Sustainable Development Can Prevent Conflict

The UN secretary-general urges world leaders to focus on longer-term goals

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IT is easy to get people interested in questions of war and peace but hard to get them to focus on development, the lack of which is the underlying cause of conflict.

Two years ago this week, at the request of the first-ever Security Council Summit, I produced a report on ways to improve United Nations capacity for maintaining peace and security. Entitled ``Agenda for Peace,'' the document was debated around the world in parliaments, in ministries, in nongovernmental groups, in academic circles, and in the media.

Some governments have taken action on my recommendations. Last week the Netherlands presented its offer to put military units at the disposal of the UN Standby Arrangements System. This is the most recent of such preferred contributions to peacekeeping capacity which could enable the UN to respond rapidly when the Security Council decides action is necessary.

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Although troops stand ready, financial support has not been adequate. And political will has not been forthcoming. Consequently, vicious conflicts continue to erupt. The world has not summoned the resolve to deal with them effectively. It has not fully realized that chaos and war are contagious; while these continue to spread, no country can be confident about its future.

At a time when much of the world, even when faced with horrifying scenes, is reluctant to get involved, it is hard to generate enthusiasm for action in the seemingly more abstract cause of ``development.'' But the need is urgent. The pattern of violent upheaval around the world cannot be broken until development is given top priority. The lack of development heightens rivalries for land and natural resources. Such tensions bring a perceived need for military power. Societies caught in this cycle find it difficult to escape all-out warfare. Development is the most secure basis for peace.

But development is in crisis. The theories and practices of decades of effort have achieved neither consensus on the concept nor satisfaction with results. Donors are weary. The poor are dispirited. At a recent Organization of African Unity meeting I felt frustration and despair.

Development is not easy to understand, let alone achieve. The drafters of the UN Charter in 1945 could confidently spell out provisions for international peace and security. When it came to development their words were more ambiguous.

We must recognize that development has many dimensions. More than economic growth is needed. Peace is essential to development, but 44 countries today are without peace. Heavy sanctions imposed on four other countries impede their development and impair the economies of countries that apply sanctions. Sustainable development can only be achieved in the context of a protected and renewable environment; world leaders must carry out the commitments they made at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. We now know that economic progress can come at the expense of social stability and justice; some means must be found to repair and restore the social fabric. Democracy is a key to development. Only through democracy can communities curtail corruption, direct resources away from unnecessary military spending, and initiate the stability and creativity of popular participation in government.

The image of the UN is dominated today by its peacekeeping operations. A key must be found to open the way for rapid and effective UN peace operations. But equally urgent is what the UN does in development, the prerequisite for peace and the task to which 80 percent of the world organization's budget is directed.

In response to the request of the General Assembly, I have just produced ``An Agenda for Development,'' which offers a framework for thinking about the various dimensions of development. In this report, I explore the relationships between peace, the economy, the environment, society, and democracy as the five interlinked elements of development.

Without peace, human energies cannot be productively employed. Without economic growth, there can be no sustained, broad-based improvement in material well-being. Without protection of the environment, the basis of human survival will be eroded. Without societal justice, mounting inequalities will threaten social cohesion. Without political participation in freedom, development will remain fragile and perpetually at risk. ``An Agenda for Development'' also addresses the practical aspects of implementing a comprehensive vision of development, emphasizing the imperative of coordinating national and international efforts to overcome the confusions, contradictions, and duplications that so often undermine present programs.

The two agendas - peace and development - are inextricably intertwined. Action based upon that recognition is the most compelling cause of our time. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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