Preventing the next Wave of Conflict: Understanding Non-Traditional Threats to Global Security
Summary of the Woodrow Wilson Center Conflict Prevention Project's working group meeting on Understanding Non-Traditional Threats to Global Security, held May 31. The first session was cosponsored by the U.S. Committee for the UNDP and featured Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, United Nations Development Program. Introductory and facilitating remarks by Kathleen Houlihan, Director of the U.S. Committee for UNDP; Carla Koppell, with Women Waging Peace, the New Nigeria foundation and Citizens International; and Anita Sharma, Deputy Director of the Conflict Prevention Project.
This first working group meeting introduced members to the broader context of the working group. Seven working group sessions have been structured to move from the general to the more specific. The series aims to develop findings and identify the extent to which non-traditional threats are sources of instability and conflict, as well as how the United States and the international community can strategically address these threats strategically from a policy perspective.
Issues of economic and social isolation, governance, demographic trends and health play a key role in maintaining stability in the global system. However, their importance has only been appreciated recently, and thus they are termed "non-traditional" threats.
The forthcoming topical sessions of the working group series include Economic and Social Isolation, Governance, Migration, Environmental Degradation, and Health. The final meeting will tie the series together and allow the group to consolidate its findings on non-traditional threats to global security. A series of briefing notes will be produced to facilitate working group debate and deliberation. One week before each meeting, a draft briefing note of 3-5 pages will be distributed for review. It will outline the salient topic and help structure discussion during the meeting. Comments will be elicited regarding content and presentation. Based upon that input and working group discussions, the briefing note will be finalized to include findings and recommendations. Some briefing notes may be published as intermediate working group outputs.
Below is a short summary of Julia Taft's remarks:
"Thinking about issues of non-traditional threats seems to be a luxury in an environment that includes numerous traditional threats we are unsure how to handle [such as potential war between Indian and Pakistan]," said Julia Taft. However, non-traditional threats tend to be less political because they are transnational in nature rather than of concern to a particular country. When considering access points for conflict prevention and conflict resolution, it is key to invest in response mechanisms and to learn from previous mistakes.
As the working group examines non-traditional threats, Taft urged its members to think of creative ways to deal with traditional problems to global stability. Recent information has shown that one-third of conflicts are settled by negotiation while two-thirds have been settled by dominance of one or several powers over another. However, these resolutions are often unstable, since most conflict prevention and management strategies do not address the conflict's root causes, which would be necessary to maintain long-term stability. For example, few post-conflict plans include sufficient development assistance or effective measures to produce good governance. The absence of these types of programs increases the probability that the conflict will recur.
Opinions surrounding each of these non-traditional threats are not uniform. For instance, while the pursuit of good governance most often involves promoting democratic elections, Taft points out that democracy alone cannot provide durable stability. This is evidenced by the example of Nepal, the government of which is democratically elected but suffers from a high level of popular discontent.
Taft further stated that the list of important non-traditional threats to global security includes youth unemployment, since nearly 1 billion people between the ages of 15 and23 have unsteady jobs or are unemployed. In addition, the list includes indigenous peoples' rights, since a group's assertion of its desires and needs, especially when they differ from mainstream society's values, often leads to instability. Finally, Taft included the abundance of small arms and corruption on the list of serious threats, even though they are typically symptoms of deeper problems.
The challenge facing the working group and policymakers is to try to understand and ultimately deal on a global scale with the root causes of conflict. Identifying and understanding non-traditional threats is an important aspect of ensuring global stability and security and can, in addition, help to generate creative ways in which to deal with traditional threats. The Secretary General of the United Nations has outlined Millennium Development Goals that can serve as a road map to reduce world conflict. The goals can enable the UN, NGOs and civil society to develop a strategy for reducing worldwide conflict and to stabilize societies after conflicts have occurred. Identifying and generating measures that bring these actors together to fight traditional and non-traditional threats to security is one of the best ways to prevent and mitigate conflict. Over the next eight months, the working group will try to develop specific recommendations about the content and implementation of these kinds of measures.