Alert urges investing in peace not war, as violent conflict continues to grow

A radical shift in focus towards preventing violent conflict is needed to build a more peaceful world, International Alert said on UN International Day of Peace 2016 as leaders gathered in New York for the UN General Assembly.

“When responding to conflict, often people just think about sending in troops. But short-term band aid responses do not address the underlying causes of the violence, and so cannot bring lasting success.

“We need to galvanise the public and political consciousness, whether in London or New York, in Iraq, Libya or Colombia, to help build a new consensus for peace: one that puts sustainable peacebuilding on par with military and humanitarian interventions as legitimate responses to insecurity”, said Harriet Lamb, CEO of International Alert.

Despite a decline in violent conflict following the end of the Cold War, wars are now on the rise again: By 2014, people were fighting 40 wars, with terrorism reaching an all-time high, and battle deaths reaching a 25-year high. [1]

Today, it is estimated that more than 1.5 billion people continue to live in conflict, with the total cost of conflict to the global economy stands at a staggering US$ 14.3 trillion. [2]

Lamb continued: “Peacebuilding must take place right across societies, from signing formal peace deals to addressing the structural problems that underpin violence, such as poverty, inequality, poor institutions and corruption. Moreover, it can take place before, during and after conflict.”

This year the cost of world military spending is said to be nearly US$1.7 trillion [3] – 250 times more than is spent on peacebuilding efforts (US$6.8 billion). [4]

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have recognised peace as a pre-requisite for development, while the World Humanitarian Summit in May acknowledged that the humanitarian system was unsustainable unless something is done about prevention.

Meanwhile, the landmark UN resolution on peacebuilding in 2016 highlighted that there is still not enough invested in peace and urge greater financial commitments to peacebuilding to address current imbalances. 

“The political commitments are there on paper, now we need to start working on the practical measures that can contribute to peace - even in the very midst of conflict. Peace is within our power. But it can only prevail if our attention spans match the long-term nature of change and if we address the causes of the conflict that bring about violence in the first place.”

International Alert cited its own experience of where peacebuilding can work. For example in Syria, the charity and its partners have been supporting children and young adults to cope with the horrors of war. One outcome is that they resist joining armed groups, which creates a future generation of peace ambassadors in their country. As one young Syrian man said: “If not for the work I have done with you, I would be on the frontline with a Kalashnikov.”


[1] Institute for Economics and Peace, 2016: Global Peace Index 2016  http://www.visionofhumanity.org/sites/default/files/Global%20Peace%20Index%20Report%202016_0.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Aril 2016: Trends in world military expenditure, 2015: http://books.sipri.org/files/FS/SIPRIFS1604.pdf

[4] Institute for Economics and Peace, 2016: Global Peace Index 2016