Chapter 2 Conflict Resolution: Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions

НазваниеChapter 2 Conflict Resolution: Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions
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1.1 ' Light ' and 'deep ' prevention

Active measures to prevent conflict can be divided into two types. One is aimed at preventing situations with a clear capacity for violence from degenerating into armed conflict. This is called ‘light prevention’. Its practitioners do not necessarily concern themselves with the root causes of the conflict, or with remedying the situation which led to the crisis which the measures address. Their aim is to prevent latent or threshold conflicts from becoming severe armed conflicts. Examples of such action are diplomatic interventions, long-term missions and private mediation efforts. ‘Deep prevention’, in contrast, aims to address the root causes, including underlying conflicts of interest and relationships. At the international level this may mean addressing recurrent issues and problems in the international system, or a particular international relationship which lies at the root of conflict. Within societies, it may mean engaging with issues of development, political culture, and community relations. In the context of post-cold war conflicts, ‘light prevention’ generally means improving the international capacity to intervene in conflicts before they become violent; ‘deep prevention’ means building domestic or regional or international capacity to manage conflict. This distinction between ‘light’ and ‘deep’ prevention can be related in turn to the immediate and more profound causes of war as discussed in the previous chapter.

1.2 Causality and prevention

We have already noted Hidemi Suganami’s distinction between three levels on which the causes of war can be explained (Suganami 1996):

(1) 'What are the conditions which must be present for wars to occur?'

(2) 'Under what sorts of circumstances have wars occurred most frequently?'

(3) 'How did this particular war come about'?

The first is a question about the necessary causes of wars, the second about the correlates of war, the third about the antecedents of particular wars.

We can reformulate the question, ‘what prevents violent conflicts?’ in a similar way:

(1) Can war be prevented by removing its necessary conditions?

(2) Can the incidence of wars be reduced by controlling the circumstances under which they arise?

(3) How can this particular conflict be prevented from becoming violent?

Suganami identifies as logically necessary conditions for war: (a) the 'capacity of human beings to kill members of their own species'; (b) 'sufficient prevalence of the belief among a number of societies, in particular the states, that there are circumstances under which it is their function to resort to arms against one another, and in doing so demand the co-operation of society members (without which no organized armed conflict could take place between societies)'; and (c) 'the absence from the international system of a perfectly effective anti-war device'. Surprisingly, he ignores another necessary condition which has been pointed to by many students of war: (d) the existence of weapons.

Now it is clear that if any of these necessary conditions could be removed, war as an organized activity would be prevented. Following the order of Suganami's conditions, war could be prevented by (a) changing human nature, (b) reducing the prevalence of the belief that resort to arms is a legitimate function of the state, or (c) introducing a perfectly effective anti-war device, although all of these face serious practical difficulties, as does (d) achieving general disarmament. The difficulty lies in the fact that war is an institution, and as such it is rooted in the social systems which give rise to it (Rapoport 1992). So long as the belief that states can legitimately order people to participate in war is prevalent and preparations for war are made, wars remain a possibility.

For practical reasons, then, most effort has concentrated on searching for ways to prevent some wars, or to prevent a specific war.

In the last chapter we noted attempts to identify correlates of war: factors related to the incidence of war, which might be suggestive about both the causes and the preventors of certain types of war. This has stimulated an immense literature. Pioneers such as Wright (1942) and Richardson (1960) undertook systematic examinations of war incidence in history and attempted to discover causal factors, and many others have followed them. We saw how these efforts have produced modest results in the case of interstate war, and how the analysis of correlates of non-interstate war is still in its infancy, although a promising start has been made.

Finally, Suganami’s third approach, of identifying the causes of a particular war, has its parallels in efforts to prevent a particular conflict becoming violent. If we could know the causes of a particular war, then we should be able to intervene to prevent it, to ‘choke off’ a causal sequence.

In the 1990s success in the prevention of imminent armed conflict has been claimed in Macedonia (1992), Guatemala (1993), the Republic of Congo (1993) and other places. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has set up the office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) with a mandate to identify situations which might become violent and to seek ways of preventing this from happening. This innovation has been widely praised, and has been believed to have been effective in the prevention of armed conflict in the OSCE region. The question arises, however, how one can assess whether a particular armed conflict has been prevented? This raises epistemological issues about how we understand causation and prevention. What do we mean by the prevention of armed conflict, and how can we know when it has worked? We illustrate this question with reference to the case of the apparently prevented conflict in Estonia in 1993-4 (see Box 28).


