Events

Book Launch: No More Killing Fields: Preventing Deadly Conflict

May 16, 2002 // 12:00am

Summary of the discussion with "No More Killing Fields: Preventing Deadly Conflict," author David A. Hamburg, Executive Vice President of the United Nations Foundation and Consulting Director of the Conflict Prevention Project Jane Holl Lute and Swedish Ambassador to the United States, Jan Eliasson.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the eruption and escalation of civil and regional wars in the Balkans, Africa, and elsewhere have put us on notice that the paradigm and policy instruments that helped manage the Cold War are of limited utility, asserted David Hamburg at a recent Wilson Center event. Hamburg's book, No More Killing Fields: Preventing Deadly Conflict, suggests persuasively that the world needs urgently a new framework for understanding and coping with violent conflicts, one which places a premium on early action rather than on half-hearted efforts to extinguish fires burning out of control.

Considered by many to be the "father of preventing deadly conflict," Hamburg, the former co-chair of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict and president emeritus of the Carnegie Corporation, discussed the effects of globalization on conflict prevention. Rapid information flows warn policymakers and the general public about potential crises around the globe long before they turn deadly, and the international community increasingly recognizes that deadly conflict anywhere affects overall security. However, while such developments make it possible to prevent deadly conflict, a pattern of non-intervention continues.

The most violent conflicts of the twentieth century, especially World War II, have taught us that early intervention is crucial, Hamburg said. Yet effective interventions require cooperation between governments, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations, where coordination and efficacy are extremely complicated. Often by the time the necessary measures are agreed upon, and the required response organized, preventive opportunities are lost, war has erupted, and the international community will spend billions in reconstruction and recovery efforts. Instead of waiting for the eventual deployment of peacekeepers, an early, nonmilitary option exists. Hamburg pressed for the international community to work toward creating positive economic conditions in unstable countries. A stable economy, he noted, often prevents deadly conflict and catastrophic terrorism more effectively than military or UN intervention.

Jane Holl Lute discussed what she called an "ahistorical moment." For the first time in history, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism with a global reach mean that conflict anywhere in the world has the potential to spread. In this globalized world, however, power is concentrated primarily in the hands of the United States. As the United States debates how to use that power it chooses whether to use its military and economic might freely to influence the affairs of other nations, including preventing conflict around the globe, or to lead by example and let others follow from a distance. Because multilateral efforts often depend on American involvement, how the United States resolves this internal debate will affect conflict prevention efforts by actors around the world, she said.

Ambassador Jan Eliasson enumerated two main reasons that the international community is reluctant to prevent deadly conflict. First, conflict prevention efforts often violate the sovereignty of UN members. Despite the fact that people increasingly need protection from their own leaders, the UN and outside governments are loath to interfere except in the most egregious cases after it is too late for prevention. Time and time again during his tenure in the 1990s as UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, Eliasson said he felt "like the fireman who came to the house that had already burned down . . . with the hope that perhaps we could limit the fire from spreading to other houses."

Second, most conflict prevention efforts do not generate a strong political payoff. It is difficult to claim success after a non-event like the absence of conflict. It is even more difficult to convince those who could prevent violence that they ought to commit the political and military capital necessary to generate this non-event. For this reason, the UN tends to be reactive, committing peacekeepers only after a tense situation has become a crisis, rather than intervening in less drastic ways early in the conflict.

Eliasson offered a "ladder of prevention" beginning with effective early warning systems to trigger early action—including diplomatic tools such as mediation, arbitration, and negotiation, and continuing with punitive measures such as sanctions. Calling it "pure poetry," he read from the United Nations Charter, Article 33, Chapter VI, regarding the pacific settlement of disputes: The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice. Yet, if prevention and intervention fail, Eliasson called for "peacekeeping that is tailor made to each situation," rather than relying on standard solutions.

In 1994, David Hamburg established the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, which inspired the creation of the Wilson Center's Conflict Prevention Project and produced a series of books and publications by numerous authors on topics related to violent conflict prevention. (Available at www.ccpdc.org) Hamburg's latest book, No More Killing Fields: Preventing Deadly Conflict, is the capstone of the series, tying together theories and insights about the prevention of war. "No More Killing Fields: Preventing Deadly Conflict," is available for purchase at http://www.rowmanlittlefield.com

"This book is a clear and insightful statement of the principles and practices of prevention. Covering a wide range of topics, it focuses especially on supporting preventive diplomacy, building democratic institutions, and upgrading socio-economic development--three vital pillars of preventive engagement. It shows how international cooperation is both essential and feasible for accomplishing these tasks, and applies this perspective to the prevention of catastrophic terrorism."—Kofi A. Annan, Secretary-General, United Nations

Written by Brienne Ramer and Anita Sharma
Contact: Anita Sharma, Deputy Director, Conflict Prevention Project, 202-691-4083

EMAIL UPDATES

Wilson Center Photo Gallery

Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

To Attend an Event

Unless otherwise noted:

Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.

Experts & Staff

  • Steve McDonald // Senior Advisor, Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity
  • Aly Lyons // Program Associate