Violence in the Arab Spring: A Look at Revolutions and Peace

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I’m teaching a class tomorrow night at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU – a course called Structures of Peace – and we’re going to talk about revolution and protest from a peacebuilding perspective.

The preeminent measurement of peace in the world’s countries – the Global Peace Index – accounts for revolution in a way that worsens a country’s peacefulness score. And indeed, all successful protests are disruptive (that’s the point), and many revolutions are bloody. But if we see peace from the perspective of everyone having their needs met without systemic deprivation (i.e., positive peace), there’s no doubt that some revolutions need to happen. In addition, not all revolutions happen the same way – statistically, nonviolent civil resistance is twice as effective as violent civil resistance. Continue reading

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The Butcher, the Baker, the Brewer, and the Peacebuilder

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“The Butcher, the Baker, the Brewer, and the Peacebuilder: Opportunities, Strategies, and Metrics for the Role of Business in Building Peace,” in the journal of Business, Peace, and Sustainable Development

My first journal publication is out!

This past spring I attended and presented at the conference Peace Economics, Peace Metrics, and the Role of Business, co-hosted by the Institute for Economics and Peace and the American University Kogod School of Business. A short report-back that I wrote was featured on the U.S. Institute of Peace’s International Network for Economics and Conflict blog, and now a full analysis of the conference proceedings and the trends and opportunities for peace economics is appearing in the first issue of the new journal Business, Peace and Sustainable Development.

You can purchase the first issue, including my article and the work of my colleague, Daniel Hyslop from IEP, on violence containment – another project I collaborated with IEP on a few years ago – at the link above.

Way of the Gun: Half of U.S. Firearms Retailers Rely on Mexico’s Demand

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This is my latest post from the US Institute of Peace International Network for Economics and Conflict. You can find it originally published on the INEC blog here.

Gun control may be off the table in the U.S. Congress, but the issue of gun violence – increasingly a matter of international relations for the U.S. – remains. President Obama spoke in Mexico City several weeks ago, and his statements echoed the findings of a new study estimating the traffic of firearms across the U.S.-Mexico border: “most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States.”

The new report, Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border, is published by the University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute (TBI) and the Igarapé Institute of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The authors – Topher McDougal, David A. Shirk, Robert Muggah, and James H. Patterson – are the first to develop an econometric model to estimate the volume, dollar value, and demand for guns moving from the U.S. into Mexico. They find that roughly 47 percent of federally licensed firearms retailers in the U.S. would go out of business without this cross-border demand.

Mexico has experienced a significant increase in gun violence since 2006, much of it drug-trade related. But, as the report notes, Mexico has some of the most restrictive firearms regulations in the world. Mexico has approximately 15 (registered and illegal) firearms per 100 people, and there is only one gun retailer in the entire country. Their northern neighbor, the U.S., however, is the world’s most heavily armed society, with approximately 90 firearms per 100 people and more than 50,000 federally licensed retailers.

“It is assumed,” the authors write, “that a considerable proportion of weapons in Mexico are illegal, most having been trafficked from the United States.” However, figures for the total volume of trafficking between the countries have been difficult to calculate. Estimates are usually based on the quantity of arms seized by law enforcement, so thus rely on assumptions about what percent of the total trafficked weapons officials are able to recover. Alternatively, the “Way of the Gun” authors use data from excise taxes to calculate the total size of the firearms market and the distance from the U.S.-Mexico border of each licensed retailer to create a demand curve for trafficked firearms. In fact, they find that distance from the border with Mexico is a consistent predictor of the number of retailers in a given U.S. county, even when controlling for a variety of domestic factors. Based on this demand curve, the authors are able to calculate the volume and value of traffic for several time periods.

They estimate that from 2010 to 2012, 252,906 firearms, worth $127 million, were purchased in the United States and illegally trafficked into Mexico. This is up from 134,045 in 1993 (the year before the federal assault weapons ban, now expired, took effect) and 87,890 in the period 1997 to 1998.

When McDougal presented these findings at the recent Peace Metrics conference in Washington, D.C., he explained that if the border with Mexico were somehow moved to its geographical limit – all the way north to the border with Canada, putting a hypothetical 1,800 mile void between U.S. gun retailers and Mexico – nearly half of the shops would be put out of business. This implies that a large part of the U.S. firearms industry relies on the increasing gun violence south of the border. And this isn’t just the case in Texas and Arizona. 12.5 percent of licensed firearms retailers operate in the southern border region. This percentage may be disproportionately high given the U.S.’s population distribution (mostly northeastern and coastal), but with 47 percent of licensed retailers relying on Mexican demand, northern vendors must be profiting from the drug war as well.

Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora, Mexico’s current ambassador to the United Nations, is hopeful that the recently passed UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will reduce the flow of weapons to Mexico. But Robert Muggah, speaking in the same CBC interview, noted that the treaty is weak on restricting civilian firearms possession as “a concession to countries such as, and in particular, the United States, who are very much at the mercy of their pro-gun lobbies.” Here, Muggah is getting at the starkly conflicting incentives faced by voters in the U.S. On the one hand, as Mexico is one of the U.S.’s largest trading partners, there may be a peace dividend available if gun violence at home and across the border were reduced by effective regulation. But on the other hand, the potential peace dividend is undefined and business people are currently profiting from the demand for weapons, making them unlikely to support greater restrictions. Given the latest Senate rejection of expanded background checks – the very policy solution recommended in Way of the Gun – and the predictions that the Senate is unlikely to ratify the ATT, it appears the U.S. is far from reconciling these opposing incentives.

If We Stop Fighting a War, It Won’t Be One

ojuelos de jalisco mexico
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Like Mali, conflict and violence in México is just now attracting significant international attention despite years of hardship for the people of these countries. There has been a lot of press in the last year, and the last few weeks, that highlights the violence and calls into question the national and international policy choices in México (even though – we hope – the violence may have begun to subside). As far away observers, we have a few narratives to choose from. And for those of us in the U.S., we can have some far-away influence. So, let’s look at what we know.

The challenges of peacebuilding and economic development in México are complex and will likely require years of deliberate action at grassroots, national, and international levels. But increased peacefulness is not impossible or entirely elusive. In México City, a representative from SERAPAZ told me about communities across the country that have used nonviolent direct action to protect their natural resources from organized crime, rejected the ineffective political structure imposed on them by the state, secured their rights to safe and fair work in their mines, and disbanded a corrupt police force, replacing it with community policing and nearly eliminating violence and crime in their community. These grassroots successes, which, I was told, offer hope and inspiration to other Mexican cities, contradict the narrative of Mexican and U.S. state agencies using law enforcement and military to impose order and security from the top-down. The difference between the national scene of appalling violence and local stories of success and possibility calls into question the approaches to security and peacebuilding throughout the Americas.

México is not the only American state facing these challenges, and two different narratives in the history of the hemisphere offer us different possibilities for the future. México and Colombia are different and complicated cases for peacebuilding, to be sure, but they are connected by the violent drug market that has devastated both nations. In one version of the international history, the state of Colombia had a violent drug problem in the 1980s and 1990s, and the state of the U.S., with the program Plan Colombia, brought its military down to the southern continent and solved the problem. Now, the state of México has a violent drug problem, and the Mexican and U.S. governments are attempting to solve it with military approaches once again.

But the same story can be told a different way: in the 1980s and 1990s the people of the southern Americas faced political and economic challenges that led them to use violence as a means to achieve their goals. As they struggled, the people of the northern Americas came to the southern continent with superior technologies of violence and moved their problem northward. The elites from the north and south worked together to remove the violent drug market from the southern continent, and, in response, the people working in this market went to the middle Americas. Today, the technology of elite violence has improved and is being employed on the northern continent, but the people engaged in this market have nowhere else to go.

The first narrative is consistent with centuries of imperial and state-centric political history. But the second offers an alternative, people-centric, nonviolent paradigm for the future. It suggests that by focusing on people, rather than states and militaries, we can build a system for managing competing interests and meeting basic human needs that does not require violence on anyone’s part (the state, the market, or otherwise). Top-down change will be needed to the extent that economic and political structures originate at the state level, but it is not the only option. By understanding the international drug trade as a market, we are likely to discover that peace economics is a much more effective tool in fighting what, truthfully, need not be called a war.

Peace Economics at UNDP

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If you’re in New York City, please join me for a presentation of my research next week! Continue reading

Some Thoughts on “The Market”

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Posts have been few and far between lately because I’m writing my masters thesis. It is all-consuming. But as I work, not everything that I write down can go in the final paper. Like this bit of editorializing… So I thought I would share it here. Your thoughts?

Market Failures and Externalities, Civil Society, and the State

To speak of market failures and externalities is to speak from an incorrect premise on the nature of ‘the market.’ This premise, which assumes that ‘the market’ will always lead to the best social outcome, denies the human element in this decentralized system. Perhaps because it is decentralized, and in theory not directed by any one corruptible or fallible individual (or small group), we do not see it as susceptible to the same human qualities that we control for in government or even in corporate management. However, the market in actuality is the sum of our economic activity. We, humans, are the market. Continue reading

It’s September – Back to Work!

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Summer is definitely my favorite season – it’s play time! But fall feels like the most productive time of year. In the next few months, in addition to writing my thesis and finishing my master’s degree, I have a lot of good work coming up. A few exciting updates for the fall:

I’ve begun an exciting partnership with the social justice organization Disarm to keep all of our readers updated on peace, justice, and economic development in México. Disarm has generously supported my current trip, during which I’m investigating the status of economic opportunity in a small part of central México. Huge thanks go out to the Disarm team for making this possible! During and after my travels, you can read updates and see photos on the From the Field section of Disarm.org. Continue reading