Global Conflict: Causes and Solutions for Peace.

In this article, we speak to Kristiina Rintakoski, Executive Director of the Crisis Management Initiative (launched by Nobel Prize winner President Martti Ahtisaari) about global conflict, its relationship with economic inequality, climate change and energy. We talk about the dynamics of conflict and crisis situations, and how organisations like CMI are building peace internationally.

Perhaps more than at any time in our history, our world is engaged in conflict. From the UK and USA engaged at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, through to insurgencies in Algeria, Burma and Columbia, civil wars in African nations, and conflict between people in China, Iran and Israel, we see that we are in a fragile landscape.

Over the past century, a number of facets of humanities development have contributed to this, including:

Economics: From early colonialism to modern capitalism, our western economic growth has often been at the detriment of other nations where, for example, we have aggressively acquired assets, created trade routes, or leveraged economic scale to source products, assets, and services artificially cheaply. These processes, while creating great wealth and development in Europe and the USA, have exacerbated poverty and economic inequality in many nations, creating a great deal of tension and potential for conflict.

Agriculture and Energy: Our world is hugely dependent on agriculture and energy. Both of these asset classes are in huge demand, with their protection and development becoming serious debate. Population and economic growth also puts huge strains on these assets, as our world comes close to consuming greater than is sustainable.

Technology: While technology has been a huge enabler for global development, it has also made our injustices and inequalities more visible to external and internal participants in any situation.

Climate Change: This is now becoming a real and significant issue with millions worldwide becoming displaced by climatic effects.

Religion, Governance, and Politics: These issues, and their allied topics of human rights, justice, and so forth have historically caused many of the world’s most significant conflicts, and continue to do so as often these issues are the most fundamental in the structure of a society.

So how, then, will humanity move forward to create solutions for conflict?

[bios]CMI (The Crisis Management Initiative) was founded in 2000 by its Chairman, President Martti Ahtisaari (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2008, and President of Finland 1994-2000). The organisation focuses on issues critical to creating sustainable peace and security, and making strategic contributions to the capacity of local, regional and international actors operating in war-torn and conflict-ridden societies through preventive diplomacy, peace-mediation and state building.[/bios]

In a privileged interview we spoke to Mrs. Kristiina Rintakoski, executive director of the Crisis Management Initiative, about global conflict, its relationship with economic inequality, climate change and energy. We talk about the dynamics of conflict and crisis situations, and how organisations like CMI are building peace internationally

On Conflict and Peace:

Q: What are the key causes the conflicts we see globally?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] All conflicts are different with their particular history and reasons. I think that inequality within societies and between regions has become a key cause for conflict, exacerbated by rapid information dissemination, as people are (now) more aware of inequalities. Economic, social and environmental trends come together, for example, looking at resource competition and climate change (the latter intensifying the lack of resources, leading to political conflict). State fragility continues to be a key source for internal conflicts, instability and human suffering.

Q: How do you go about reconciling sides who have seemingly irreconcilable differences?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] Our strategy is to try and find elements which can create a common ground, a common agenda, which can then build confidence for sides to work together. Often, a common-agenda comes from issues outside the source of the conflict, such as economic and social well-being, but these areas are ones where all sides have an interest (though, often, it is these areas which have caused the conflict). Another strategy, which we inherited from our Chairman, President Martti Ahtisaari, is to work towards finding practical solutions to political disputes grounded in everyday realities in conflict situations. These strategies can lessen tension between parties to concentrate on solution oriented thinking.

Q: What does it take to create peace? And what is the role of conflict resolution in your overall strategy?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] The fundamental starting point is to acknowledge that outside actors can rarely create peace, local ownership in resolving the conflicts is vital. In one respect, this has become part of our practice of peace building, but fundamentally the role of the people within conflicted societies is critical. You cannot import peace, it is created within society.

There are also a number of key issues that a sustainable peace process has to address. Physical security is often the first priority, creating space for societal developments and processes to take place. Creating rule of law, good governance, and democratic political system take time and patience. Sometimes what comes too late, and does not receive adequate attention is economic recovery, guaranteeing the livelihoods of individuals in a society. Concepts like democracy and human rights will always remain fairly abstract if you cannot feed your family. It is therefore important to ensure that job creation, and protecting livelihoods occurs early on in the process.

Q: How do you work alongside governments, supra-nationals (e.g. UN), and military forces?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] Something which is particular to CMI is that we are not a lobbying organisation, we are, indeed, looking at co-operation with, and working alongside government, military and civilian actors in any situation. It is important to note that these organisations are funding our activities, but not in the sense of “sub-contracting”. Where we can add value to a situation such as peace mediation and state building, we may get funding from governments to carry out specific missions. We also work with policy development and support, for example we are working with the European institutions in creating a mediation capacity for the EU, and similarly we are working with the African union on preventative diplomacy and mediation. We encourage transparency and sharing of information, but it is important to note that there are many places where non-government actors (such as ourselves) do not face the same limitations as government actors do, and thus we can be more flexible. We aim to complement these organisations, acknowledging our relatively small size, but our excellent international network. Together, we create a collective capacity for peace-building.

