Conflict Prevention: Connecting Policy and Practice

from Swiss Peace Foundation
Published on 14 May 2018 View Original


This paper introduces the terminology as well as key concepts relevant to the understanding of what is referred to as ‘conflict prevention’. After an overview of the evolution of the concept on the international policy level, concrete examples illustrate some efforts that are used to prevent violent conflicts in different geographical contexts, stages of conflict and levels of society. The methods introduced are early warning and early response, local peace committees, women situation rooms and infrastructures for peace. Finally, the paper provides considerations on how existing methods can be reviewed and improved based on current policy insights.


Whilst the number of violent and armed conflicts had declined following the end of the Cold War,this trend has been reversed since 2010 (World Bank & United Nations (UN), 2018). This period has also been marked by a proliferation of non-state armed groups1 , whereas interstate conflicts are becoming less frequent (World Bank & UN, 2018). Additionally, climate change and environmental disasters increasingly affect conflict dynamics. Effective conflict prevention thus remains of great concern.
This paper analyses policy and practice around the term “conflict prevention” within different fields of international cooperation. In this context, “conflict prevention” is a broadly used term that covers a range of different activities and processes, which address different conflict-related dynamics. In recent months and years, the concept has regained traction in international policy debates.
Considering the many hypes and changes in focus which conflict prevention has undergone, basic terminological issues will be discussed in the first chapter. Highlighting some of the ambiguities associated with conflict prevention, this lays the ground for the policy and practice discussions in the later chapters. Conflict prevention being a highly political term, its development in international policy will then be outlined in relation to broader international developments. Subsequently, four practical conflict prevention efforts will be presented and assessed in light of recent policy developments.
This paper firstly aims to clarify how specific conflict prevention efforts relate to basic conceptual discussions. Secondly, it examines how conflict prevention efforts can be improved based on recent policy debates, in particular, the Guiding Principles established in Pathways for Peace, a flagship study published jointly by the UN and the World Bank in March 2018.
This paper is based on a desk study elaborated by the authors for the Robert Bosch Foundation in 2017.