BOX 28


In 1993 the citizens of Narva voted by an overwhelming majority to secede from Estonia. They were almost all Russians who had been dismayed to become what they saw as second-class citizens in their own country. The Estonian government declared that the referendum was illegal and threatened to use force if necessary to prevent the break-up of Estonia. Russian vigilante groups began to arm themselves and in Russia the President warned that he would intervene if necessary to protect the rights of Russian-speakers. At a time when it appeared that this deadlock could lead to the outbreak of fighting, Max van der Stoel, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, interceded. Meeting with representatives of the Narva city council and the government, he suggested that the Narva council should regard the referendum as a declaration of aspiration without immediate effect. At the same time he suggested to the Estonian government that they abandon their threat to use force against the city. His suggestions were adopted and a potential armed conflict was avoided.


Was the intervention of the High Commissioner responsible for preventing the armed conflict? To answer this question, we have to enter a difficult field much disputed by historians, philosophers and philosophers of science, namely the issue of causation and counter-factuals.

In order to attribute the non-occurrence of armed conflict to the presence of the High Commissioner, we have to know: (1) that the non-event could not be attributed to other preventive factors; (2) that in the absence of the High Commissioner the causative factors would have resulted in a violent conflict; and (3) that the intervention of the High Commissioner not only preceded and was associated with the avoidance of conflict, but is also sufficient to explain it.

These of course are demanding requirements. Even in retrospect, historians have great difficulty in agreeing how particular wars have been caused or how much importance to place on a particular causal factor. We can rarely be sure that a particular cause would have had a particular effect, or that it was the agent for a particular effect. The clock cannot be turned back and the sequence of events rerun with the factor in question removed. In history, causes operate together and in combination. The effect of a cause is dependent upon other background conditions. Nor are events in history simply linked by predictable linear effects like physical laws, which can suggest, given a first event, a sequence of knock-on effects.xxxv Rather, history is intrinsically made up of events that are connected by meaning, by the purposes and thoughts of those who act in history. This is what Pitrim Sorokin called the ‘logico-meaningful’ dynamics of history. Wars often arise from the juxtaposition and combination of previously unrelated chains of events. At the same time, what matters most is not the juxtaposition in time of different chains of events, but the meaning these events have for those who are responsible for taking decisions. We cannot properly explain their occurrence unless we understand not only the chain of events which led to them and the connections between them, but also the mental world of the participants and the connections they made. It is this which makes wars particularly difficult to predict and sometimes gives them their surprising and dramatic quality.

We should also note that different levels of explanation are usually deployed in explaining wars: there are immediate triggering factors, underlying sources of tension, and deeper structural conditions which shape events (Nye 1993). The longer-term and the immediate causes work together to bring about war. Neither by themselves can satisfactorily explain war. The great catastrophes of history are ‘a fatal combination of general and specific causes’ (Davies 1996:896). If ‘light’ conflict prevention addresses only the trigger causes, the deep causes may produce a new and slightly different configuration for violent conflict. To be satisfactory, conflict prevention must be about preventing not only particular possible wars, but a family of possible wars.

Because we cannot know in advance how different causal sequences will combine, it is difficult to establish the impact of prevention in advance. Conflict prevention is therefore concerned with war-prone situations. If ‘deep’ conflict prevention measures make a situation less war-prone, then we can argue that they have been effective even if we have no direct evidence that a particular potential war has been prevented. If we have some knowledge or measure of the factors that make a situation war-prone, then we do not need to know the probability of a particular war to know that policy measures have done some good.

1.3 Early warning

With these general and epistemological considerations in mind, let us now turn to consider the contemporary effort to establish an early warning system for violent political conflict, along the lines of Boulding's proposed 'social data stations' which he saw as analagous to networks of weather stations in the identification of 'social temperature and pressure' and the prediction of 'cold or warm fronts'. This is widely seen as essential for monitoring particular areas of potential conflict, and seeking ways to act early enough to nip a potential conflict in the bud where this is feasible and appropriate. There are two tasks involved here: first, identification of the type of conflicts and location of the conflicts that could become violent; second, monitoring and assessing their progress with a view to assessing how close to violence they are.

