Countries trapped in repeated cycles of war and violent crime are badly served by the global framework for peacekeeping and humanitarian relief, according to the World Bank.
In its flagship annual world development report, published on Monday, the bank says that building government institutions which can mediate political and communal violence is more important than the goal of simply stopping conflict.
Breaking the cycle of violence “requires determined national leadership and an international system ‘refitted’ to address 21st century risks”, the report concludes.
But it cautions against expecting a single approach to solve all problems, saying that solutions are likely to vary by country.
The report’s messages have been given more salience by the wave of uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa, in which even countries with a relatively good record of growth and economic reform have been engulfed by political unrest.
The report argues that the current arrangements for dealing with conflict – with distinct roles for diplomacy to prevent wars, military peacekeeping to bring them to an end and humanitarian assistance for refugees – reflects the 20th century pattern of relatively clearly defined civil and interstate war.
Battle deaths in such familiar forms of conflict have been declining sharply over the past 30 years and the number of civil wars in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, previously a by-word for military coups and armed struggle, has dropped rapidly.
“Twenty-first century violence does not fit the 20th century mould,” the report says. Even countries that have negotiated peace treaties after violent political conflict, such as South Africa, El Salvador and Guatemala, continue to face high levels of violent crime.
The bank says that examples such as the independence of East Timor or Chile’s emergence from dictatorship argue for building political frameworks that contain sufficient parties at an early stage to achieve peace without leaping straight to full democracy.
But at present, the report says, there is a lack of external support for restoring peace and creating jobs in the short term to reduce the attractiveness of turning to crime.
“It is much harder for countries to get international assistance to support development of their police forces and judiciaries than their militaries,” it says.
The report reflects a debate within the aid world about how to deliver aid in “fragile states” – those affected by conflict, violence and a general weakness of governance and the rule of law.
The UK’s Department for International Development, the world’s second-largest donor of development assistance, has been reassessing its need to work alongside military peacekeeping missions in promoting reconstruction in countries like Afghanistan.
Aid budgets in rich countries are also under scrutiny from campaigns to restrain public spending. Official aid figures released last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that while overseas development assistance had risen by 6.5 per cent last year to a new record, it was set to slow sharply.