Intended for healthcare professionals


Preventive medicine: can conflicts be prevented?

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 14 August 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:396

The evidence suggests that conflict prevention can work

  1. Tom Woodhouse, professor
  1. Centre for Conflict Resolution, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford BD7 1DP

    Now that the war in Kosovo is over (at least in its current phase) post war reconstruction costs for the Balkans are estimated at £12bn to £60bn ($19-96bn). The international peacekeeping force now in Kosovo will find it difficult to complete its tasks either quickly or cheaply, and the transition to peace is likely to be far harder than winning the air war. The US and the European Union are expecting to incur costs of at least £625m ($1000m) a year for reconstructing Kosovo over the next five years. Thousands have been killed, most of them civilians, communities have been destroyed, and the full environmental consequences of the bombing have yet to be realised Political leaders, it seems, too often underestimate the costs of entering a course of action which seeks to resolve conflicts by violence.1

    The Kosovo war is only the latest in a series of conflicts that have dashed the hopes for a peaceful world that existed for a short time after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. They were expressed most positively by United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1992 when he called for the world community to address the root causes of conflict through a strategy which depended in part on new initiatives to prevent violent conflict.

    Preventive diplomacy

    Conflict prevention, or preventive diplomacy, is the idea that the international community should be able to prevent violent conflicts rather than responding once violence has broken out (when a conflict is much harder to control). Boutros-Ghali defined preventive diplomacy as “action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts …

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