Imagine a world without war. For the past three years, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, co-chaired by David Hamburg and Cyrus Vance, has done just that.
The commission conducted a comprehensive study of violent conflict in order to determine how such conflict can be eradicated. In its recently released final report, we have an invaluable blueprint for a more peaceful world.
Tapping an extensive vein of human experience with conflict prevention, the commission has formulated a compelling set of policy prescriptions for heading off deadly conflict and for rooting out the underlying causes of conflicts so that they may be addressed comprehensively. Without such interventions, the 21st century may be even more violent than the 20th.
A higher standard
In marked contrast with former Secretary of State James Baker's memorable explanation for staying clear of Bosnia ("We don't have a dog in this fight"), the commission exhorts the international community to adhere to a higher standard of global responsibility: "It is difficult for major governments to claim that they did not know that violence on the scale of a Rwanda or Bosnia could happen. Similarly, it is implausible for such governments, especially of the larger, more powerful, and wealthy states, to claim that nothing could be done to avert such crises."
Mass violence escalates in ways that mean there can be no innocent bystanders in an explosive hair-trigger world. And while violence can escalate organically, the underlying disputes need not, inexorably, turn violent. The commission underscores that war and mass violence result from deliberate political decisions and that these decisions can be affected.
The will to act preventively and the know-how for effective action, however, are frequently missing. The commission's recommendation for an extended effort to resolve the underlying root causes of violence may require the expenditure of considerable political and economic capital.
Our still-evolving notions of sovereignty tend to complicate matters. What governments do to their own citizens within the borders of their nation states has too frequently been considered ultra vires where the international community's scope of inquiry is concerned.
For this reason, without much ado by the international community, at least 170 million people were murdered by their own governments in this century. This is more than four times the 42 million deaths from civil and international wars.
Mindful of the tendencies of authoritarian states to use genocide to maintain power, the commission's first imperative - preventing the emergence of violent conflict - involves a careful deconstruction of the units that comprise the international system. These should be "capable states with representative governance based on the rule of law, with widely available economic opportunity, social safety nets, protection of fundamental human rights, and robust civil societies."
Undercutting these aspirations is the brute fact that the 50 poorest countries, home to one-fifth of the world's population, now account for less than 2 percent of global income, and their share continues to decline.
The commission is sanguine about the continuing role of the United Nations in conflict prevention and endorses the development of a UN rapid-reaction capability. The assignment of troops to the UN for this purpose is held out as a price of membership on the Security Council.
Much as with the police function within the states, such a force will require special training to implement "peacekeeping" activities. Illustrative of this kind of deployment is the UN force currently stationed on the border of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia - one of the great unheralded triumphs of preventive action.
The power of deterrence
Ultimately, there is no substitute for nurturing a culture of prevention. The pathologies of violence can be detected and isolated. Better yet if such pathologies do not emerge. Such is the power of deterrence implicit in the rule of law.
From Nuremberg to Noriega, accountability and the precept that no one (even a head of government) is above the law, must be assiduously enforced to ensure maximum compliance with international norms of conduct.
For this reason, the apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Rwanda could not be more critical.
* Noel V. Lateef is president of the Foreign Policy Association and an adjunct professor of international law at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
From The Carnegie Commission Report
The human species has a virtuoso capacity for making harsh distinctions between groups and for justifying violence on whatever scale the technology of the time permits. It is disturbing that fanatical behavior has a way of recurring dangerously across time and locations. Such behavior is old, but what is historically new and very threatening is the destructive power of our weaponry and its ongoing worldwide proliferation. Also new is the technology that permits rapid, vivid, widely broadcast justification for violence. This combination is what will make the world of the next century so dangerous. In such a world, human conflict is a subject that deserves the most careful and searching inquiry. It is a subject par excellence for fresh thinking and public understanding.