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Project: Conflict Prevention: From Rhetoric to Policy


The ultimate purpose of the project is to develop and implement a conflict prevention training tool for regional and international organisations to use in their conflict prevention activities. The project brings together three groups of individuals involved in conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities - a group of scholars from developed countries, a group of scholars from developing countries and a group of scholar-practitioners from regional organisations and the UN. The three groups examine how scholarly discussions on conflict prevention can be translated into policy at subnational, national, regional and global levels. Moreover, with guidance from the above three groups, the project seeks to increase the capacity within regional organisations and UN institutions by engaging national and subnational actors in conflict prevention activities. Through their involvement in conflict prevention activities, UN agencies and regional organisations are in a position to spread a culture of prevention among state and non-state actors involved -- or potentially involved -- in conflicts. All those involved in the project believe that this project will put these organisations -- through an appropriately informed and trained staff -- in a better position to fulfil this "mandate."


In response to the recent record of traditional peacekeeping and other conflict management efforts in conflict settlement and resolution, academics and policymakers have begun to re-examine conflict prevention as a preferred instrument for the creation of peace in a war-torn world. The main message of those involved in the theory and practice of conflict prevention is as clear as it is obvious: Compared to conflict management, it seems less costly in political, economic and human terms a) to prevent tensions from escalating into violent conflict, b) to employ early warning mechanisms to allow the international community to monitor relations between and within states, and c) to facilitate outside involvement before tensions become intractable. Thus, instead of conflict management, "peace management" should be the central task of international and regional organisations and others currently involved in crisis management activities.

In its most general form, conflict prevention refers to the actions of an actor to affect the process and outcome of an evolving dispute or crisis between two or more actors. For the purposes of this research project, we are interested in preventive efforts by regional and global organisations, which are motivated by a desire to bring about the winding down and termination of conflict. The form of such interventions is best seen as a continuum. Different third party techniques are set in motion at different points within a conflict (Lund 1996). At one end of the intervention spectrum is pure mediation - the facilitation of a negotiated settlement through persuasion, control of information and identification of alternatives by a party who is perceived to be impartial. Further along the spectrum of preventive strategies is "mediation with muscle," or the deliberate and strategic use of rewards and punishments to bring the belligerents to the negotiating table. Finally, where consent is absent, third parties are likely to be required to take on a multiplicity of functions, including peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and possibly peace enforcement (Carment and James 1998). At this end of the spectrum, preventive efforts involve the exercise of force to either deter or, possibly, subdue intransigent combatants. Thus the forms of crisis prevention range from traditional preventive diplomacy to its more forceful descendants. The specific tactics and strategies associated with these third party efforts are examined elsewhere, for example in Zartman (1989), Durch (1993), Ruggie (1994), Carment and James (1998) and Lund (1996).

Recent international developments have led to fundamental changes in the nature of conflict prevention (Jentleson 1999). Before the end of the Cold War, preventive efforts were generally performed to monitor cease-fire arrangements between two warring states. The superpowers of the Cold War period could either block formal United Nations missions or deter most unilateral efforts on the part of their rival (Carment and Rowlands 1998). With the reduced importance of traditional ideologically based rivalry, the ability for individual states or state coalitions to intervene in the conflicts of others has increased dramatically. Furthermore, with the loosening of ideological bonds and the erosion of strong state centres backed by foreign governments, the likelihood of intrastate conflict has risen, especially conflict over territory and identity (Wallensteen and Sollenberg, 1997). IDRC's March 1998 Seminar on Strengthening Co-Operative Approaches To Conflict Prevention: The Role of Regional Organisations and the United Nations has produced a set of organisational, normative and legal recommendations to enhance success in conflict prevention. This study will revisit those recommendations in both theoretical and practical terms, and produce guidelines on how they can be applied on a conceptual basis and in everyday fieldwork by members of regional organisations, the UN and the NGO community.

