Peace-prevention: Western conflict management as the continuation of power politics by other means

The Violent Dissolution and Its Underlying Conflicts

By Jan Oberg
June 2004

The breakdown of former Yugoslavia has been explained in dozens of books the last five years with reference to ethnic war, aggression, traumas, nationalism, the dissolution of Communist ideology and the Soviet Union, the impossibility of non-alignment when the blocs disappeared, by expansionist national myths (Greater Serbia) etc. In short, black and white images, reduction to two parties — one good and one bad — in conflict and a need for ”third” parties to intervene to judge and set things right.

My first observation is that there may well be an element of truth in each but that they are surface appearances or instrumental features of the war through which deeper lying, essentially political-economic root causes of the conflict were played out.

My second, perhaps to some provocative, argument is that the international so-called community (1) is fundamentally incapable of perceiving and diagnosing conflicts as conflicts but see events such as Croatia, Bosnia, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq in the perspective of foreign policy, security, alliance-building, world domination, national interests, or in the light of the division of labour among international organisations. [Read more…]

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Macedonia 2002 – 2003: Assessing the risk of violence

By Jan Oberg

Written in 2001

 

1. Introduction

This report offers a framework and some tools for analysing the conflicts in Macedonia and the larger conflict formation of which it is a part. The purpose of the analysis is to assess the risks of violence and war in the country in the near future and the long-term.

 

1.1 Early warning and preventive initiatives

Early warning studies are meaningful only if combined with early listening and early action. Numerous organisations, among them Amnesty International and the Transnational Foundation, have repeatedly pointed out from the early 1990s that there would be war in Kosovo if no actors in the international community undertook mitigating, mediating and negotiating efforts. In Kosovo, there was minimal early listening and no early action to deal with the conflicts and their resolution. The conflict grew more serious and became militarised; due to the absence of early listening and action, NATO’s bombing in 1999 was promoted as the only solution, in spite of the fact that it caused even more human suffering and did not lead to a sustainable peace in the region a good three years later.

 

1.2 Theory and empirical work – diagnosis, prognosis and therapy

 Nothing is as practical as a good theory. Without thinking about it, we use theories and make assumptions when we drive a car or cook a meal. This report includes bits and pieces of general theory and some concepts to help readers understand this conflict as well as other conflicts. If the analysis increases the understanding of complex conflicts in general and those pertaining to Macedonia in particular, it will have served two of its major purposes. Without comprehensive ‘diagnosis’, we can neither produce a reasonable ‘prognosis’ nor hope to provide adequate ‘treatment’ or ‘therapy.’

A doctor uses knowledge of medicine and theories about the causes and symptoms of diseases and combines that with theories and concepts when examining a patient. In this report, we do much the same; we diagnose a ‘patient’ as suffering from serious conflicts and violence and explore the possibility that the disease may not have been completely cured and may reoccur. We also look into what is required for the patient to recover completely.

Only on the basis of both theory and empirical analysis can we hope to assess the risk of violence and war in complex systems. And only by adding constructive thinking can we hope to prevent violence and help people and societies move towards peace.

 

1.3 Causes of war and causes of peace

One particularly important, underlying assumption throughout this report is [Read more…]

Background on Kosovo – and the management of it*

By Jan Oberg

Manuscript about Kosovo for the World Bank 

26 June 2000

 

A word about diagnosing conflict

A conflict is a problem that arises out of two or more actors’ incompatible expectations, needs or values. The sine qua non of effective conflict-mitigation (or -transformation) is comprehensive quality analysis of the root causes (diagnosis) of that problem. Without it, interventions to ‘manage’ or help solve somebody else’s conflict and prevent/stop violence will invariable fail – as will surgery on a patient whose disease is unknown to the doctor. You may add that violence is usually not the root cause of a conflict but, rather, a consequence of maltreated, ignored or otherwise non-resolved conflicts.

There is a tendency in Western culture to locate conflict (and violence, but the two are not idenical) in certain actors only. Thus, conflict is often defined as a good guy being attacked or quarelling with an evil guy about one object such as land, rights, resources, etc. Many therefore believe that conflict-resolution is about punishing the designated bad guy, rewarding his counterpart and then things will be fine.

Making “evil” the root cause is much too imprecise to serve as a diagnosis (as it would be to say that a disease is caused by demons in the body). In addition, it begs the philosophical question: What drives humans to do inhuman – evil – things to each other?

This approach is indicative of ‘conflict illiteracy’ – a recipe for failure: Conflicts are not only rooted in individuals (although, of course acted out by and through them) but also in structures in time and space, in circumstances and trends – in the “Karma.” This approach also overlooks that there are never only two parties and that most actors behave as more or less grey, rather than black and white.

 

The case of Kosovo

So, what’s is the conflict – the problems that lead to the violence – in Kosovo all about?

Having worked there over the 9 years, I would say: it is not predominantly about human rights violations or ethnic cleansing, they are symptoms of deeper lying problems, but – most unfortunately – the only aspects the so-called international community has focussed on hitherto.

As in so many other conflicts there is a history going decades, if not centuries, back in time. There is constitutional matters, general political and specific Yugo-structural features. There is a series of regional dimensions involving neighbouring countries.

And there is economic mal-development. If the GNP of Kosovo is set at 100, Slovenia (1984) had 766, Serbia without Voivodina  and Kosovo 375, Macedonia 249 – and the income gap between the richer and poorer republics and peoples in Tito’s Yugoslavia began to increase rapidly in the 1980s. Structurally more advantaged republics such as Croatia and Slovenia paid considerable parts of their profits to the federal redistribution mechanism, but much of it ended up in corrupted pockets, showplace extravagant public buildings and in land purchases in Macedonia – little left for productive investments in Kosovo.

Depending on the definition, at least 55 per cent of those seeking work were unemployed; illiteracy passed 20 per cent and perhaps as many as 400,000 kids were out of the regular schools; over 40 per cent of the people had no access to tap water, only 28 per cent lived in areas with a sewage system.

Kosovo had the highest birth rate and the highest infant mortality rate in Europe; more than 50 per cent of the citizens were below 20, the average age being 24 years of age. Albanians made up 67 per cent of the population in the province in 1961 (they also lived elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, some sources say 100.000 in Belgrade alone), they appear to have risen to about 90 per cent in the 1990s.  [Read more…]