Further Reading

New Book Suggests Rigid Norms Delay Crisis Response Times

European Union Force (EUFOR) troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, July 31, 2006. (Cohen/Flickr)

When it comes to responding to conflict, the phrase "they didn’t act fast enough" is one of the most common criticisms of international organizations. From the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s to the recent conflicts in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, swift and timely intervention by peacekeepers and other international actors can mean the difference between life and death.

Why international organizations don't act fast enough—and why some act faster than others—is the driving question behind Heidi Hardt’s new book Time to React: The Efficiency of International Organizations in Crisis Response. In it, Hardt presents a highly original and thought-provoking argument for why organizations vary so markedly in their response times to conflict, sometimes taking upwards of a year or more to begin a peace operation in a conflict-affected country.

What We're Reading: Recommended Books in Peace and Security

Books on peace and security recommended by staff at the International Peace Institute:

Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism, by Larissa Fast (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)

In this new book, University of Notre Dame professor Larissa Fast tackles the important question of what leads to violence against humanitarian aid workers. Although authored by an academic, the book rests on an extensive database compiled by the author during her decades-long experience conducting research on humanitarian issues. Fast’s argument is that while most explanations of violence against humanitarians tend to look into factors external to aid workers—depicted as a special category of civilians—the answer is also to be looked for in their everyday decisions and human weaknesses as they deal with people in need on the ground. Suggested by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow for Humanitarian Affairs.


Climate Change, Ethics, and Human Security, Edited by Karen O’Brien, Asunción Lera St. Clair, and Berit Kristoffersen (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

A new book by three academics says action on climate change is stuck in part because it is seen as a purely environmental issue, which many in our society view as separate from daily life. According to the authors, changing that to view climate change through the lens of human security—how rising temperature, floods, droughts, sea rises, etc., will impact the survival, livelihood, and dignity of people around the world—can lead to a deeper understanding of what our ethical obligations are to current and future generations, and what changes need to be made, and by whom. Suggested by Jill Stoddard, Director of Web & Multimedia and Web Editor.


Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, by Robert M. Gates (Knopf, 2014)

In his memoir, former US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates provides a series of insights on decision-making related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that span both the Bush and Obama administrations. The book also delves into several other issues currently facing the US foreign policy establishment, including the base at Guantánamo Bay, the war in Syria, and the approach to Iran, in addition to the tensions and disconnects in long-term US military strategy and defense spending. Suggested by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs.

New Book Looks Beyond Big Data Into a Naked Future

What if we could have predicted the ISIS insurgency in Iraq? Promising examples of innovations in engineering and data science technologies exist today, revealing to us the potential to predict such conflicts in the future. The Satellite Sentinel Project effectively predicted that the Sudanese Armed Forces would invade Abyei in 2011. And through Big Data analysis of hundreds of news reports, Georgetown University fellow Kalev Leetaru has been able to retroactively pinpoint the location of Osama bin Laden within a 124-mile radius of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Imagine how much shorter the war in Afghanistan could have been if we had just used the right algorithm.

How do we get it wrong? Predictions about the future can be wrong in one of two ways. Errors can range in type from false positives that erroneously assert that some event will happen (e.g., the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) and false negatives that do not predict cases that will actually happen (e.g., the failure of many policymakers to foresee the relapse of violence in South Sudan). While the fallibility of policymakers depends on political context, all such failures are indicative of how difficult and complicated it is to foretell tomorrow.  A lot could happen, and in the end, there is a good amount of guesswork.

New Book Suggests Failures of Peacebuilding Linked to Habits of the Well-Intentioned

An Indian UN peacekeeper stands guard as displaced civilians seek shelter near the UN base in Kiwanja, eastern DRC, 2006. (from the cover photo of Peaceland, ©David Lewis/Reuters/Corbis)

At the heart of Séverine Autesserre’s new book is a conundrum: If international peacebuilders are well-meaning people versed in the latest approaches to conflict resolution, why do their efforts so often come up short?

Unsatisfied with the usual explanations (such as a lack of funding and resources from powerful states), Autesserre embarked on an ambitious project to interview hundreds of UN officials, NGO workers, and local staff in conflict zones around the world in order to study “the everyday”:  their daily work routines, their standard security procedures, and even their social habits. The culmination of years of research is her new book Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. In it, she captures the culture of “Peaceland,” a frustrating place where well-intentioned expatriates sometimes do more harm than good and even fuel resentment among the local population they had meant to help.