The general questions addressed by this project are:

- What are the key factors that make effective economic and diplomatic instruments of conflict prevention (as opposed to more coercive measures)?

- In what ways can lessons from recent conflict prevention experiences such as those applied in Kosovo and Iraq provide lessons for regional organisations in hard pressed regions?

- What are the conditions that should be met in order to have the discourse on conflict prevention be more than a matter of mere rhetoric?

- How can fact databases be more meaningfully integrated into existing policy processes to assist in early warning and risk assessment?

- What is the comparative advantage of regional organisations in conflict prevention?

- How can subnational, national, regional and global actors coordinate their efforts meaningfully to allow for conflict prevention to be effective?

- How can academic studies on conflict prevention be integrated into conflict prevention policy?

- What are the main constraints on improving conflict prevention capacities at the regional and sub-regional levels (for example OAU, ECOWAS, ASEAN, SAARC, OAS, OSCE, EU, NATO) and within the UN System?

In responding to these questions, the project draws on the experience and expertise of researchers from the academic and policy communities in North America, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. More specifically, since the past experience and current needs of regional organisations and the UN in conflict prevention and management are particularly important for this project, the project involves representatives from a number of these organisations. Important features of the project are thus its effort to provide North-South cooperation in conflict analysis and training capacity. The project's main coordinators, UNU and NPSIA, in close collaboration with UNITAR (with its wealth of experience in this area), are in a good position to mix academic research, the work of international organisations, and the experience of those involved in the training of IO and NGO staff.


Four goals of this project are chosen to address what we perceive to be deficiencies in the current literature on conflict prevention policy and theory. The FIRST OBJECTIVE is to translate the theoretical and empirical results into a policy context. The focus of this objective is to improve future preventive efforts by analysing the consequences of different policies that improve conflict prevention effectiveness.

The SECOND OBJECTIVE of the project relates to the integrative approach adopted in the research. We will integrate the perspectives of academics from various regional organisations. The interdisciplinary structure of our research team and our affiliation with an explicitly interdisciplinary and policy-focussed institution enhances our prospects for a productive and distinctive collaboration.

The THIRD OBJECTIVE of the project is to disseminate our results as widely as possible to stimulate other research. We intend to pursue this goal through the presentation of the results at various workshops and conferences, with a particular emphasis on the inclusion of policymakers. Ultimately, the output of the project, in addition to the studies, information and insights disseminated by all individuals and groups involved, will include two full-length books consisting of final versions of the papers. We anticipate one or more of the participating organisations and institutions listed below to assist in the distribution of working papers that arise from the project. While the first book focuses on the theoretical debate, examination, and policy-relevance of conflict prevention, the second volume will serve as a guideline for training and capacity building activities in the field.

Related to this last point, the FOURTH OBJECTIVE is to create a network of local conflict prevention specialists who will be able to run CP training seminars at their organisations and institutions, with and, subsequently, without participation of NPSIA and UNU. This task will be enhanced by a network of Northern and Southern scholars and practitioners who will engage in a continued discourse on conflict prevention strategies and its organisational, normative and legal challenges in theory and in practice. NPSIA and UNU are willing to form a long-term strategic partnership to assure that this long-term goal will be realised. Whenever possible, UNITAR will be incorporated for advice and collaboration in training activities.

In summary, the goal of this project is to go beyond a purely academic debate on conflict prevention. UNU strongly supported the idea to separate the theoretical from the practical part of the workshop. It thus offered to fund the writing of the first volume, which will serve as a bridge between the academic debate and practical application in potential and actual conflict situations in the field.

The results of this project will become an inherent part of a capacity building and training programme that targets home and field staff at affiliated regional organisations, UN organisations and non-governmental organisations. In more concrete terms, the project will enable its participants to conduct 2-5 day training workshops on conflict prevention, tailored to the specific needs of both research staff at academic institutions and field staff at non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations actively engaged in pre-conflict, conflict, and post-conflict situations. These workshops will also serve as providers of feedback and additional experience, which will facilitate the future work of the project participants - at their respective institutions and within the context of follow-up activities of the project itself.

