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New rules of war and peace

Guest Blogger

What happens when a peace advocate and a career army officer come together to write a book on how best to protect populations around the world and encourage development in the 21st century? You get a model for opposite ends of the political spectrum seeing the other side’s wisdom and gaining a new understanding of their own views. And not least of all, this harmony produces an opportunity for fresh thinking on age-old problems. In their book, “The Ultimate Weapon Is No Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace,” Lt. Col. Shannon Beebe and Prof. Mary Kaldor, outline an approach for dealing with conflicts and foes that are not as clearly defined as they once were. The authors argue that the use of traditional force, which was the method of the 20th century, is no longer effective for ensuring broad-based security. Instead, armies, non-governmental organizations and other groups should work together to protect people and make human security the chief goal. Beebe, a West Point graduate, serves as senior Africa analyst for the office of the United States Army deputy chief of staff, intelligence. Mary Kaldor is director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

By Shannon Beebe

Imagine for a moment, you could get the leading thinkers from the development sector together with the leading thinkers of the defense sector and pose this question: “What do floods, earthquakes, oil spills, overfishing coastal waters, climate change, poverty, rape, lack of educational opportunities and forced migration all have in common?”

The answer would vary depending on which side you asked. The development community would make a solid case that all of these problems lead to a spiral of diminishing opportunity for those in underdeveloped corners of the world. The defense sector would make an equally convincing case that these problems all in some way promote terrorism.

Then the next question posed would be: “So how do we deal with this?”

That’s when the feathers would begin flying. The development community would discuss the need for increased foreign aid, sustainable development models, and increased attention by the current administration. Any suggestion of Defense Department involvement in development and humanitarian efforts would be vehemently challenged as an invasion of the military into the humanitarian space.

The defense side would argue that more should be done to counter the ever growing threat of terrorism around the world. Its solution would lean sharply towards the carrot and stick approach -- dangle the carrot in front of troublesome characters and if they choose not to eat, get them with the stick.

The defense camp would express disappointment that it has had to bang its swords into plowshares far too often and that it’s being forced to do “non-standard” or “out of sector” missions because the development community is stretched too thin or unable to exert proper control over its complex operations.

Where all sides would agree is that something more -- something different -- must be done as we continue to watch the poorest grow poorer and more desperate.

So what is lacking in this ongoing debate? We need a common language that shifts the security paradigm of the 20th century.

We need to move the focus away from planes, tanks, and guns and toward an understanding of the conditions that create instability and deter development. But the development and defense communities are still struggling to find the right language to frame this effort for the 21th century.

Each side must move away from its traditional understanding of development and defense and accept the comparative advantages of the other community. Both must find ways to support efforts in the most ravaged parts of the world to prevent a downward spiral from catastrophe to conflict to armed battle. The military needs to redefine its role as protecting people rather than defeating enemies; it has to help create the humanitarian conditions in which the development community can work. The development community will have to work with this refashioned military.

Human security is the goal, and whether you see these needed changes through a development or military lens, it is necessary to realize that the challenges for both sides are the same. We must find a common language – a common understanding – before we can bring about any meaningful, sustainable improvements to basic security needs around the world.

-- The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of any U.S. government agency, specifically the Department of Defense or the United States Army.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  May 21, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: ensuring human security, making the world safe, new rules of war and peace  
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