Preventing War Means Peace Must Walk a Practical Road ; to Counter Deadly Conflict, the World Needs a Global Military Strategy as Useful as Deterrence Was during the Cold War

Article excerpt

When World War I broke out, young men in Europe rushed to sign up. Crowds came out to send their boys off with flag-waving parades. The almost-festive air expressed the historical view of war as a normal and noble extension of statecraft. But the Great War began to change all that.

The horrors of that conflict - from the enormous casualties and devastation to chemical warfare - struck both the victor and the vanquished, and helped spawn other global nightmares: The Russian Revolution and Communist Party. The rise of Nazism and World War II. The Holocaust. The cold war, and its host of proxy wars.

What if World War I had been prevented?

"It's conceivable the whole history of the 20th century would have been different," says William Ury, director of Harvard University's Project on Preventing War. "The defining events that scarred the entire century all emerged from that war; and looking back at the diplomacy of the time, it seems it was preventable."

The idea of preventing war may be as old as diplomacy itself. But in the closing decade of the 20th century, it gathered adherents with a new sense of urgency and purpose.

As it became clear that the end of the cold war had not ushered in an era of peace, but of deadly conflicts that defied traditional diplomacy, world leaders began to call for a greater emphasis on preventive action. Many countries, after all, had already started to reduce their military forces.

But aiming to prevent violent conflict is not the same as doing it. And at the turn of the millennium, many policymakers and mediators, researchers and military leaders are grappling with how it can be done. They are working to develop a prevention strategy as practical as "deterrence" was in earlier decades.

Does it make sense?

"During the cold war, the major powers' focus [in proxy wars] was not on preventing conflict but on prevailing, because those conflicts meant something to them politically," says Barnett Rubin, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Today's conflicts, he says, "pose great humanitarian problems and moral and financial burdens." They more often break out within states than between them. And they are occurring in a world of increasingly destructive weaponry and destabilizing economic and social change.

The United Nations, United States, and NATO have gotten entangled in multiple tragedies, often after long hesitation over whether or when to get involved. The delays have been costly and the outcomes uncertain.

"By waiting so much during the '90s, we ended up in situations like Bosnia, with huge costs of reconstruction, a lengthy commitment, and the Humpty Dumpty problem - how do you put it back together?" says Bruce Jentleson, director of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University and a former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff.

While some say the US should just not get involved, others point to the danger of fires spreading. In Yugoslavia, the fighting moved from Slovenia and Croatia to Bosnia, then to Kosovo, and could have spread to Macedonia and beyond. Rwanda's conflagration fuels the Congo war and other neighboring conflicts.

In a "unipolar" world, the US with its incredible power and global interests faces burdens of expectation and performance, says Jane Holl, executive director of the project on the Role of American Military Power, of the Association of the United States Army. Yet the US can't be the globe's policeman.

"Prevention is an idea whose time has come," she says emphatically. From 1994 to 1999, Ms. Holl headed the Carnegie Commission's Project on Preventing Deadly Conflict, a comprehensive global effort to understand why some situations deteriorate into violent conflict and others do not. The Carnegie project - which involved civilian and military policymakers, academics, and nongovernment organizations from all regions of the world - reached conclusions that support a global prevention strategy (www. …