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The old and new peace and security agenda

Rafael Grasa
Lecturer in International Relations at the UAB and President of the ICIP
Rafael Grasa

Rafael Grasa

How, from a perspective of research for peace, should one consider the second decade of new millennium, and the third of the post-cold war age? How should we react from the perspective of action and based on knowledge, to recent apparently contradictory news items like those mentioned below?

On one hand, the US Government presents the largest military budget in history to Congress for 2011: 708,000 million dollars, 159,000 of which are to be spent on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a figure that is approximately 80% of international military expenditure.

On the other, the 2009 Report by the Human Security Report Project (the second, after the 2005 Report by the Centre and Research Group based at Simon Fraser University and led by Andrew Mack), The Shrinking Costs of War, shows two facts: there has been a 70% decline in the number of high intensity armed conflicts since the end of the war, and contrary to what common sense would suggest, a decline in the mortality rate during hostilities in most countries involved in armed conflict, despite the foreseeable impact on the battlefield (which is low) and on society (which is higher, due to deaths from collateral damage, malnutrition, and diseases linked to war)1. In other words, as well as the fall in deaths among combatants on the battlefield (a long-standing trend, which has reached 90% compared to 1950), there has been a marked decline in civilian victims of wars, despite this figure despite always being higher than the figure for military personnel.

Two things draw one's attention when the two news items are read together. First, not only has the peace dividend not arrived, but instead military expenditure is accelerating in a period of few intensive armed conflicts and above all, of less impact by wars on the battlefield and on society. This is even less understandable during a recession, which has been felt sharply in the USA but has also been very significant in the countries of the South, many of which are also increasing their military expenditure. Second, from a historical perspective, some conflicts have persisted for decades, such as the one in Cyprus and the Palestinian-Arab-Israeli conflict, despite in some cases, such as in Cyprus, the conditions for a solution having been in place for some time.

How should one react from the perspective of an Institute that is committed to research, training and action for peace and the improvement of human security? How can this affect our work?

One possible reaction would be to insist on what Karl Deustch mentioned forty years ago, in his 1970 obituary of Quincy Wright (the author of the most wide-ranging and extensive monographic study of war written by a single individual): Nothing is more important than the understanding of war and its causes and the possible ways to its abolition on the agenda of our time. War, to be abolished, must be understood. To be understood, it must be studied." Forty years later, we must continue to ask ourselves questions and seek conclusive answers on the causes of wars and the possibilities and conditions for peace. In short, we must recover the agenda and commitment to research for peace and continue with the research and action programme, while hoping that knowledge will bring us closer to the solution.

Another reaction I choose is to start from the standpoint that we are in a situation with problems that are both new and old, without neglecting research into the major problems in the research for peace agenda. To put it in Gramsci's terms, the old peace and security agenda has not died yet, and the new one has yet to be born. We must therefore combine research and action better and above all, strive to increase the transforming impact of our actions.

One way of looking at the problem is to consider the implications of the increasing shift from causal pacificism, formulated by Alfred H. Fried in 1918 ("If we wish to eliminate an effect, we must first remove its cause. And if we wish to set a new and desirable effect in its place, we must substitute the cause with another which is capable of creating the desired effect"), to what Dieter Senghaas has called constructive pacificism. Constructive pacificism does not aim to substitute the cause (international anarchy, unfair international relations), at least in the short term, but instead to aims to make the root and the final objective compatible (to change the causes to provide a permanent guarantee for the new effects), in the intermediate phases, with the task of managing and guaranteeing the beneficial effects. To put it another way, it is a pacificism that seeks to maximise the architecture and construction of peace, first as non-war and subsequently as the creation of justice.

To put it into one sentence, once again inspired by Senghaas, at a time when the peace and security agenda is a combination of old and new themes, when conflict is becoming civilised, to have a cumulative idea, which demonstrates progress and acts as a guideline or route map - or travel guide - in the path towards construction of peace. And today, we know that this is produced gradually, on the hoof, it is radical, and it aims high, but is based on existing conditions and changes its direction when necessary. In short, the construction of peace is a do-it-yourself tool - which we use constantly without rejecting the idea of subsequently having a better one – rather than one for sophisticated social engineering.

To put it another way, when there are very serious problems (military expenditure and continuous militarization, persistence of nuclear weapons, impunity despite the improvements in international criminal law) and new problems (new types of violence that endanger human security all over the world, the growth of internal armed conflicts, very loose links between security and development, among others) it is necessary to remember - as a cumulative logic - that all instruments, old and new, are still valid.

By way of a reminder, we have known that the major new areas of proposals and solutions to prevent war and construct peace are not incompatible, at least not in all their phases, for decades (or centuries, in some cases):

  1. Diplomacy and peaceful conflict resolution
  2. Contained and limited types of military intervention (collective security)
  3. The threat/use of legitimate force, within the framework of international law.
  4. Arms control, disarmament and controls on military expenditure and the arms trade.
  5. Non-violence and civil or civic defence/disobedience.
  6. Solutions based on inclusive power, on the creation of shared interests: development, integration, the creation of security communities, etc..
  7. Proposals aimed at achieving international equality and cosmopolitanism is phases.
  8. The strengthening of new actors, grass-roots movements, the reinforcement of civil society and its capacities.
  9. The commitment to new instruments, public and private actors, such as multi-level diplomacy, the prevention of violent conflicts and new formulas for mediation (such as partial or internal mediation) and negotiation.

The objective in terms of research and action is therefore twofold. First, it involves giving the idea of conflicting transformation a central role (increasing the likelihood of disputes not becoming violent as much as possible). In certain phases, this approach involves settling for mere management (avoiding or regulating conduct) or resolution (finding solutions for the reasons behind the antagonism). Second, being radical means going to the roots.

The combination of the twofold objective currently involves reconsidering the central nature of the old problems, and demanding radical solutions. As a final example related to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, would it not be a good idea to return to the nuclear weapons limitation and disarmament treaties, abandoned since the cold war, which have been so successful in other weapons categories? 

1. The Report allocates a chapter to the paradox of a declining mortality rate in times of war. They are based on an irrefutable figure: examination of the mortality rates for children under five years old in 18 countries affected by war in sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 2007 shows that in 80% of cases, the rates fell during periods of armed conflict. Prior studies by the World Bank show similar results for 2008. Naturally, this is not a beneficial effect of war on health, but instead a whole range of factors warranting study, such as the impact of the general decline in mortality since 1960 - of around 60% - on these countries and the low number of victims. See (Tornar)