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Last Updated: 12/01/2005
Ten Imperatives to Prevent Deadly Conflict and Terrorism
Dr. John Richardson and Mark Hamilton

Since that fateful day September 11, 2001, questions of terrorism have become etched in US collective memory. In the four years since, government responses have stretched budgets, spread troops, started wars, and cultivated a security-first mentality. All but lost in such responses, however, is a coherent and multi-pronged strategy to deal with the roots of terror and deadly conflict.

As argued in the recent book, Paradise Poisoned: Learning About Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars, today we know more than enough to choose policies that help prevent protracted conflict and terrorism. We also know more than enough to avoid policies that cause such mayhem.

Our state of knowledge is analogous to our knowledge about the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. We know that smoking is a principal cause of lung cancer, though there are other causes. We know that refraining from smoking is the best way of avoiding lung cancer, though some abstainers may still contract the disease. A proactive strategy for preventing deadly conflict and terrorism can be summarized in ten imperatives. Relevance extends well beyond Sri Lanka, to Kosovo, Kashmir, Israel-Palestine, Sudan, Afghanistan and, in particular, Iraq.

The ten imperatives are these:

1. Maintaining public order and preventing social turbulence from escalating into protracted deadly conflict are prerequisite to the success of all other development policies.

2. Polarizing political rhetoric and tactics must be forgone, however tempting their short-term benefits may seem. Like mustard gas, which had to be abandoned as a weapon in World War I, polarizing tactics have a tendency to “blow back” upon the user.

3. Meeting the needs and aspirations of fighting age young men should be the first priority of national development polices and of programs funded by international donors.

4. Developing countries should have internal security forces (police and paramilitary) that are generously funded, professional, apolitical and trained to meet the complex challenges of maintaining public order in a changing society.

5. Development policies that meet human beings’ common aspirations – to feel good about their lives, the circumstances in which they live and future prospects for themselves and their children – contribute most effectively to keeping violent conflict and terrorism within acceptable bounds.

6. Those who frame development policies should seek a middle path between capitalism’s efficient, but Darwinian precepts, and socialism’s egalitarian, but stultifying precepts.

7. Good governance and democratization must be part of the “successful development” mix. Most important are governance institutions that are open to “bad news” and self-correcting.

8. Multinational corporations, businesses and related organizations should play a more active role in supporting sustainable development policies.

9. Successful development requires a long-term view. Giving sufficient weight to the long-term requires institutional mechanisms and discourses that extend beyond the next election of political leaders presently in power.

10. There must be realistic, rigorous, opportunity-costs analyses of military options, versus equivalent expenditures for non-military options, before proceeding down the slippery slope of “military solutions” to complex development problems.

We believe policymakers and citizens in the US and abroad would do well to heed these recommendations, developed through nearly twenty years of work integrating a systems analysis framework with political-economic research, targeted interviews, and detailed historical data analysis. Terrorism, deadly conflict, and failed development policies have long been locked in a vicious, systemic circle. We repeat: our state of knowledge is analogous to our knowledge about the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Today we know more than enough to learn from past mistakes and choose policies that prevent protracted conflict and terrorism. The question before us, then, is what we will do about this!

This essay draws from Dr. Richardson’s recent book, Paradise Poisoned. Richardson teaches at American University in Washington DC, where Hamilton is completing doctoral work in International Relations.