Academic journal article Global Governance

Healing Broken Societies: Can Aid Buy Love and Peace?

Academic journal article Global Governance

Healing Broken Societies: Can Aid Buy Love and Peace?

Article excerpt

We live in a world where concern for the human condition is big business and, in the epoch of terror, a matter for global strategic interest. This is encapsulated in the Millennium Development Goals and is also central to the notion of human security as a whole. Increasingly, providing humanitarian assistance for the survival and well being of war-torn populations is seen as a litmus test of the adequacy of political effort, as well as a mark of civilized global governance.

Considerations of sustainable development raise complex concerns. On one hand, there are intense--and often sharply polarized--debates in all societies and political systems around the world on the best ways of organizing and paying for economic and social progress. These generate considerable controversies on who benefits and who is left out. On the other hand, the achievement of good human development status, for example, in health and education, is seen as a basic universal human right, inspired by the values of a common humanity.

This sounds good, especially in a world where billionaires vie with each other to give away their wealth, and celebrities of all types are eager to lend their beauty and talent to some noble cause or other. But there are also contrary perspectives. Therefore, international aid has become a strategic issue and, in a fractured world, a strategic security issue.

The purpose of this essay is to look at the specific situation of countries in conflict and crisis, or struggling to recover from them, by asking three questions: When does international aid become a strategic issue for peace and security? Can the giving of aid resolve conflict and build peace? Is it appropriate to "securitize" aid?

A Practitioner's Understanding of War and Peace

There are many theories of conflict analysis. From the perspective of a practitioner concerned with the day-to-day handling of assistance policies and programs in a conflict setting, it is useful to distinguish between underlying vulnerabilities or predisposing factors to a conflict that may often be very longstanding (i.e., the "fuel"), the proximate triggers to violence (the "match that ignites the fuel"), and the factors that perpetuate the conflict (the "oxygen that keeps the fire burning").

All conflicts have a "career": they smoulder, flare up, die down, reignite, extinguish. But they always remain flammable. As suggested by Paul Collier's work at the World Bank, the best predictor of future conflict is a past history of conflict. (1) Conflicts have logic, and there are winners and losers. The brute evidence of history suggests that most conflicts are ultimately resolved only when they hurt enough, and when one side or the other finally wins the argument through the application of physical force or equivalent coercion, even if dressed up in the face-saving compromise language of a peace agreement.

Conflicts have to be right for solving--and much effort and resources can be wasted unless there is clarity on where we are in the "conflict cycle" and, therefore, what the realistic objectives for influencing the "conflict dynamics" are. In other words, the conflict-breakers have to decide whether they are aiming for resolution, mitigation, or only containment. In current international parlance, this is reflected in strategies for peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.

One could observe that conflict is not always bad--and trying to stop it prematurely, even if one succeeds, is not always a smart contribution to history. Arguably, this could be said for the wars in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s; although armed hostilities eventually ceased after strong US-led international pressure, the result endorsed the outcome of the war, that is, an identity-based partition of the country and a possible freezing--but not resolution--of the conflict.

The painful reality has been that enlightened, fairer societies have often required forging in the crucible of conflict when the oppressed have had to fight for their rights against oppressors whose behavior is beyond the pale and who will not be reasoned out of their aggression. …

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