(Arab) Spring Reading

While over three years have passed since the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, which marked the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, the outpour of literature on the subject continues at a rapid rate. New books across a multitude of disciplines continue trying to document and analyze the cataclysmic events that are reshaping the Middle East: from historical overviews on resistance movements to photographic volumes on Tahrir Square.  One of the latest additions to this eclectic and ever-expanding genre is Carnegie scholar Marwan Muasher’s The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism.  

Unlike many of its counterparts, this book does not treat the Arab Spring as a “soundbite, oxymoron, spectacle, a screen on which to project abstracted hopes and fears,” to borrow a phrase from Maria Golia. Instead, Muasher offers a concise and practical treatise from the perspective of a policymaker-turned-scholar, which puts the events in their important historical—and regional—context while making critical recommendations for enhanced state-society relations in the Middle East.

The title alone is deep in scope. The first phrase—the second Arab awakening—is a nod to George Antonious’ 1938 classic on what could now be considered the first Arab awakening (it’s also the title of a less succinct work published last year by the Washington-based Iraqi scholar Adeed Dawisha). It immediately places the events in the context of a longer—and significant—history of independence and revolutionary movements in the Middle East. More specifically, it interprets them as a continuation of the 19th century intellectual “awakening” that sparked a wave of independence movements in the 1940s and 1950s, ultimately falling short of its protagonists’ aspirations. That initial liberal promise was aborted when foreign despots were replaced by homegrown ones who went on to rule the region for more than half a decade. As Muasher rightly points out, the first awakening laid the groundwork for the wave of uprisings that broke out across the region in 2011; “many of the same issue are at stake,” he says, “many of the same dangers loom.”

10 Most Popular IPI Publications and Posts in 2013

The International Peace Institute (IPI), which publishes The Global Observatory, produced research, analysis, and interviews on a range of topics in peace and security last year. Below is a list of IPI’s most popular content items in 2013. 

1. The Elephant in the Room: How Can Peace Operations Deal with Organized Crime? 

From Afghanistan to Kosovo to Mali, organized crime is threatening peace and security. Yet, this report argues, peace operations usually treat organized crime like the elephant in the room: impossible to overlook, but too big to deal with. Why is this so? And what can be done to rectify the situation—particularly if senior officials are themselves complicit? Authors Walter Kemp, Mark Shaw, and Arthur Boutellis explain. 

2. New Technology and the Prevention of Violence and Conflict 

In an era of unprecedented connectivity, this collection of case studies explores the ways that cell phones, social media, crowdsourcing, crisis mapping, blogging, and big data are being used to prevent violence and conflict around the world. The volume’s editor Francesco Mancini and co-author Marie O’Reilly outline a how-to guide for leveraging new technology in conflict-prevention efforts.

3. Mali’s Peacekeeping Mission: Full-Fledged Behemoth, or Have Lessons Been Learned? 

In March 2013, the UN appeared poised to launch a new UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. But would lessons from past peacekeeping experiences on the continent inform the new operation? In this Global Observatory post, Arthur Boutellis offered five concrete suggestions for the mission’s mandate and format to avoid the pitfalls encountered elsewhere.

4. Cross-border Humanitarian Aid in Syria Has Legal Basis But Few Precedents 

Humanitarian organizations normally need a state’s permission to deliver aid in its territory. In Syria, this poses serious problems for getting aid to civilians in rebel-held areas. Amid intensive debate among humanitarians about how the challenge should be tackled, this post by Jérémie Labbé and Tilman Rodenhauser explores the legality and legitimacy of delivering aid without the Syrian government’s consent.

A Reading List for Peace and Security in 2014: Reports

Could new technologies transform humanitarian responses to crises? How can Africans improve peacekeeping on their own continent? What critical blind spot do aid programs suffer from in Asia? Why are men more likely to kill than women in situations of crime and conflict?

Shifts in our understanding of global issues are often captured in key reports before longer books are written. This list of recent reports from think tanks, UN agencies, and NGOs captures emerging trends and fresh perspectives in the areas of peace and security, development, and humanitarian affairs. Compiled by staff at the International Peace Institute, it includes publications that you may have missed in 2013 but should still be considered for your reading list in 2014.

This list is published in two installments: (1) recent books of interest are here, and (2) significant reports are below.

Africa, South Africa, and the United Nations Security Architecture by Mark Paterson and Kudrat Virk (Centre for Conflict Resolution)
This CCR report assesses Africa's capacity to deal effectively with peace and security issues on the continent. The report offers ten recommendations for improving peace operations in Africa, including reducing dependence on external donors for sustainable funding, revising the Ezulwini consensus on Africa's demands for permanent seats on a reformed Security Council, improving accountability of African representatives on the Security Council, strengthening engagement among the BRICS countries, and involving civil society groups more actively in determining policies on peace and security.  The report offers a timely assessment of South Africa's important and complex role on major African peace and security issues. Suggested by John Hirsch, Senior Advisor.

