The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


UN International World Day of Social Justice: Drawing Attention to the Causal Link between Development and Conflict

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 8, 2011
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The UN marks International World Day of Social Justice on 20th February.  The term social injustice – including poverty, exclusion and unemployment – has varying implications for populations, and in turn is inextricably linked to domestic security. This was highlighted by the UN Secretary – General (Sec-Gen) Ban Ki Moon, at the Munich Security Conference. He linked the ongoing crises in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East to the lack of “broad-based security” – encompassing human insecurity and injustice in terms of poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations or the lack of good governance – as breeding social instability. These statements draw attention to social inequality and the lack of development as causes of internal conflict and violence. However, most often it is internal conflict and violence as causes of prolonged internal social inequality and lack of development, that is emphasised. This is seen in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 – Conflict, Security and Development. Ban Ki Moon’s statements reinforced that the causal connection between social inequality and lack of development on intrastate political instability needs greater political traction.

This is especially relevant to Southeast Asian countries experiencing protracted intrastate conflicts such as in southern parts of Thailand and Philippines. Horizontal inequalities contribute to the durability of separatist conflict, as seen in Aceh, Indonesia. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy introduced in 1971to reduce horizontal inequalities in the face of social riots, although controversial as an affirmative policy, is often cited for its long-term success in maintaining peace between the economically weak but demographically dominant Malay and economically powerful but minority Chinese communities.

Academic research has made theoretical developments on the causal connections between social inequality, and intrastate conflict and violence. Cederman et al. find that socio-economically excluded groups are more likely to experience conflict, especially when they are able to organise themselves based on common experiences of violations of civil-political rights. Accordingly, the academic and policy-making communities have embarked on the development of early warning mechanisms to prevent conflict as seen in the SIPRI report. This is supported by the UN.

Theoretical progress must be matched with political will on the part of state leaders to address domestic social inequalities and lack of development towards ensuring intrastate conditions for peace and security. Indonesian President Yudhoyono recently commented to fellow head of states at the Davos Conference 2011 on the centrality of Non-Traditional Security issues such as poverty and hunger, in adversely affecting the social and political stability of intra-state structures. He highlighted the transnational effects of these NTS issues triggering global consequences. Hence, he stressed the need for individual states to adjust their mindsets on security issues and drew attention to the collective imperative to address global imbalances through financial inclusion, social safety nets and aid for trade. ASEAN has made progress in expanding its political-security frameworks in recognising NTS issues. However, it remains to be seen to what extent regional developments will influence and support state leaders in overcoming domestic societal imbalances. Addressing these issues will require a human development approach that is inclusive of all its peoples so as to sustain internal peace and security.

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