Alchemy for a New World Order: Overselling "Preventive Diplomacy"

Courtesy Reuters

A defining characteristic of the post-Cold War era has been the disjuncture between its complex, horrifying events -- anarchy in Somalia, civil war in the former Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda -- and the presumption among some foreign policy elites that easy solutions to such disasters can be found. These analysts first asserted that international intervention in civil wars could bring peace and reconstruct states and civil societies, a claim that vanished in the streets of Mogadishu and Monrovia. Now, in a rear-guard battle, they contend that if action had come early enough in Somalia, Rwanda, and the Balkans, these humanitarian tragedies could have been averted with little cost or risk.

The idea that early intervention can prevent civil war, state collapse, and attendant humanitarian tragedies has proven potent. Major foundations are investing scarce resources and staking reputations to study preventive diplomacy. The Carnegie Corporation of New York has established a Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict; the United States Institute of Peace has founded a study group on preventive diplomacy; and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has proposed the creation of a global crisis team, which would be responsible for providing early warnings of crises to the United Nations. The Council on Foreign Relations has a Center for Preventive Action to study and test conflict prevention.

Preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention are now common slogans among policymakers. The Clinton administration claims them as pillars of its foreign policy. Even Congress has jumped on the bandwagon: the African Conflict Resolution Act of 1994 funds the Organization of African Unity's new early warning system "for conflict prevention, management and resolution."

Preventive diplomacy -- that is, concerted action designed to resolve, manage, or contain disputes before they become violent -- is not a new idea. The need to monitor, predict, and prevent potential violent confrontations has always been an integral aspect of international relations. Two aspects of the contemporary fascination with preventive diplomacy, however, are novel: the amount of attention that foreign policy elites are

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