The Contested Corners of Asia by Thomas Parks, Nat Colletta, and Ben Oppenheim (Asia Foundation)
Over the past two decades, subnational conflict affected half the countries in South and Southeast Asia, often with governments limiting access to conflict areas for outsiders. The dynamics between politics, conflict, and aid in subnational conflict areas created a “critical blind spot for aid programs.” With cutting-edge research backed by hard data, this report asks donors to change practices even more substantially than what is outlined in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, which calls for donors to take managed risks and provide funding in fragile state contexts. The Asia Foundation report, on the other hand, calls for donors to: adopt longer time frames than the 3-5 year project standard; involve more staff who are deeply immersed in the local context; and—given that staff operate in relatively more dangerous, inaccessible, unfriendly areas—expect their work to challenge policies and approaches of the national government. After reading the report, the question remains: what will motivate donors and policymakers to introduce these substantial changes to their practices? Suggested by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs.

The Global Drug Policy Debate: Experiences from the Americas and Europe by Renata Segura with Sabrina Stein (West Africa Commission on Drugs)
This paper responds to the mounting evidence that the prohibition of drugs has failed to significantly curtail the market in illicit narcotics. The paper examines the experiences of drug transit regions such as Central America and the Caribbean in order to better inform policy debates in West Africa, and it provides a detailed overview of the recent history of policy innovation and reform in Europe and the Americas. It concludes with recommendations on how the West Africa Commission on Drugs can play a pivotal role in strengthening the region’s response to drug trafficking in the coming years. Suggested by John Eller, Web Intern.

A Reading List for Peace and Security in 2014: Books

From rising cities and militant groups to carbon democracies and forgotten genocides: these topics may not have topped bestseller lists in 2013, but they can deepen our understanding of international relations and prospects for peace and security as 2014 kicks off. Staff at the International Peace Institute (IPI) compiled a list of recent books that capture today’s complex global landscape. The list includes volumes that focus on peace and security, as well as those that address the history and political dynamics in regions where IPI has established program activities: the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

This list will be published in two installments: (1) recent books (below), and (2) reports and other short reads that you may have missed.

Peace and Security

Conflict Assessment & Peacebuilding Planning by Lisa Schirch (Kumarian Press, 2013)
This volume fills a gap in the current conflict-sensitive development and peacebuilding literature, offering a practical methodology to link conflict analysis and assessment to the design, planning, monitoring, and evaluation of peacebuilding efforts. For those less inclined to dig into the book (although it is an accessible work that reads more as an handbook than an academic treatise), the volume comes with a website that includes the main resources for conflict assessment and peacebuilding planning. Suggested by Francesco Mancini, Senior Director of Research.

A Crucial Link: Local Peace Committees and National Peacebuilding by Andries Odendaal (Unites States Institute of Peace, 2013)
Local and society-level peacebuilding efforts are critical to achieving sustainable peace at the national level. Some peace negotiations have authorized the creation of local peace committees, from South Africa to Northern Ireland to Nepal. This book is the first comparative study of these committees and what they bring to both community-level and national peace processes. Namely, local peace committees can build social cohesion, facilitate dialogue, and prevent violence, helping to sustain national peace agreements by addressing local aspects of conflict that are often otherwise ignored. Suggested by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow.

Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation is Failing When We Need It Most by Thomas Hale, David Held, and Kevin Young (Polity, 2013)
Global problems require global solutions. This book examines the interconnected nature of international challenges today, from climate changes to financial crisis, and argues that transnational solutions are more needed than ever. However, Hale, Held, and Young argue that issues of multipolarity, institutional inertia, and fragmentation have led to gridlock in the multilateral system. It concludes with a reflection on what type of politics may lead the way out of the institutional dysfunction of the international system. Suggested by Adam Lupel, Editor and Senior Fellow. 

If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities by Benjamin Barber (Yale University Press, 2013)
Calling for “a planet ruled by cities” and a world Parliament of Mayors, this book looks at inter-city cooperation as a possible new paradigm for global governance. Barber examines existing partnerships between cities around the world, asserting that the pragmatic approaches of successful mayors can transform not only urban problems, but global ones. Throughout the book, there are eleven profiles of innovative mayors—from New York to Lagos to Delhi—which are a new and valuable contribution to the growing literature on fragile cities. Suggested by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow. 

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What to Watch in 2014

Key Global Events in October
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2013-multilateral-602014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.