Searching for Stable Economic Models

By Keys, Arthur | Stability Operations, March/April 2012 | Go to article overview

Searching for Stable Economic Models


Keys, Arthur, Stability Operations


Development Sector May Offer Answers

THE US government, from Congress to fhe Administration to the US military, has effectively ruled out large land wars for the foreseeable future, according to recent announcements. A new strategy that seeks to stabilize volatile countries or regions where the United States can maintain a minimal security therefore puts a premium on preventing or mitigating conflict. This means using the tools of "preventive diplomacy" and investments in economic, political and social development In a world where more states are fragile or in transition, or where low-intensity conflict threatens vulnerable populations and core US interests, it is essential that democracies continue to promote investment, trade, and strong civil society and citizen engagement

But doing so in the midst of historic global transitions - within and among nations - is easier said than done. We are in a period of global unease, with a sense that the future could be quite different than the past, with unpredictable effects on development The reduction in the numbers of large-scale conflicts and in poverty over the past 60 years is no coincidence. This process must continue if stability and the promotion of universal values are to continue.

Discussion of these ideas among government, business, and civil society leaders is important to the international development community. My own belief is that even when we do not have the "answers," we still have useful insights into how the beliefs and energies of communities can be focused to enable sustainable development and reduce poverty.

What is different about truly sustainable development projects is they are designed and implemented with and by communities. They are neither massive state-directed projects, nor purely private investments geared toward exclusively "market" outcomes. Effective development projects incorporate economic advancement holistically and reflect ideas about governance, growth, aid effectiveness, equality, peace, and stability. In so doing, they borrow best practices from business, NGOs, and government and combine them in new ways.

In a peaceful environment, development is complex. But if there is an element of conflict, development becomes even more difficult Few organizations have been able to successfully support development during conflict. Some development professionals believe that development cannot and should not be done in a conflict environment. They believe that the settlement of armed conflicts is a prerequisite. In between these positions, the traditional approach is to deal with conflict through a peace-building approach that emphasizes mediation and mitigation. The nexus between development and conflict is particularly strong when development assistance is applied as a tool of foreign policy. This use of development assistance raises many other issues for development professionals who may not agree with the overall goals that are being pursued.

Development assistance in failed states or military conflict areas may attempt to incorporate conflict prevention, mitigation, stabilization, and reconciliation while simultaneously injecting development assistance, which must be constantly refined and sustained to be effective in fluid environments. In recent years, an increasing number of conflicts have destabilized significant populations around the globe, including in Yemen, Somalia, Colombia, and elsewhere. Like it or not, development and conflict are juxtaposed upon each other.

For development approaches to be effective in these environments they must be targeted and address specific sources of conflict - such as the inequitable access to resources and livelihoods, lack of government services, religious intolerance, or disrespect for cultural traditions. Often in conflict zones, large youth populations exacerbate these problems. Approaches in this environment must target at-risk and vulnerable sub-populations such as rural farmers, marginalized youth and social or religious groups, nomadic peoples whose livelihoods are threatened, and displaced urban migrants living in slums. …

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