Time for a rethink on conflict and peace, says World Vision

  • Global military spending – at US$1.7 trillion – dwarfs the amount spent on preventing conflict
  • ‘Shining examples of peacemakers’ around the world show preventing conflict is possible and cheaper
  • Post-2015 goals need to reflect the importance of reducing poverty as a contributor to peace – and the importance of peace as a contributor to reducing poverty

As conflict on an unprecedented scale rips apart the lives of children, now more than ever leaders need to focus on a global strategy for peace, says World Vision ahead of Sunday’s International Day of Peace.

“The world spends far too much managing conflict instead of investing in peace,” says Matthew Scott, World Vision International’s Director of Peacebuilding.

“Just like patient investors, governments need a long-term vision when it comes to peace programmes. Short-term security spending misses key chances to build the kind of peace that lasts. Managing conflict is far more deadly and expensive than preventing it.”

Despite this, the numbers paint a distorted, unbalanced picture, says Scott. Conservative estimates put global military spending at US$1.7 trillion – and they are only an indication of the true picture.

“Last year’s official spending figure doesn’t include a number of countries whose spending is significant. The amount spent on military and security by governments is eye-watering. And when you compare it with the most generous number we have that’s spent on overseas aid, which includes aid with conditions attached – about US$135 billion – it’s not hard to see why we are a long way from realising peace dividends on a large scale.”

Small-scale efforts prove that effective peacebuilding and conflict prevention is possible, says Scott.

“At World Vision, we see evidence all around us that grassroots peacebuilding works. There are shining examples of peacemakers around the world succeeding. This year’s recipient of the World Vision Peace Prize, Colombian peacebuilding organisation Sembrandopaz (“Sowing Seeds of Peace”), is such an example. Sembrandopaz shows that steady, committed and sustained grassroots peace actions bear fruit.   

“Peacebuilding isn’t as complicated or difficult as people might think. But we do have to invest seriously, and right now leaders all over the world are choosing the power of the sword over the power of the word.”

Ahead of next week’s UN General Assembly, and as discussions about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals deadline continue, leaders need to remember that peace is integral to sustainable development, says James Cox, World Vision’s Senior Policy Advisor for Fragile Contexts.

“For too long, peace has been seen as merely the absence of conflict. As an international community, we have failed to address critical drivers of conflict like inequality and exclusion. Harnessing the link between peace and development is critical to disrupting the poverty and violence cycle,” he says.

“What is encouraging is that the post-2015 discussions are acknowledging this, we just need to ensure it informs all international work on building peace.”

Which has never been more critical, says Scott: “In a world where some 500 million children live in fragile contexts, in fear for their lives and safety, with no access to the most basic nutrition, health care and education and little hope of a better future, what could be more important to this generation than building peace?”

In World Vision’s experience, three key steps make all the difference when it comes to building peace:

Step one: Do conflict analysis, inclusively, with all involved groups, on an ongoing basis. Know what’s causing conflict, and adapt programmes, funding and interventions, as appropriate. Boilerplate programmes don’t work in violent contexts.

Step two: Invest in peace properly. This does not mean more military spending. It’s far better to be more inclusive than faster. International diplomacy needs to be guided by an agenda that’s set by the people who are most affected by it. Not by a narrow emphasis on securitisation. The New Deal for Effectiveness in Fragile States is an inter-governmental effort focused exactly on this challenge.

Step three:  Stay in for the long haul. Make peace-building activity a part of development, and recognise the contribution of good development to peace. War is a weed, it can grow overnight, but peace is like seeds. It needs to be planted, nurtured and allowed to grow. It can take a lifetime to harvest, and is the work of a generation