit about the "fleet of foot" is something that peace activists could take to heart. Every political organization I've ever been part of has had a hard time adjusting to rapid changes in circumstances. We work so hard at understanding and getting a grip on one set of problems that we become invested in those familiar definitions and solutions and have trouble moving on when change happens. Like armies, we're most comfortable fighting the last war.

Lesson 6. Conflict prevention requires effective institutional structures.
Globally, there are at least three major structural problems, only one of which was seriously tackled, and even then only partly, in the 2005 World Summit -- that was the establishment of the new Peacebuilding Commission, to ensure that there would sustained and effective international focus on, and resource commitment for, the crucial post-conflict phase.

A second big problem is the Security Council, not just ensuring its commitment 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 the 21st century. 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.

Evans wants to make the U.N. work and he knows how: reform the Security Council by doing away with the Great Power vetoes and empowering the Secretary-General. This is bold and probably currently impossible. Would it be a good thing? Certainly it would give the currently disempowered majority in the world more say in the institutions that try to prevent the missiles from flying.

Lesson 7. Conflict prevention requires application of resources.
...a formidable case can be made for conflict prevention on pure financial cost-benefit grounds alone. As Australian Foreign Minister in the early 1990s I estimated, with the help of my Department, that the first Gulf War, which cost the allied coalition some $US 70 billion to wage, could conceivably have been avoided through more effective preventive diplomacy -- which in the institutional form of six small but highly professional regional conflict prevention centres around the world would have cost the whole international community just over $20 million a year. Similar calculations have been made in many other contexts. ...

It is not only additional money that is needed for conflict prevention and resolution, but a more intelligent application of money already being spent, not least on the armed forces themselves. ... 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. And even with Mr Putin at his most adventurous, that doesn't seem terribly likely.

So rich countries mostly have completely useless armies (whose preservation presumably serves domestic political ends). We know that about the United States. I for one didn't know the same lunacy was operative in Europe.

Lesson 8: recognize that there is no substitute for cooperative internationalism.
There are limits to any country's capacity, even the U.S.'s, to do anything without allies, friends or supporters, or by extension, working through international and intergovernmental institutions, starting with the UN Security Council. And it's in every country's interest, not just small or medium sized ones like my own, to operate in a rule-based rather than raw power-based international order.

I hope the peace movement can say a whole-hearted "amen" to this.

Lesson 9. Conflict prevention requires the mobilization of political will.
What we perhaps still need to learn...is that merely lamenting the absence of political will...doesn't help very much: what we have to is work out how to mobilize it, recognizing and squarely dealing with all the institutional dynamics and personalities and interests involved. And that requires a combination of good institutional structures -- of the kind I have earlier discussed -- and good arguments. [He catalogues four kinds of "good arguments": financial, national interest, domestic political, and moral.]

I wish I heard in Evans, or any political leader, more confidence in the capabilities of aroused people. Oh sure, especially if badly led, populations can be seized with passionate spasms of violent revenge. But actually, given half a chance, people come to their senses pretty quickly. At the present time, the U.S. people are way out in front of their leaders in both political parties; we know Iraq is a losing boondoggle, a colossal waste of U.S. and Iraqi lives. We're waiting, unhappily, for the kind of people Evans addresses to catch up and find the political will to stop this war.

Evans goes on to describe the problem of political will as a contest between idealism (Neo-con fantasies of imposing democracy on the Middle East) and realism. This kind of above the fray analysis is fine for the rulers of world, but the rest of us wish they'd just get around to letting us live. Evans does get off some nice zingers about those he names as "realists" and "idealists."

My Crisis Group Board member colleague Ken Adelman -- a fierce supporter of the Iraq war (he was the one who said it would be a 'cakewalk'), and the rest of original Bush 43 administration mission -- is one of those who now laments [the eclipse of "idealism"]. In the current issue of Vanity Fair, he says that after Iraq 'the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world' is 'not going to sell' for a generation. If he means the particular kind of idealistic foreign policy that has been pursued over the last six years -- impervious to demonstrable facts, naive in its assumptions, crude in its application of military power, and totally bungled in its general execution -- then we should be grateful to be spared any more of the same.

But if idealism has its limits, the alternative is not a crude and one-dimensional brand of foreign policy realism either. A foreign policy that is founded only on hard-headed realism is a policy that can all too readily descend into cynical indifference: the kind that enabled successive previous US administrations (both Bush 41's, whose foreign policy performance in many other ways I much admired, and Bill Clinton's) to shrug their shoulders about Saddam Hussein's genocidal assaults on the Kurds in the north in the late 80s and the Shiites in the south of Iraq in the early 90s, or to find reasons for ignoring the rapidly unfolding Rwandan genocide in 1994, or to talk the talk but fail to walk the walk when it comes now to Darfur.

Finally, Evans last point:

Lesson 10: recognize there is no substitute for leadership.
We all know, without me needing to take the time to spell it out, where international leadership has spectacularly failed us in recent years, most obviously in the Middle East, where it's gone astray when it hasn't gone completely missing, and where its been shown over and again, if we needed to be reminded, that tenacity is no substitute for intelligence; in Africa, where a succession of celebrated leaders of a new continental renaissance have turned out to have feet of clay; in Europe, which continues to punch well below its weight across a spectrum of global issues and is showing alarming signs of completely losing the plot on Turkey; and on weapons of mass destruction, where none of the P5 nuclear weapons states seem to begin to understand that the rest of the world is fed up with double standards, and non-proliferation can only begin to get back on track if disarmament is taken seriously.

... Of all the lessons we have learned about conflict prevention the need for good leadership is probably the single most obvious and the single most important. But it remains the hardest of all to get right. And maybe at the end of the day, the responsibility for getting it right -- in voting democracies like ours at least -- is something that we cannot pretend belongs to anyone but ourselves as ordinary, individual citizens.

My generation has not covered itself in glory either in our performance as leaders or in the choices we have made as voters. It's up to the next generation to do a lot better.

Here, Evans sounds like so many of us in the Boomer age group -- dreams unfulfilled, but hopeful that we've done enough to lay a foundation for those who come after. Was it ever any other way?

1 comment:

Nell said...

And those who want to be thought respectable and serious laugh at the proposal for a Department of Peace...

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