Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Saturday, May 1, 1999 Published at 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK


US greens want beefed-up UN

"Money would be better spent on preventing conflicts than missiles"

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The Worldwatch Institute says the unfolding humanitarian disaster in the Balkans has exposed the inadequacies of international attempts to keep the peace.

The Institute, an environmental research group based in Washington DC, says the Balkan conflict dramatises "the need for an entirely new approach to security policy in the post-Cold War world".

Kosovo: Special Report
An Institute report, "Ending Violent Conflict", says 110 million people have died in wars this century.

It says that is three times as many people as died in all the wars between the first century AD and 1899.

Most wars in the last half century have been internal ones: in the last decade, 97 out of 103 armed conflicts were internal.

Since 1945, civilians have accounted for 70% of all war casualties, with the figure rising to more than 90% in the 1990s.

Disarmament and mediation

Given this change in the nature of conflict, the report argues for a combination of approaches:

  • Seeking disarmament
  • Promoting conflict prevention and mediation
  • Establishing permanent peacekeeping forces
  • Protecting human rights
  • Prosecuting war crimes
  • Revitalising global institutions like the United Nations and the World Court

But it says these measures need to be linked to a broader human security agenda which recognises the underlying causes of conflict - poverty, inequality, ethnic tensions, population growth and environmental damage.

The report says pointedly: "Military means are usually inappropriate for humanitarian action and largely irrelevant for peacemaking efforts.

"They absorb resources that could be better used for conflict prevention."

Prevention better than cure

Although it is often hard to prevent conflict, it is very much harder to end fighting once large-scale bloodshed has happened.

So the report's author, Michael Renner, calls for investment in an array of preventive mechanisms.

These include building early conflict detection networks; setting up an international corps of skilled roving mediators; and positioning peacekeeping forces between opposing sides.

Unequal distribution

More fundamentally, he says, preventing conflicts is about recognising and tackling the pressures that lead to violence, from unequal wealth distribution to environmental degradation.

Mr Renner says non-governmental organisations have achieved some notable recent successes, with the adoption of treaties to outlaw anti-personnel landmines and to establish an international criminal court.

They are now working to launch a campaign against small-arms proliferation, and to move towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

He says weapons spread indiscriminately across the planet during the Cold War are military leftovers, "a source of cheap and easily available arms tempting people to rely on violence to resolve conflicts".

And he says the growing integration of the global economy will not necessarily lead to more international co-operation.

"Globalisation itself carries the potential for tension and conflict, because the benefits and burdens are distributed in such spectacularly uneven fashion."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Sci/Tech Contents

Relevant Stories

19 Apr 99 | Sci/Tech
Bombing threatens Serbs' environment

18 Apr 99 | Education
Think-tank targets NI peace

Internet Links

Worldwatch Institute

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer