The longer COVID-19 endures, the more significant the potential for social disorder, political violence and outright conflict. While the risks are significant and growing, armed conflict is not a guaranteed outcome.
There are opportunities to prevent and reduce armed conflict through a package of interventions ranging from early diplomacy and peace agreements to the deployment of peacekeepers and smart, targeted investment in policing and justice reform. But this requires investing early and intelligently.
Notwithstanding the mandate of the United Nations to promote peace and security, many member states are still sceptical about the dividends of conflict prevention. Their diplomats argue that it is hard to justify investments without being able to show its tangible returns to decision-makers and taxpayers. As a result, support for conflict prevention is halting and uneven, and governments and international agencies end up spending enormous sums in stability and peace support operations after-the-fact.
This study considers the trajectories of armed conflict in a 'business-as-usual' scenario between 2020-2030. Specifically, it draws on a comprehensive historical dataset to determine the number of countries that might experience rising levels of collective violence, outright armed conflict, and their associated economic costs. It then simulates alternative outcomes if conflict prevention measures were 25%, 50%, and 75% more effective. As with all projections, the quality of the projections relies on the integrity of the underlying data. The study reviews several limitations of the analysis, and underlines the importance of a cautious interpretation of the findings.
If current trends persist and no additional conflict prevention action is taken above the current baseline, then it is expected that there will be three more countries at war and nine more countries at high risk of war by 2030 as compared to 2020. This translates into roughly 677,250 conflict-related fatalities (civilian and battle-deaths) between the present and 2030. By contrast, under our most pessimistic scenario, a 25% increase in effectiveness of conflict prevention would result in 10 more countries at peace by 2030, 109,000 fewer fatalities over the next decade and savings of over $3.1 trillion. A 50% improvement would result in 17 additional countries at peace by 2030, 205,000 fewer deaths by 2030, and some $6.6 trillion in savings.
Meanwhile, under our most optimistic scenario, a 75% improvement in prevention would result in 23 more countries at peace by 2030, resulting in 291,000 lives saved over the next decade and $9.8 trillion in savings. These scenarios are approximations, yet demonstrate concrete and defensible estimates of both the benefits (saved lives, displacement avoided, declining peacekeeping deployments) and cost-effectiveness of prevention (recovery aid, peacekeeping expenditures). Wars are costly and the avoidance of “conflict traps” could save the economy trillions of dollars by 2030 under the most optimistic scenarios. The bottom line is that comparatively modest investments in prevention can yield lasting effects by avoiding compounding costs of lost life, peacekeeping, and aid used for humanitarian response and rebuilding rather than development. The longer conflict prevention is delayed, the more expensive responses to conflict become.