A member of the Spanish E.U. troops patrols in the capital Kinshasa November 7, 2006. International peacekeepers have bolstered their presence on the streets of the edgy Democratic Republic of Congo's capital to deter any violent challenge to results trickling in from a decisive presidential run-off. (David Lewis/ Courtesy Reuters)
Conflict prevention often seems like the weather. Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Or so we believe.
In fact, over the past two decades the United Nations and a growing number of regional organizations have developed new capabilities to anticipate the outbreak of violence and stop it from bursting into conflagration. This growing attention to prevention is one of the most hopeful—and unsung—trends in world politics today.
As part of the opening of this year’s UN General Assembly, the Security Council met on Thursday in an extraordinary session to take stock of the UN’s capacities for preventive diplomacy—that is, its tools for heading off imminent violence, from coups to interethnic attacks to mass atrocities. The question of course, is whether this session will amount to anything more than lip service.
To be sure, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. World leaders are fond of shibboleths about the wisdom of acting early but action rarely matches rhetoric. Consumed by the tyranny of the inbox, working level bureaucrats are notoriously poor at alerting their superiors, and their political masters are then wary of assuming concrete burdens to head off violence that may never come to pass. The value of conflict prevention is also notoriously difficult to prove. Success seems banal—since “nothing happens”—and attributing a peaceful outcome to a specific intervention requires proving a counterfactual: that all hell would have broken loose. Therefore, political will to act decisively is scarce until the bodies stack up like cordwood. Read more »