A follow-up workshop is planned for the fall of 2000. That workshop will bring together those who have been involved throughout the year 2000 in training and capacity building activities, to allow them reflect upon this experience and revise their initial findings and recommendations accordingly. Additional funding for these activities will be sought separately.


In all, the project features two workshops. At the first workshop, held in conjunction with the 1999 International Studies Association Meeting in Washington, DC, the scope of the project was fine-tuned and individual priorities were determined. Scholars presented preliminary working papers on the actors, instruments, methodologies and approaches to conflict prevention. All participants covered their own participation costs. Based on the success of this two-panel workshop and subsequent correspondence between project participants, it was decided to suggest to UNU to separate the overall project into one part (and volume) focussing on theoretical and scholarly debates, and one part (and volume) focussing on capacity building and applied policy. UNU supported this approach, offered funding for this volume, and five additional authors, including contributors from UNITAR and the UN Department of Political Affairs, both instrumental in the UN's effort towards early warning and prevention, were invited to participate.

Supported with grants from the United Nations University, Canada's International Development Research Centre, and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, the fall 1999 workshop will create a policy dialogue between a select group of Northern CO scholars, Southern CP scholars and representatives from regional organisations and the UN.

The additional invitees will be asked to address the following questions in the context of the specific experience of their respective regional organisation:

- What has been done/achieved so far in theory and application of conflict prevention within your regional organisation?

- What needs to be improved to make conflict prevention more feasible, effective and useful for your regional organisation?

- What are/should be the key requirements for a global and/or regional prevention regime? (principles, rules, norms, decision-making procedures, actors)

- Who are the key actors within such a regime?

- How can coordination between those actors be facilitated?

- What are the limitations of such an approach?

- How do global debates and models relate to local needs?

- How can a Northern/Southern network of CP specialists enhance the work of local and regional CP efforts?

- How can specific guidelines and training materials be most effectively disseminated to have an impact on local and regional CP activities?

As potential contributors to conflict prevention efforts, the United Nations and regional organisations have much to gain from a better understanding from these insights. There is also much to lose from inadequate analysis of this inherently costly and risky activity. Thus, all components of the project will be oriented towards practical problems of preventing conflict in troubled regions and, where possible, will refer to specific problems of each region. We will devote considerable attention into translating the lessons from the formal analysis into the policy context.

Under the directorship of David Carment (Carleton University, Canada) and Albrecht Schnabel (UNUPG), a new peace and governance project addresses the conceptual and policy dimensions of conflict prevention. The first stage of the project, an edited book entitled "Conflict Prevention: Path to Peace of Grand Illusion?" is currently under way. Simultaneously, Carment and Schnabel are organising a Fall 1999 workshop on the theme of "From Rhetoric to Policy: Towards Workable Conflict Prevention at the Regional and Global Levels" (See below for reports).


Conflict Prevention: Naked Emperor, Path to Peace, Grand Illusion or Just Difficult?
- by David Carment and Albrecht Schnabel

From Rhetoric to Policy: Towards Workable Conflict Prevention at the Regional and Global Levels - Report on Workshop (2000)
- by David Carment, Abdul-Rasheed Draman and Albrecht Schnabel

Building Conflict Prevention Capacity: Methods, Experiences, Needs - UNU Workshop Seminar Series Report  [PFF file - 102 KB]
- by David Carment and Albrecht Schnabel

Building Conflict Prevention Capacity: Methods, Experiences, Needs - UNU Workshop Seminar Series Report: Working Paper No. 5  [PFF file - 419 KB]
- by David Carment and Albrecht Schnabel


Conflict Prevention: Path to Peace or Grand Illusion?
Edited by David Carment and Albrecht Schnabel
[UNU Series on Foundations of Peace]