Normative Narratives

Conflict Watch: Protracted Social Conflict and Preventative Peacebuilding

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I usually focus on a specific conflict on Tuesdays, but today I would like to do something a little bit different. I want to focus on the possible benefits of scaling up preventative peacebuilding operations around the world, specifically by USAID and the U.S. D.o.D. by focusing on D.I.M.E (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) intervention.

This post highlights a recent project of mine, similar to my post on Flexible Credit Lines (FCL). I will pull out some choice quotes from a recent paper of mine, and then provide a link for the full thing for anybody interested. It is a bit long, but the introduction summarizes the whole argument very nicely

“War is expensive, both in terms of economic and humanitarian costs. There was a time in history when war was a profitable venture. War was an opportunity to mobilize a nation’s factors of production, and through greater productivity and taxation a war could help jump-start a stagnant economy (think of post-depression WWII production in the U.S.). While these wars tended to be very violent, they were at least “tractable”; fighting remained mostly on agreed upon battlefields, and the war was eventually ended by a binding treaty which all sides respected.

Post WWII, and more specifically post-Cold War, globalization has meant that interstate war is no longer justifiable on economic grounds. There is too much value in an open global economy for war to possibly be more valuable than peacefully trading with other countries. This shift did not occur by sheer luck or technological advance, although surely those factors played a role. It was political will that led to the globalization movement. Starting with the Marshall Plan after WWII, countries became too invested in one another as economic and political partners to pursue warfare between states. This has led to a drastic decline in interstate wars since WWII.”

“Most new wars, however, fall into Edward Azar’s theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). According to Azar,”deprivation of human needs is the underlying source of PSC“. The sources, and therefore solutions to PSC often lay within a state, rather than across state borders, although this is not always the case, particularly in the context of regional insecurity. PSC also shifted some of the focus away from overtly violent conflicts, towards identifying potential future conflict zones based on underlying humanitarian grievances.”

“Not only different interests, but also differing views on trust, courtesy, and respect make international negotiations very delicate processes. “Multilateral negotiation is more difficult than domestic policy making because the relevant actors come from very different backgrounds, and they represent nations that have occasionally worked out very different procedures for handling similar problems”[1]. Different approaches to negotiation are more likely to work in different scenarios.

Traditionally, low context societies have engaged in “bargaining”, a negotiation process in which the other side is considered an adversary and, through cost-benefit analysis, the negotiator is expected to come up with the best terms for his constituents as quickly as possible. Trust is built after the fact by successful implementation of negotiated agreements.

High context societies, on the other hand, respond much better to “problem-solving” approaches to negotiation. This approach involves creating a relationship before meaningful negotiation can take place. Trust is a precondition for a durable agreement, not an end result of one. Problem solving “…is accomplished by and through intergroup contact involving a mutual search of issues, alternatives are developed  from both groups’ points of view, and evaluation of solutions is completed by the combined groups.” Essentially, problem-solving focuses on making mutually beneficial arrangements which are revealed through open dialogue.”

“Consider negotiation from an inter-temporal point of view. Period T is the period when a PSC boils over into an armed conflict. Generally, “bargaining” would begin during T (track I negotiations), while “problem-solving” would have already been in effect, through Track II and III negotiations, in Period T-1. Before bargaining even has a chance to succeed, trust must be built; therefore a negotiated resolution through bargaining will occur, at soonest, in period T+1.

Preventative peacebuilding, through problem-solving, which has been building relationships since T-1, allows meaningful negotiations to take place during period T (and hopefully have already created enough of a relationship between parties to avoid armed conflict altogether). Between T and T+1, bargainers from low-context societies become agitated with the lack of progress being made, while the high context side believes the low context side is being “disrespectful”. Likely, no trust will be built, or the trust will be very tentative.  Low context negotiators should place more emphasis and resources in preventative problem-solving, as it is much easier to build trust between opposing sides before violent conflict begins. By having the requisite relationships in places, much death and human suffering can be avoided.

The aim of peacebuilding is to foster social, economic, and political institutions and attitudes that will prevent these conflicts from turning violent. In effect, peacebuilding is the front line of preventive action.”

“The U.S. has a long history of nation building as a means of promoting national security and economic interests. Starting with the Marshal Plan after WWII, the connection between having strong geo-political and trade partners in all regions of the world has dominated American foreign policy.

This problem is clear when comparing the budgets of the U.S. Department of Defense and USAID. “The differences in approach and culture between the U.S. Departments of State and Defense are stark despite the fact that these organizations are members of the same team and share related national objectives.”  Defense has a budget much larger than the department of state. In 2012, USAIDs budget for was $51.6 billion, which was dwarfed by Defense’s $553 billion dollar budget.  Now admittedly Defense and State are not substitutes for one another, but complements; they are each more effective in different stages of conflict. Their budgets should not be equalized by any means, but when the D.o.D. has a budget ten times larger than USAID, and all the theoretical and empirical evidence points to the benefits of preventative peacebuilding when dealing with PSC, clearly some redistribution is in order.”

“The most significant aspect of scaling up will be paying for more diplomats and greater poverty reduction based aid. By having more diplomatic relationships in potential conflict areas, preemptive peacebuilding can save immeasurable money and lives compared to traditional military intervention and post-conflict reconstruction. The peace that comes from preemptive peacebuilding should be a more durable “positive peace”. By engaging in problem-solving, the root causes of PSC will be revealed, and the necessary trust needed for any negotiation to work will be forged simultaneously. It is also much more easy to justify the huge military budget of the U.S. if the military has a more pronounced and effective peacetime mandate.”

There you have it folks, my most recent work PSC and Preventative Peacebuilding. I did the best job I could of summarizing the main points of a larger work. For those of you who are interested, download the link at the end of this post for the whole paper.

POSC 5560 Final Paper

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22 thoughts on “Conflict Watch: Protracted Social Conflict and Preventative Peacebuilding

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  4. You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation however I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely vast for me. I am taking a look forward in your subsequent publish, Ill try to get the hang of it

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    • Hello,

      It is a complex topic, which is why world leaders and academics get together and debate the merits of different ideas (mine is only one of countless theories related to conflicts).

      Basically the theory states that most “new wars” are not same as the global wars (WWI, WWII). These wars tend to take place within countries or regions, and their bases tend to be more rooted in humanitarian issues / ineffective governance issues. By identifying the root causes of these conflicts before they happen, and addressing the causes with economic / diplomatic / military / intelligence (D.I.M.E. intervention), it should be possible to prevent many future conflicts. A big part of this objective, I believe, is shifting resources from the D.o.D. to the D.o.S. (USAID specifically). As the saying goes, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. This should also help stem terrorism, as terrorists regularly target the impoverished areas where governments are not providing basic needs / security, and by filling these voids engender goodwill amongst a community which is hard to break.

      Of course this theory has it’s limits/ For instance, it would not work in an area where violent already exists (such as Syria), and some conflicts will be unavoidable even with more targeted international intervention. However, the merits of this theory outweigh the limits, and I for one believe policy advocated for in the paper represents a much more positive way forward for U.S. foreign policy.

      Hope this helps, if you have any specific areas you would like me to clarify be sure to let me know.

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