On Friday, I reflected on the impact of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and put forth the idea that the only way for us to fully get out of our current situation in the long term is to wage peace. The concept of waging peace isn’t particularly new, but is often a subject of, at best, scoffing and, at worst, ridicule by those in government and in political circles who see such things as flights of fancy or signs of weakness. Not too long ago, a State Department representative who advocated Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) was excoriated in the conservative press and by other State Department staff who are in the Countering Violent Extremism — or CVE — camp (and, in fact, by some of my friends) when she suggested that the answer to ISIS was creating jobs. Although, in today’s setting, providing jobs to members of ISIS seems absurd, I believe that this is the way to stop thousands of young, desperate youth in countries that are struggling economically from joining the foot soldier ranks of these organizations. Ultimately, without troops, neither the most accomplished leaders nor ideologies can survive. The concept is simple; the execution is anything but. To approach such a long-term solution, our citizenry as much as our government (not to mention the NGOs who are in place and better structured to engage) must be acutely aware and actively involved in changing focus, policies, and investments in order to wage peace.
Regardless of whether you want to support human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, health issues, or stamping out corruption, unfair judicial systems, or poverty, there is a basic requirement for success — a peaceful, stable environment. Without that, none of the rest of the solutions can take hold. Waging peace involves engaging in helping those on the ground find peaceful solutions to conflicts (both armed and unarmed) that work for their communities. It involves working with and educating the next generation of local, regional, and national leaders in such measures and techniques that work to diffuse conflict before radicalization and violence. Finally, it involves the ability to create environments where peace is sustained. This is best done by investing in the development of local economic development, whereby local entrepreneurs can create jobs and support community programs, thereby giving people — especially youth — both purpose and hope, and investing them in the need to maintain a peaceful status quo. Consequently, waging peace involves concentrated investments that work toward agreed upon solutions tailored to that community by its citizens. It takes commitment by governments and NGOs to work collectively toward that solution and environment. Everyone must be on the same page, led by each community’s desires as to how their lives develop. It is very much a hands on effort…not to lead or direct solutions, but to facilitate and help ensure that these citizens have an opportunity for a future.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly at the moment, waging peace means that we must adjust and adapt to current situations on the ground in a way that gets ahead of radicalization and violence. Today, governments and public and private organizations are mired down in processes that work well for long-term, very structured, and very rigid programs that have specific milestones and tangible results. Although understandable, this doesn’t fit today’s realities. Waging peace also means we must be able to fund and respond to emerging situations, not just react after an incident has occurred. It’s about PVE as an equal priority with CVE. If we do not attempt to achieve this last aspect, we will be subjugated to a 21st century of continued violent conflict and the rise of extremist organizations that will always have us reacting, not preventing. We may win the war, but we will have little chance to win the peace.