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Human security and conflict prevention

by Volker Weyel
Detlev Wolter: A United Nations for the 21st century: From reaction to prevention. Towards an effective and efficient international regime for conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2007, 474 p., €69.00, ISBN 978-3-8329-2344-0

Detlev Wolter is an official at the State Chancellery in Brandenburg. His in-depth analysis of UN efforts to design operational mechanisms for conflict prevention is not light reading. The main notions discussed in the book are the terms “human security” and “sovereignty as responsibility”. According to the foreword by communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni, the “UN-as-is” should be brought closer to the “UN-as-it-ought-to-be.” Wolter’s concept envisages a combination of “hard” and “soft” elements of international power. Reactive measures by the Security Council, for instance, should be replaced or at least supplemented with comprehensive proactive engagement to prevent and dispel crises.

The approach is not new; and it is, at least in principle, widely accepted. The devil, however, is in practical detail. Some notions, moreover, are indeed controversial, as is attested by a number of reports from high-ranking working groups appointed by the UN Secretary General. The “Responsibility to Protect” report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty from 2001 is a striking example.

After an overview of the challenges posed to the international community by intra-state conflicts and fragile states, Wolter examines specific United Nations documents in detail. He outlines approaches which address issues such as “conflict diamonds” or the spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW), discusses regional and national initiatives (such as Germany’s Action Plan for Civil-Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution and Peace Consolidation) and elaborates on international initiatives such as the UN Peacebuilding Commission that works since 2006.

In the conclusion, he calls for a UN global action plan “for conflict prevention and human security,” which would inse­parably link security, development and human-rights policymaking.

The author underpins his arguments in this impressive tome with several recent case studies, running the risk of his work seeming somewhat out of date even on the day of publication.

Some data, moreover, are inaccurate. In his brief chapter on Uganda, Wolter states that the violent “Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA) controlled 80 % of the country, but that was never the case. Moreover, he does not mention the peace talks between the government of Uganda and the LRA which started in Juba in South Sudan in mid-July 2006.

Volker Weyel