On December 6, the EastWest Institute and the European Parliament hosted the first Global Conference on Preventive Action. The conference was, in large part, focused on a specific question: how can we raise the political will to support conflict prevention?
Currently, governments and the United Nations devote a great deal of resources to peacekeeping, but not necessarily to conflict prevention. According to many conference speakers, this gap in spending is the result of a lack of public awareness about the importance of preventive action – and the consequences are dire.
“In the 1990’s, twice as many wars started around the world as the 1980s, meaning if preventive action was being practiced in this period, it had no effect,” said Andrew Mack, Director of the Human Security Report. Mack concluded that that public spending on and coordination of preventive action has been inadequate, particularly in the United Nations.
Nick Mabey, advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and keynote speaker, points out that it’s often hard to get people to care about “small wars far away.” For Mabey, the key to achieving stronger preventive action is getting people to care about it – that is, to winning a public battle of ideas, as the environmental movement has largely done with global warming.
“Advocates of preventive action need to reach out and participate more forcefully and convincingly in mainstream security and foreign policy fora,” said Mabey.
Mabey proposed that, proposed that to help show the value of preventive action, a mechanism for credible, independent risk assessment and monitoring should be established: “If well managed, such a process would provide a critical way of stimulating media and political interest and emerging crises.”
In other words, advocates must find a way to show that public that by monitoring elections or sponsoring campaigns for peace early on, money – and lives – can be saved in the long run.