Combating Conflict Entrepreneurs

Thu. February 7th, 2002

Second Session (click here for a summary of the first session), (third session)


Terrence Lyon, Institute for Conflict Analysis & Resolution, George Mason University

Paul McCarthy, National Endowment for Democracy

Moderator: Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

On February 7, 2002, experts gathered at the Carnegie Endowment for the second meeting of the roundtable, which brings together individuals from the democracy promotion and conflict prevention communities to discuss how the two fields are linked, under what conditions they complement each other, and when they work at cross purposes. Terrence Lyon of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and Paul McCarthy of the National Endowment for Democracy discussed the problems posed by "conflict entrepreneurs" and possible tools to limit those who benefit from warfare.

Mr. Lyons contended that conflict entrepreneurs must be viewed as both economic and political actors, in that they foment and fuel violence as a path for attaining economic and political power. Therefore, developing alternative, non-violent routes for acquisition of power can lower levels of violent conflict.

Conflict entrepreneurs often mobilize individuals through three general tactics: appeals to ethnic, religious, and/or ideological solidarity; patronage; and positive or negative promises regarding security. Violent conflict can be alleviated by converting militant groups into parties or other political actors that will still use mobilizational tools such as appeals to ideological solidarity, patronage, and promises of greater security, but in a non-violent way.

Mr. McCarthy noted that many individuals who incited or benefited from violence often enjoy positions of economic and political power long after the cessation of hostilities, which is the case in many parts of the Balkans today. Corruption is an endemic problem in many post-communist societies, and stagnant economies make access to state power one of the only viable means of acquiring substantial wealth.

Civil society, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGOs), can be effective as a means to solve some of the problems of weak states. First, NGOs serve important roles as watchdog groups, particularly in areas such as human rights and corruption. Second, NGOs can be important capacity-builders, particularly at local levels. Some NGOs in the Balkans have provided services directly to local citizens as a means of bypassing criminal elements' and corrupt states' abuses in distribution.

Participants recognized the inherent problems of allowing conflict entrepreneurs access to political and economic power in return for renunciation of violence, noting that such strategies often lead to criminal states. However, there are very few recent instances of conflict entrepreneurs disappearing without military defeat or access to substantial power in post-conflict situations.

event speakers

Marina Ottaway

Senior Associate, Middle East Program

Before joining the Endowment, Ottaway carried out research in Africa and in the Middle East for many years and taught at the University of Addis Ababa, the University of Zambia, the American University in Cairo, and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.