28 Apr 2016

Think tank on conflict prevention

In the last three days I had the pleasure of following the Security Jam 2016, an open online conference 25-28 April (see http://www.friendsofeurope.org/  for more information). Reading the many interesting contributions of this 'think tank', it comes to mind that the recommended approach for radicalization and conflict prevention needs to be a balanced portfolio of various different elements.

Clearly hardcore criminal activity needs tough measures, especially now that we know that criminal networks intermingle with terrorism networks. We need to limit the destructive functioning of such networks. We also need to understand what brings people to the brink of such activities and what withholds people even at a late stage of actually using explosives.

A mixed approach is needed as other people’s needs need to be addressed also. Some groups feel frustrated and neglected, where lack of hope may for some turn into hatred. In this jam some experts reported experiences of turning anger and isolation into empathy and connectedness. What makes other groups that are also frustrated and possibly even more vulnerable, refrain from violence and look for other ways to improve their situation? In the Jam it was suggested to positively support this and amplify such values. In conflict areas one might want to empower local people to act, enabling defensive responses. But how to prevent changes in power structures to lead to new violence?

Violent individuals or groups operate in a context. They may be helped, ignored or counteracted by other people in the neighbourhood. Recently, some terrorists were known to have been hiding out for weeks in Belgium. What makes people report or not report the presence of such dangerous individuals in their neighbourhood to prevent further harm? In a different case, it happened that foreign authorities were tipped by locals about an immigrant who voiced critique on a head of state but had the nationality of the host country and was acting according to its laws.

Large groups of citizens may have a mild view on current risks and developments, but may still need background to grasp changes in society. Critical views in society need to be listened to also, while avoiding destructive polarization. Some people in this jam suggested value education. Democracy is not about getting most votes to do as one group pleases at the cost of others, but about finding balanced solutions taking multiple groups into account. In the meantime trust in politicians is waning, because common views are difficult to create in time and taking blame for unfavourable measures is avoided. Some developments may be hard to manage either way, while likely measures may work out to be counter-effective. Can more people live with grey-tones, and not fall for seemingly simple black-and-white rhetoric?

All of this calls for collaboration of different kinds of organizations. Some in this jam explained that the police, next to attention for crime, also needs to further develop soft approaches. Others stressed that available budget also needs to go to relatively cheap preventive work by other organizations. A portfolio of activities is required but we also need to further strengthen collaboration across very different kinds of actors that all can contribute to an inclusive and secure society.