By Ernie Regehr. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2015, 217pp.
For those of us committed to, and working for, a better world—and concerned about how war and violence can be addressed—Ernie Regehr’s Disarming Conflict should be regarded as essential reading. While the book was written in 2015, its scope and depth will give it a long shelf-life. But more importantly, it comes at pivotal historic juncture, given what is happening at the United Nations and within Canada.
In concert with not only governments but also civil society worldwide, the UN last year reviewed progress on its bold Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and laid out a successor, expanded set (going from eight to 17): the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Like the MDGs, the SDGs comprise a shared, 15-year (from now to 2030) global agenda for progress on humanity’s fundamental needs, e.g. food security, health, education, reduction of poverty, gender equality, protection of the environment, etc..
As bold as the MDGs were, and the SDGs are, none of the Goals directly address war and lesser armed conflict, nor has the UN developed a complementary agenda that does. While indeed the Goals should contribute to “peace-building” and reduction of the forces over the long term that can give rise to violence, they did not speak to immediate challenges of resolving current violent conflicts—even as the daily lives of millions of people on multiple continents are presently marked by turmoil and suffering on historic scales.
At the same time, Canada’s new government is examining ways to re-engage on a significant scale with the UN in peacekeeping and the complex challenges related to finding and ensuring enduring peace.
Regehr’s deep and insightful analysis of trends in inter- and intra-state conflicts over the last quarter century (i.e. since the ending of the Cold War), can take us far in understanding the demons that bedevil the pursuit of peace.
Disarming Conflict _is a good companion volume to Stephen Pinker’s book of 2008: _The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. While Pinker’s book looks at trends in war and violence over the last five and more centuries, and gives us reason to believe that there has been progress, Regehr goes on to describe the more current trends and how to take us further to more peaceful societies worldwide.
Progress had been made when some years ago peacekeeping and conflict resolution were addressed in terms of the three “Ds”: defence, diplomacy and development, with “defence” as a stand-in term for military forces under the UN, diplomacy for third-party mediation between the warring sides, and development as a plan for nation-building that assured the necessities for daily life. The importance of all three as essential complements to each other, though, was not widely enough appreciated in policy circles—nor were the three Ds sufficient.
Regehr captures but goes beyond the three Ds to provide a solid and encompassing prescription for a more durable foundation for peace: the five Ds. The five Ds are: development, democracy, disarmament, diplomacy and defence. Framed in terms of the role of external third-parties, working through or with the UN and other multilateral frameworks, here are Regehr’s pillars of for advancing peace, especially in conflict-ridden or otherwise fragile states.
Development: creating economic, social and environmental conditions conducive to peace and stability, especially those reducing gross disparities along ethnic or religious lines.
Democracy: promoting governance emphasizing human rights, inclusiveness and participation—again notably to reduce ethno-cultural divisions.
Disarmament: preventing destabilizing stockpiling of arms and prohibiting weapons of mass destruction—a crucial challenge in unwinding wars to prevent post-bellum waves of violent crime.
Diplomacy: multilateral steps to prevent conflict, peacefully manage political tensions, develop rules-based global order, and promote the first three Ds.
Defence: using external military and police force in extraordinary circumstances in support of the full range of efforts to advance peace and security.
As we can see, Regehr’s prescription is as important to prevention as it is to resolution of conflict, and serves to avoid the too frequent problem of renewed conflicts.
For the less determined reader, Regehr’s book is not easy going in those sections that pour through figures delineating the trends in types of conflicts, where they have been and their durations, along with starts and stops. But it is this rigorous quantitative analysis, drawing upon some of the world’s leading think-tanks in peace research, that gives us reassurance that Regehr has done his homework and not casually thrown half-baked figures at us, like so many pundits and well-meaning but ill-informed activists too often do.
If the book were to see a second edition, one might hope for some tables and graphs that would help us to more easily see the critical historic patterns that Regehr has discerned and that point us toward solutions.
Regehr’s findings, insights, and advice should be widely discussed and debated.
Reviewed by Shane Roberts, a strategic analyst of foreign intelligence for the Canadian government for two decades.