What does the Future Hold?

I have been thinking about the future lately.  Mostly because I have had my graduate students doing a scenario exercise about the future directions of conflict resolution.  Today, the ‘thing’ in CR is to do development work; a conflict resolution degree has become for many a development degree by stealth.  So, as students plan their careers they often do so with the development angle in mind.

In thinking about the future, however, it seems to me that there are forces that need accounting.  In ten or twenty years what will the global development need be and how will it be fulfilled?  In late spring 2011 the Pew Research Center released its poll “People & the Press,” conducted May 25-30, 2011.  One of the findings grabbed my attention: 83% of Republican voters approved reducing foreign aid, with 76% of independents and 61% of Democrats sharing the view; a majority of American voters support cuts to foreign aid.

Allied with this has been the American military withdrawal from Iraq and the promised reductions to Afghanistan.  Both wars have attracted conflict oriented aid work, and while deemed important by the Administration today, may become less so in budget fights to come.  While conflict sensitivity and concern for state fragility will persist into the future, they may not grow either.

Add to the mix the European debt crisis.  This is already drawing development bureaucrats attention, and likely to suck aid dollars away from the poorest of the poor.

So, where does this leave conflict resolution?

Two likely trends suggest themselves.  One trend simply sees CR practitioners, projects and education programs reorienting themselves to focus on conflicts that emerge in debt ravaged countries.  Dialogue sessions between different segments of Greek society may emerge.  On the other hand, a more revolutionary trend may also arise, in which CR practitioners, projects and education programs  may move away from the dominant development/CR paradigm and focus on other areas.  For example, conflict resolution may shift to focus more on nuclear non-proliferation (picking up on a much earlier CR theme), focus more pointedly on the use of communication technology in supporting CR efforts, or even focus on intra-national/domestic divisions in home countries.

One cannot be unaware of the seemingly endless list of policy challenges faced by people and their governments around the globe.  Even a cursory consideration of the challenges facing the US leave one feeling bewildered by the complexity.  Climate change, budget shortfalls, income disparities, changing demographics, shifting economics, looming energy crises, resource exploitation, and so on.  Doesn’t this policy stew demand attention of conflict resolution practitioners?  Such complexity and the conflicts embedded in it should act like a flame attracting CR specialists.  These complex policy choices will spawn conflict, and would likely benefit from advice from CR specialists – both in terms of accounting for the dynamics of conflict, as well as decision-making process support.

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