It is natural for policy makers, public officials and even think tanks to focus primarily on violent conflicts that are already occurring. With people being killed daily and horrific images being shown in real time across the globe, today’s conflicts simply cannot be ignored. Yet what about tomorrow’s conflicts, those we can envisage but that are not inevitable?
Today there is broad agreement on the importance of preventive action. An array of actors—the United Nations, regional organisations, national governments (including that of the United States) and a host of civil society bodies—have identified preventing violent conflict as a strategic priority. As the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy states, ‘The untold loss of human life, suffering, and property damage that results from armed conflict necessitates that all responsible nations work to prevent it’. This is well put, although it might be asked, ‘Do “all responsible nations” treat the prevention of armed conflict as a “necessity”?’ It is undeniable that far too often the answer is ‘no’. The fundamental challenge is to narrow the gap between rhetoric and reality, proclamations and actions, in preventing violent conflict.