On Threats:

Q: Are we now at risk of more complex threats? Such as cyberterrorism, financial terrororism, etc?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] We are now living with a great deal of uncertainty, which will increase. It is difficult to look at the relative nature of ‘traditional’ versus ‘novel’ threats, but Cyber-terrorism and Financial-terrorism are certainly part of the picture. What is important to look at is the causes of conflict, the issues of state fragility, injustice and inequality impact EU and Global security, and link strongly with issues like terrorism (giving rise to it not only in conflict areas, but in our society). As a society, though, we have to be prepared for threats we cannot conceive, we must build resilience not just in developed countries, but particularly in conflict areas. We, as nations, must also consider, for example, how climate change and financial crisis affects them [conflicted and developing nations].

On Technology:

Q: How important is technology within your overall strategy? And are there any innovations which you think are going to dramatically affect crisis and conflict management?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] I think technology is under-utilised in peace building and state building, but it is important to keep it in context as a tool. To get the best out of technology, you must have the processes to support it, and often that is the problem, you introduce technology without process, and that doesn’t get anyone very far. Technology should be an enabler to support local and national administration, who may have limited resources. In these contexts, technology builds their capacity to provide services and provide administration, and also increases transparency and accountability within these processes.

Looking at the potential for dramatic changes. From the side of responders, technology is bringing a greater level of interoperability between agencies, but it is a long way from being seamless. Looking at the regions of conflict and development, connectivity plays a big role. In Africa, for example, connectivity is being brought in predominantly from mobile technologies, and this will have a dramatic influence in finding solutions for these countries. Technology is one of the biggest gaps dividing western societies and developing countries, improving this will help provide solutions also in education and state administration.

On The Media:

Q: How do you perceive the media in context of global crisis and conflict?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] It is not black and white, the media can play a hugely positive role, but can also be very harmful. One of the main positives is increased knowledge and visibility of situations, specifically the transmission of human rights violations and other internal issues. This makes it difficult to turn a blind eye or deny knowledge and means that we (as society) have to react if governments are not protecting their citizens; it brings a sense of responsibility. We see this too where, for example, when peace workers are kidnapped, the media pressure can help make things happen. The reporting must, though, be factual and appropriate. There must be a good dialogue between practitioners and the media. For example, looking at our negotiations between the Indonesian government and the Aceh people, “nothing was agreed before everything was agreed”. We limited media comment by parties, protecting our negotiation environment, and preventing any false victories in the process. This is a good example of how sometimes you have to maintain privacy in a situation.

Q: Do you think broader coverage of conflict and crisis is harming resolution expectations?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] You never know how long these processes will take. Our negotiations in Indonesia were relatively short, but often it can take a long time. The media often diverts attention when parties need to be focussed on the actual process. It can often create expectations and momentum which forces parties to break from processes to deal with situations back home defending positions and solving situations, this can be immensely harmful to the process.

On The Wider World:

Q: How are issues like climate change, energy, and growing populations affecting crises and conflict?

[Kristiina Rintakoski] These are huge areas of interest for us, looking at how these issues affect political conflict. Climate change is, in many areas, impacting food availability and the kinds of patterns you would expect to see in society such as land ownership, pastoralism, and so forth. These issues are significant, and it is important that there is increased efforts to understand the connection of conflict and climate trends. This is not only affecting developing countries, but has the ability to intensify global conflict.

Energy issues influence thinking particularly in industrialized countries and is a fundamental issue of national interest. Nations might make compromises to have access to energy, and it can also impact the willingness of nations to intervene, and influence specific policies as part of conflict resolution


What is clear is that there needs to be more understanding of the complexities of conflict, and its specific issues, before we can come close to achieving peace. President Ahtisaari describes, “…the international community has demonstrated its incapacity in resolving conflicts and building sustainable peace in many countries and regions of the world. Meanwhile, new conflicts requiring international intervention may flare up. There has never been such an acute need for the international community to work together to develop innovative solutions and practical responses to these crises. This calls for coordination amongst international actors and a need to find common means and common language and for multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary approaches to problems. No political crisis or conflict can be solved without also seeking to create economic opportunities and employment as means to promote sustainable security.”

