Preventing Contemporary Intergroup Violence
by David A. Hamburg
This Article Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: "Preventing Contemporary Intergroup Violence," in The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence, ed. Eugene Weiner, (New York: Continuum Publishing, 1998), pp. 27-39.
The modern world is increasingly complex , contradictory, and changing. Technological advances and populations shifts have undermined old ways of living. Yet people still retain many of the old attitudes and reactions, such as the tendencies toward prejudice, egocentrism and ethnocentrism. People tend to divide themselves into in-groups and out-groups. While such traits may have been appropriate in earlier times, the presence of advanced weaponry has made then particularly maladaptive in the modern world.
The authors note that "The capacity for attachment and the capacity for violence are fundamentally connected in human beings. We fight with other people in the belief that we are protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and the group with which we identify most strongly."(p. 29) In order to minimize violence we must minimize the tendency to divide people into in- and out-groups.
Granting sovereignty or self-determination to each different group cannot solve the problem of intergroup violence. Separating the groups will itself occasion violence, and the now sovereign groups must still learn to get along together in this complex and interdependent modern world. A strong civil society provides the needed context for mutual accommodation between different groups. Separating groups actually undermines the conditions needed for fostering mutual accommodation.
In order to prevent intergroup violence we must adopt superordinate goals--goals which are shared across particular groups, or which are common to all human beings. Examples of such goals include avoiding nuclear war, protecting the environment, or maintaining a sense of community. These are modern survival goals.
Until fairly recently the paradigm in international relations emphasized national sovereignty and fundamental ideological differences (i.e. Cold War). Actors were seen as primarily self-interested, even selfish. Interests and relations were conceived primarily in terms of power, authority and coercion. Hamburg suggests that there has been a shift in attitude regarding international relations since the end of the Cold War. The new paradigm stresses international interdependence over self-interest, economic interests more than military force, and human needs and democratic institutions more than power and authority.
An international system geared toward the post-Cold War world should include a number of elements. It should provide respected external authorities. It should take measures to monitor potential conflict "hot spots." It should seek to better understand how economic systems and participation encourage groups to adhere to international norms and standards. It must provide forums for grievances to be aired, forums for joint problem-solving, and forums where reciprocal gestures of goodwill can be made.
There are institutions already in existence which could provide these elements. The United Nations' role should be broadened to include conflict prevention, providing humanitarian aide, and assisting nations ' transition to democracy and in their economic development. UN activities should include peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building. Hamburg observes that "if [the UN] did not exist, something very much like it would have to be invented. There simply has to be a comprehensive, worldwide forum for global issues."(p. 36)
Established democracies can also have a significant role to play in the new international system. These nations lead in setting international norms and standards of conduct. They also possess the technological, economic and political power needed to establish and enforce such norms.
Regional groups such as the European Union, the OAS and ASEAN may provide more local dispute resolution resources. Organizations such as GATT provide dispute resolutions resources for specific types of issues. NGOs such as the Carter Center may also be useful.
Hamburg suggests basing the international system broadly on the model of the international scientific community. The international system should be united in pursuit of common, basic human goals. Like the sciences it should seek out evidence and be prepared to learn and change based on experience.
Preventing intergroup violence requires increasing the interconnections among people. One way to do this is to foster overlapping and cross-cutting group memberships.
Another way is to provide more positive international exchanges, including scientific, cultural and educational exchanges and joint economic ventures. Individuals who already have strong cross-cutting identities may be very useful in starting such bridge building activities.
Appropriate social education can also help to create positive connections between groups. Children 's education should emphasize prosocial norms, skills and attitudes like cooperation, mutual aid, sharing, and focusing on the constructive attributes of one's self and of others. Parents also have a crucial role to play. Secure childhood attachments provide a necessary foundation for the further development of prosocial attitudes. Media programs such as Sesame Street can also encourage prosocial attitudes.