Because peacekeeping initiatives in post-conflict countries are expensive and complex, and because the war in Iraq has undermined rich nations’ belief in their likely success, a dispassionate look at the use of military intervention is timely. A new study for the Copenhagen Consensus project that includes the first ever cost-benefit analysis of UN peacekeeping initiatives concludes that military might is an important tool for reducing bloodshed around the world.
Iraq is a misleading guide to the effectiveness of such initiatives. Unlike the vast majority of conflicts, its civil war was sparked by an international war.
The far more typical scenario is political violence within a small, low-income, low-growth nation burdened with strong ethnic divisions. Dealing with these structurally dangerous countries is clearly one of our generation’s most pressing security challenges.
There is good reason to think that trouble will escalate. Half of all civil wars are post-conflict relapses, and recent negotiated peace settlements have left many countries unstable. The commodity boom and discovery of mineral resources in fragile states have sown seeds of discord, while the spread of democracy in low-income countries — perhaps surprisingly — increases the statistical likelihood of political violence.
Some believe that countries in conflict should be left to sort themselves out. But compassion and self-interest dictate against this approach. Modern civil wars are horrific. They overwhelmingly affect civilians in the poorest and most desperate environments on Earth. Rich nations don’t fall victim to political violence, but do bear some of its costs. After all, broken societies are havens for illegality, whether drug trafficking or training of terrorists.
Military intervention won’t be the answer in every hot spot; nor should it be the developed world’s only response. Post-conflict aid designed to prevent violence from recurring is much more politically acceptable than the use of force, although it is very expensive.
The period following a conflict is one of the most effective times to provide aid, because it enables governments to halt damaging inflationary policies, and, with exports at a very low level, there is little risk of unwanted currency appreciation.
With benefits about three times higher than the costs, it is a good — but not spectacular — use of scarce public resources.
The Copenhagen Consensus study recommends that aid to post-conflict countries be tied to limits on military spending. Placing conditions on aid packages is controversial, but about 11 percent of all aid is currently diverted into military spending, which significantly increases the likelihood of violence.
The lower risk of conflict and better use of that money would mean the benefits from aid climb to 4.5 times higher than the costs. Even so, the cost effectiveness of aid alone is outstripped by the use of peacekeeping forces.
The first cost-benefit analysis of peacekeeping initiatives reveals that the risk of future conflict depends upon the scale of military deployment. Compared with no deployment, spending US$100 million on a peacekeeping initiative reduces the 10 year risk of conflict from around 38 percent to 16.5 percent.
At US$200 million per year, the risk falls further, to around 12.8 percent. At US$500 million, it goes down to 9 percent and at US$850 million drops to 7.3 percent.