These economic opportunities and practical solutions must, though, deal with the overwhelming network of issues which interact to create, exacerbate and spread conflicts. Looking at some of the more pertinent factors:

Economic Equality: These issues are of critical importance as economic growth and sustainability are often key drivers to the success of a nation in generating peace and stability. To put it in context, and to give a measure of the level of inequality, of the world’s 6.7billion population (which is growing at a tremendous pace) around 22% live below the poverty line (earning less than $1.25 per day), with 85% living in low to middle income countries (earning under $3,705 GNI per capita). NOTE: The World Bank calculated the GNI of the USA and UK in 2008 were $47,580 and $45,390 respectively.
The recent financial crisis has caused great concern about economic solutions, as funding support to conflicted regions gets cut, and protectionist trade barriers are erected. As President Ahtisaari explains, “The current global financial crisis has increased the risk of major geopolitical instability. Many of the regions and countries most affected by the withdrawal of capital from emerging markets and the collapse of international trade are already fragile, with many only just emerging from years of conflict. Growing inequality between countries and within society exacerbates existing cleavages. The loss of welfare and employment opportunities leads to a loss of hope and faith in the future amongst the vulnerable. This in turn fosters the rise of fundamentalism and violence, and creates breeding-grounds for crime, terrorism and war. We risk losing a generation to this financial crisis. And with globalization and increased interdependence amongst countries, violence in one region will have an impact in another part of the world.”

For more detail on this, please refer to our interview in December 2008 with Professor Wim Naudé, (Senior Research Fellow and Project Director of the United Nations University World Institute for Developing Economics Research) who talked about the Economics of Developing Nations in the World Financial Crisis Click To View

Agricultural Sustainability & Climate Change: We currently have almost a billion people in the world hungry, with over five million people dying every year from hunger. Lack of agricultural development is certainly a factor, but climate change is also reducing the viability of land, making it impossible to cultivate high yields of crop without significant investments in irrigation. With booming populations, and increasing demands on agriculture, this has to be addressed. Climate change is also likely to displace many millions of people, predominantly in underdeveloped areas, also leading to a great degree of conflict as already stressed regions struggle to cope with the influx (including the western world).

Example: The Economist (May, 2009) “Rich food importers are acquiring vast tracts of poor countries’ farmland. Is this beneficial foreign investment or neocolonialism?” – Click to view

Energy and Resource Security: We are becoming globally more dependent on energy, and we cannot underestimate the fact that ‘western’ societies are becoming dependent on their developing and conflict-heavy neighbours to provide them with oil and natural-resources. This dependency and underlying relationship will have huge impacts over how conflicts are resolved as intervening nations place energy and resource on their agenda.

Example: The Economist (July, 2009) “Foreign oil firms in Iraq” – Click to view

Justice and Human Rights: The level of injustice (in all its forms) and continuing human rights abuses occurring worldwide serve to exacerbate the stress of conflict and bring parties and populations further away from peace.

One of the most interesting factors though, is Technology. This generation, more than any before, are able to communicate globally, instantly, relatively seamlessly. This means that not only are those in conflict regions able to communicate their plight to the world, but it means that we, as a global audience of citizens and organisations can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening. As the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying, “A wider of more altruistic attitude is very relevant in today’s world. If we look at the situation from various angles, such as the complexity and inter-connectedness of the nature of modern existence, then we will gradually notice a change in our outlook, so that when we say ‘others’ and when we think of others, we will no longer dismiss them as something that is irrelevant to us. We will no longer feel indifferent.” We see this play out ourselves as tens of thousands of individuals, often with no direct link to a conflict will march in cities on behalf of those who are persecuted thousands of miles away.

Along with empowering us (as an audience) to understand conflict, technology has also provided a critical link of support in peace building, Mrs. Rintakoski described, in our interview, “…outside actors can rarely create peace, local ownership of the situation must occur”. We are seeing now that populations themselves, using collaborative and communications technologies are becoming empowered enough to create the momentum required to effectively participate in the conflict resolution and peace building process. The momentum of populations is often the impetus needed, as Dwight Eisenhower observed in the 19th Century, “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

Organisations like CMI, who realise that humanity is key, are working hard around the world, taking an innovative approach to brokering peace. They are not trying to cure irreconcilable differences in opinions, they are not trying to undermine the struggles of different sides, but they are finding a common ground which all parties are (in general) interested in, i.e. the well being and conditions of their citizens. It is this process of working towards common goals, which can help broker peace, allowing parties to move forward with a new sense of purpose. We have seen this approach succeed even in our recent history. The troubles in South Africa involved issues which would have been seemingly impossible to reconcile, the cure involved collaboration between parties in hugely sheltered discussions, to work together for a common goal. Nelson Mandela himself observed, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
John F. Kennedy is quoted as saying, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” The facts remain peace (for most cases we see) will take not just months, but in many cases, years and generations, as sustainable economies and governance is developed combined with education and a generation who follow with a new shared momentum.

“If we are to teach real peace in this world,” said Mahatma Gandhi “…and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.

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