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Conflicts in developing world examined

John Cameron | Friday, October 30, 2009

Addressing the fundamental causes of conflict in the developing world was the topic of discussion Thursday at a panel forum hosted by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Professor Cecelia Lynch of University of California-Irvine and Professors Jackie Smith of Sociology and Ernesto Verdeja of Political Science met in McKenna Hall to present a panel entitled “Globalization, Social Movements and Peacebuilding.”

“What are the causes of violence, the sources of peace?” Smith asked to start the discussion.

Smith cited a study that suggests nearly half of all post-war societies see a return of violence within 15 years. The problem, according to Smith, is that the causes of structural violence persist.

Smith said she believes one of the major problems with efforts thus far to work against conflict in the third world is in how scholars approach the issue of global violence.

“Much of the work in political science treats violence as based in national problems,” she said. “But social conflicts are imbedded in a larger system of power relations.”

Smith said failures to effectively relieve these issues are often based in false assumptions made by many regarding the consequences of globalization.

“Many assume that integration into the global economy will lead to growth … growing the economy will automatically help address the causes of conflict,” Smith said. “These policies [of globalization] systematically reduce the power of working people in order to attract foreign investment.”

Smith emphasized the importance of social movements as they can often be the only way for popular groups to articulate their needs when they cannot do so through their government.

“Social movements are key to understanding the state and the ability of popular groups to change institutions,” Smith said.

Lynch discussed the concept of a post-conflict society and emphasized the role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) within them.

“The number of re-occurrences of violence are increasing,” Lynch said. “The number of indirect deaths as a result of [previous] conflict remain high for 10 years.”

Lynch said the number of NGOs in developing countries is increasing, but she noted their shortcomings.

“There are up to 40,000 transnational, non-government organizations working on these issues,” Lynch said. “Why so many? Why isn’t there less poverty and conflict?”

Lynch cited the gradual withdrawal of direct social welfare programs by governments as well as increased globalization as the causes for the rise in number of NGOs. The reduced effectiveness of these organizations is in part based on a false assumption and reluctance, Lynch said.

“There’s an assumption that others should act as we do, want what we want,” Lynch said. “Market systems create haves and have-nots … we need more direct challenges to these market systems. We need to think more about whether there is a reluctance by humanitarians to take on market systems.”

In the question-and-answer portion following the panel, Smith said the focus in developing countries should be on human needs.

“It’s not about encouraging communities to engage with global economies,” she said. “It’s about starting with human needs.”