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Armed conflicts reinforced by social instability

As Printed in The Marketplace - September/October 2017

By Mike Strathdee

Dr. Samantha Nutt, the founder of War Child Canada, is one of the keynote speakers at MEDA’s upcoming convention: Building Bridges to Enduring Livelihoods — Business as a Calling 2017, to be held November 2-5 in Vancouver, B.C.

The excerpt below is from her book: Damned Nations: Greed, Guns Armies & Aid.



One of the most significant and ongoing threats to peace globally is the demographic swell of unemployed, unskilled, and uneducated young men in unstable environments. Among the twenty-five countries experiencing armed conflict within their borders, 60 percent of the population is under the age of thirty.*

Many of the young men born into fractured societies struggle to overcome years of missed schooling and are chronically poor. In the shadow of conflict, their collective discontent and social dis-engagement, combined with the easy availability of small arms, virtually guarantee catastrophe. It is a pattern playing itself out in countless conflict and post-conflict countries worldwide, locking civilians in a recurring cycle of poverty, human misery, and instability.

Perhaps the best evidence of this social unravelling is the correlation between human development and war. The lower a country’s ranking on the Human Development Index, the greater the likelihood it is experiencing armed conflict within its borders. Over the past twenty-three years, only 5 percent of the countries rated “very high” on the Human Development Index experienced war within their borders, compared to more than half (54 percent) of those ranked “low.” The vast majority (80 percent) were in Africa and Asia, split equally between these two continents. Certainly, we can debate chickens and eggs here: are low levels of social, political, and economic development risk factors for armed conflict, or is the reverse more likely?

Damned NationsIn the most obvious sense, both are true. Countries wracked by violence struggle to provide their citizens with the basic necessities of life, and so are plagued by low human development. After all, parents do not take their children to school or to medical clinics when they risk being raped or killed along the way. And citizens with few educational and employment opportunities, who watch their children die needlessly and whose lives are, in that Hobbesian way, “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” have many more reasons to wage war than not. Add to this the preponderance of autocratic rulers, military regimes, and corrupted governments operating in unstable regions who are able to liberally crush democratic movements and subvert international law, courtesy of lucrative foreign arms deals, and the question must be asked: Whose interests are best served by the status quo? Certainly not the children forced to shoot their siblings, or the illiterate teenagers trafficking drugs and precious metals on behalf of rebel commanders, or the local human rights advocates buried without fingernails. And it is a ghastly instability that spreads both literally and ideologically, offering up the kind of fodder that religious zealots and half-witted demagogues rely on to deliver a primed audience. ◆


Excerpted from Damned Nations: Greed, Guns Armies & Aid. Copyright © 2011 by Samantha Nutt. Cloth edition published in 2011. Paperback edition published in 2012. Published by Signal an imprint of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.