One line of approach, which addresses Suganami’s second question, aims to establish the circumstances under which wars are likely to take place. We can take Ted Gurr’s work as an example of this approach. Using data from his Minorities at Risk project, he identifies three factors that affect the proneness of a communal group to rebel: collective incentives, capacity for joint action, and external opportunities (see Box 30, page X). Each concept is represented by indicators constructed from data coded for the project, and justified by correlations with the magnitude of ethnic rebellions in previous years. The resulting table makes it possible to rank the minorities according to their risk-proneness (Gurr 1998a). The assumption is that the more risk-prone are those with high scores on both incentives for rebellion and capacity/opportunity. The table shows, for example, that the Kosovo Albanians have high incentives to rebel but a lack of capacity and opportunity; the East Timorese on the other hand have both incentives and capacity.

This is a political science version of the methods used in econometric forecasting. Like them, it may yield results in the short-term, though the technique obviously blurs the case-specific and context-specific information which area experts would use. If it turns out that this approach yields acceptably good forecasts, it may be possible to offer conflict prevention agencies useful information about where to concentrate their efforts. Variations in Gurr’s indices could also be used as indicators of effectiveness of conflict prevention policies.

A similar approach, using a different starting-point, is taken by the Dutch conflict monitoring organization, PIOOM. Their studies assess risk of armed conflict using indicators of human rights violations and poor governance. As described in chapter 1, section 2, they use a five-phase model to classify countries on a scale ranging from a peaceful stable situation, through political tension, violent political conflict, low intensity conflict and high intensity conflict, and thirteen indicators of conflict escalation (Schmid 1997:74). For forecasting purposes, their work is trend- based, in that the countries with political tension or violent political conflict now are expected to be sources of armed conflicts in the future.

Barbara Harff examined a number of contemporary conflicts, including some in countries that have experienced political violence and ‘controls’ in countries with similar ethnic situations that did not experience violence (Davies, Harff and Speca 1997). Her study used the concept of ‘accelerators’ and ‘decelerators’: accelerators are events that escalate the conflict, decelerators events that dampen it, although the study under discussion only reports accelerators. Based on a coding of events reported in Reuters World Service, she plots the number of accelerator events per month before war for each of the ethnic conflicts, with a comparison for the control over a similar period. In each case of conflict that led to a war, there was an intensification of the number of accelerator events in the three months preceding the war. The implication is that similar coding schemes might offer an early warning of conflict, by reporting on the intensity of events. The basic assumption is that trend extrapolation can be used to measure the intensity of political conflict.

An ambitious version of this approach is the Global Event-Data System (GEDS) project which aims to provide near-real-time automated coding and monitoring of on-line news services, yielding a quantitative trace of the level of tension in ongoing conflicts.xxxvi

‘Enduring rivalries’, that is, protracted disputes between pairs of states or peoples, have accounted for half the wars between 1816 and 1992. These may be expected to be sources of further disputes. It is not difficult to point to regions - such as West Africa, the Great Lakes region of Africa, the Caucasus, the India-Pakistan border, parts of Indonesia, where future violent conflicts can be expected. It is less easy, however, to anticipate wholly new conflicts, still less new types of conflict.

Turning from quantitative to qualitative conflict monitoring, a mass of information is available on particular societies and situations. It includes the reports of humanitarian agencies (now linked together on the ReliefWeb site on the Internet), e-mail early warning networks of conflict monitors (for example, in the former Soviet Union), analyses by the media and by the academic community, and of course the diplomatic and intelligence activities of states. Efforts are underway to improve and systematise these qualitative sources of information and to make them available to those who could undertake a response. Qualitative monitoring offers vastly more content-rich and contextual information than quantitative statistical analysis, but presents the problems of noise and information overload. Given the current state of the art, qualitative monitoring is likely to be most useful for gaining early warning of conflict in particular cases: the expertise of the area scholar and the local observor, steeped in situational knowledge, is difficult to beat. In some cases, observers clearly realised that violent conflicts were coming well before they occurred: for example, in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In others they were taken by surprise. Even when observers have issued ‘early warnings’, it is by no means certain that they will be heard, or that there will be a response. Governments and international organizations may be distracted by other crises (as in the case of Yugoslavia), or unwilling to change existing policies (as in the case of Rwanda). Given the unpredictability of human decision-making, no system of forecasting is likely to give certain results. Nevertheless, there is already sufficient knowledge of situations where there is proneness to war to justify perseverence in international efforts to provide data which might enable early and timely preventive response.

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