Conflict Prevention: Path to Peace or Grand Illusion?

By David Carment; Albrecht Schnabel | Go to book overview

3
The realism of preventive statecraft
Bruce W. Jentleson

Introduction

An often heard criticism of conflict prevention is that it is unrealistic. 1 Self-styled “realists” do not dispute the desirability of preventing ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other deadly conflicts, but they question both the viability and the value of priority efforts to do so. Are not many of these conflicts just the playing out of history – of “Balkan ghosts” that still haunt the region, of pre-colonial African tribal hatreds, of other decades and historical animosities? Is it in the interests of major powers such as the United States to get involved in these complex conflicts at an early stage? Why not just wait and see, and if needed resort to conflict management at a later stage?

For all its self-styled realism, this line of reasoning is flawed. It is wrong about both the viability and the value of conflict prevention. It underestimates the interests at stake and overestimates the costs and risks, especially compared to the costs and risks incurred by waiting or not acting. There is a realism, not just idealism, to preventive statecraft. 2

This chapter is organized in four sections. First, I present the empirical and analytic bases supporting the claim that preventive statecraft is possible. I then turn to an explanation of the strategic logic of preventive statecraft. This is followed by an evaluation of the problems related to “political will.” The final section concludes with some specific policy recommendations.

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