At the recent Kuwait International Conference on Reconstruction of Iraq, countries and international organizations pledged US$30 billion to reconstruct Iraq after years of war, falling well short of the US$80 billion estimated necessary by the Iraqi government. As this case aptly demonstrates, civil wars create lasting damage that can take decades to overcome. Despite such huge costs, the international community struggles to find effective ways to prevent conflict escalation, relegating their involvement to the post-conflict reconstruction phase. But might there be ways to address conflicts before they erupt into all out war?
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.
As a U.S. citizen living abroad, I have watched social media recently expose deep divisions in my country between particular communities and the authorities. (The documented and high profile killing of several black American men by law enforcement agents exemplifies the point.) What strikes me about this mutual estrangement is the parallels it has with communities around the world that suffer from weak or absent governance. In both cases, it is not surprising that individuals and communities would want to prevent further violence. One consensus-building tool they could use is the Early-Warning/Early Response (EWER) framework, which is designed to address tensions that might escalate into overt violence.
In a contribution I made to this blog series last year, I looked at top-down/bottom-up approaches to EWER. In today’s blog, I would like to elaborate on my CSS Mediation Resources publication, Preventing Violence: Community-based Approaches to Early Warning/Early Response, which provides a ‘best practices’ resource for communities, practitioners, policy makers, and researchers, looking at the successes, pitfalls and promises of EWER mechanisms. At its heart, the publication affirms the essential role of building relationships and trust within communities, and between them and the authorities that should ideally serve them.
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.
Governments, researchers, and peacebuilders are constantly looking for ways to translate a renewed focus on and heightened awareness of grassroots knowledge into violence prevention and conflict transformation. At present, particular interest has returned to honing and implementing effective Early Warning/Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, but this quest raises a complex question: Should these mechanisms be community-based and originate at the grassroots level or should they be top-down and established as parts of larger structures? Advocates of the grassroots approach, for example, argue that it strengthens and supports the ability of local communities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict, while advocates of large centralized structures acknowledge the benefits of institutional support and broad mandates. The purpose of this blog is to compare these two approaches and ultimately identify the necessity for balance – both approaches have strengths and limitations.
Current trends in the development field suggest that a bottom-up approach, with its emphasis on local initiative and ownership, might be preferable to other options. After all, violence prevention and conflict transformation efforts at the local level can be highly contextual, which is a good thing. Such efforts can more confidently secure a community’s cooperation and support, and they typically identify more nuanced responses, including those that are sensitive to and incorporate traditional practices as well as involving key actors who are positioned to directly intervene in tense situations.
As the preparations for the May 2016 United Nations General Assembly’s high-level debate on peace and security intensify, prevention seems to be on everyone’s lips. The three 2015 UN global peace and security reviews that frame the debate have conveyed a common message: that the political instruments, tools, and mechanisms the world body deploys to address violent conflict all attest to the failure of early prevention. All three reports, not surprisingly, recommended a greater focus on prevention. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his follow-on report on the recommendations of one of these reviews, by the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), wholeheartedly endorsed this.
The skeptics among political observers and those who have followed UN reforms over the years should not be blamed for asking, “So, what’s new?” This is not the first time that the UN and its member states, coming to grips with the woeful shortcomings of their responses to old and emerging global threats, have rediscovered the virtues of prevention. Nothing concentrates the mind more than imminent crisis and once that danger dissipates so does the political will needed, they would argue, to make prevention the first port of call before the outbreak of violence.
Illustration by Howard John Arey
Emotions are high and words are flying fast, when suddenly the head of the negotiation delegation gets up and leaves the room. There have been numerous tactical walk-outs during the past 24 hours of marathon negotiations to reach a peace agreement, but this time things are different. Just when the parties are close to signing, one of the delegations is told by their government to insist on an additional clause in the final document. The other party refuses to accept the change. The minutes tick by with frantic efforts by the mediator to find a last minute solution acceptable to all. However, all is in vain. The head of delegation feels it would be a bad deal for her constituency and she still distrusts the other side – so she walks out for good. Both parties blame the other side for the subsequent escalation of violence.