A surge in violent conflicts in recent years has left a trail of human suffering, displacement, and protracted humanitarian need. In 2016, more countries experienced violent conflict than at any time in nearly 30 years.1 Reported battle-related deaths in 2016 increased tenfold from the post–Cold War low of 2005, and terrorist attacks and fatalities also rose sharply over the past 10 years (GTD 2017).
This surge in violence afflicts both low- and middle-income countries with relatively strong institutions and calls into question the long-standing assumption that peace will accompany income growth and the expectations of steady social, economic, and political advancement that defined the end of the twentieth century (Fearon 2010; Humphreys and Varshney 2004; World Economic Forum 2016). If current trends persist, by 2030—the horizon set by the international community for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—more than half of the world’s poor will be living in countries affected by high levels of violence (OECD 2015).
The benefit of preventive action, then, seems self-evident. Indeed, the global architecture for peace and security, forged in the aftermath of World War II, is grounded in the universal commitment to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (United Nations Charter, preamble). Yet the changing scope and nature of today’s conflicts pose a significant challenge to that system. With conflict today often simultaneously subnational and transnational, sustained, inclusive, and targeted engagement is needed at all levels.
This reality has accelerated momentum for countries at risk and for the international community to focus on improving efforts at preventing “the outbreak, escalation, recurrence, or continuation of conflict” (UN General Assembly 2016; UN Security Council 2016). Yet, at present, spending and efforts on prevention represent only a fraction of the amount spent on crisis response and reconstruction.2 A shift away from managing and responding to crises and toward preventing conflict sustainably, inclusively, and collectively can save lives and greatly reduce these costs.
1. UCDP (2017). The UCDP/PRIO (Uppsala Conflict Data Program/Peace Research Institute Oslo) Armed Conflict Dataset 2017 records all state-based conflict in which at least one side is the government of a state and which results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in a calendar year. It covers the years 1946 to 2016. UCDP data that record nonstate and one-sided violence that results in at least 25 conflict-related deaths in a calendar year cover the years 1989 to 2016.
2. For example, official development assistance to countries with high risk of conflict averages US$250 million per year, only slightly higher than that to countries at peace, but increases to US$700 million during open conflict and US$400 million during recovery years. Similarly, peacekeeping support averages US$30 million a year for countries at high risk, compared with US$100 million for countries in open conflict and US$300 million during recovery. See Mueller (2017).