International Symposium

Sustainable Development:
Implications for World Peace


This year the Tom Slick Conference will address the issue of "sustainable development and its relationship to the construction and maintenance of peace". It is our expectation that the exploration of this relationship will lead to some profound conclusions. Sustainability represents an approach to development which addresses the fundamental concerns of poverty, environment, equality, and democracy (UNCED, Rio de Janeiro, 1992). With the end of the Cold War, the pursuit of lasting peace and an end to conflict has become, together with sustainable development, a global imperative. By examining the synergies of these two concepts which have come to dominate policy discussions in the 1990s, this international conference takes a significant step in the direction of a more complete understanding of both sustainable development and the peace process for the next century.

While the link between development and peace has been frequently examined, the results of its examination remain largely inconclusive. Although it might appear intuitive that meeting the basic needs of poor communities holds the promise of eliminating many of the types of situations which favor the outbreak of conflict, in many cases development can be shown to contribute to or benefit from the existence or possibility of armed conflicts (Kaplan, 1995, p.viii). The concept of sustainable development modifies this relationship considerably. The 1992 Rio Declaration, presented at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, asserted in Principle 25 that "Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible". In other words, the idea of peace forms an integral part of the idea of sustainable development. In the next century, these two concepts are likely to become inseparable:

To understand the events of the next fifty years, then, one must understand environmental scarcity, cultural and racial clash, geographic destiny, and the transformation of war (Kaplan, 1994, p.54).

It is therefore necessary to understand clearly what is meant by sustainable development. The idea was popularized in 1987 by the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development through the Brundtland Report. That report, entitled Our Common Future, produced the most widely accepted definition of sustainable development, that is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987, p.43)." In 1992, the concept was formalized at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED or Rio 92), and since then it has become part of the vocabulary of governmental, inter-governmental, and non-governmental institutions in practically all languages. The United Nations has an International Commission for Sustainable Development which meets each year, with representatives from all the countries of the world. The World Bank has a Vice-President for Environmentally Sustainable Development. The Government of the United States, like the governments of many other countries, has a National Commission for Sustainable Development. International business leaders created a Business Commission on Sustainable Development, with representation at the regional and global level. International development agencies actively promote development projects which pursue sustainability.

Such success in the dissemination of the idea and in its institutionalization has contributed to a certain erosion of the concept of sustainable development. Many mainstream economists, for example, together with some politicians and business leaders, have rejected sustainable development as the latest buzz-word whose "very appeal lies in its vagueness" (Redclift, 1992, p.25). For some, sustainable development is a utopian concept, for others demagoguery, while others continue to consider it to be inherently limited in its applicability to cases of extreme poverty and the corresponding difficulties confronted by a large part of the world's population.

This reaction to the proliferation of the term is understandable. In many cases the idea has been misappropriated and misused. Opponents may also mistrust the economic implications of sustainable development. After all, the idea of sustainability implies the introduction of a host of restrictions on the process of economic growth, based on the trade-offs necessary to address the question of inter and intra generational distribution. The introduction of authoritative sustainable policies may at times have a negative impact on short term profit margins, although with the balance of a longer useful life given to investments. On the whole, however, the environmental debate and the continuing puzzle of underdevelopment have had an impact on the way we think about growth and progress. Today there is a general recognition of a need to modify our approach to development in the present, even without taking into consideration the more difficult question of how future generations will cope with our legacy of spiraling population growth, expanding energy consumption, and the inevitable depletion of vital natural resources. Whether confronting the challenges of the present or the future, a new approach to development is a necessity which requires a real revolution in our behavior and mentality:

Unless (our) life-style is subjected to considerable reevaluation, including the adoption of far-reaching self-control regarding the satisfaction not of real wants but of self-gratifying desires, the emphasis on ecology could become yet another intensifier of the conflict between the rich and the poor (Brzezenski, 1993, p. 186).

Sustainable development represents an opportunity to construct a new approach, and the success of that effort has powerful implications for issues of peace and security.

In order to discuss in depth the relationship between sustainable development and peace, it will be necessary to progressively define the concept of sustainability throughout the course of the symposium. Through structured discussions, the Symposium will attempt to specify the aspects of sustainable development which have direct ramifications for the pursuit and maintenance of peace both in the context of today's international realities, and in light of the trends which will carry us into the Twenty-first Century.

Annotated Agenda

The Symposium will present a series of presentations and discussions, divided into specific themes addressing in a logical progression the relationship between sustainable development and the peace process. These themes are as follows:

Importance of the Topic

The first presentation will be made by the Key Note Speaker, the objective of which is to call attention to the importance of the theme of the conference, and raise some of the fundamental questions which will be elaborated in the following sessions.

"...the central fact remains that humanity's ability to define for itself a meaningful existence is increasingly threatened by the contradiction between subjective expectations and objective socioeconomic conditions. Inherent in the potential collision between these two broad trends is the danger that world politics- both in terms of international affairs and of internal societal conditions- could simply spiral out of control, generating massive political disorder and philosophical confusion (Brzezinski, 1993, p. xiv)."

"Large scale environmental degradation, exacerbated by rapid population growth, threatens to undermine political stability in many countries (Bill Clinton, 1995,"

Peace and Sustainable Development

The next discussion will examine the relationship between peace and sustainable development, beginning with a review of some of the principal causes of conflict (that is, the lack of peace). Whether we consider isolated episodes, or whether the broader question of peace and war as part of a historical process is examined (this, by the way, was the theme developed brilliantly by the first Slick Professor at the LBJ School, Kenneth Boulding), many of the primary causes of conflict are closely related to the question of sustainable development, or better stated, unsustainable development.

Examples of current global trends which present formidable challenges to the achievement of both peace and sustainabity include: the problem of population growth above the carrying capacity of the known natural resource base and the predominant technology, mounting pressure on diminishing quantities of fresh water and topsoil, disputed jurisdiction over territorial areas containing strategic resources, the destabilizing impact of widespread poverty and increasing social inequality, and a rising flow of migrants fleeing war, famine, and other vestiges of political, social, and economic breakdown.

While exploring common challenges, the discussion will also address the question of how peace contributes to the sustainable development process. The panel considering the issue of Peace and Sustainable Development will have to consider the question from a variety of viewpoints.

The evidence on this issue is unequivocal. The lack of peace, that is, a situation of war or conflict, drains away resources that otherwise might be applied (although not necessarily) to promote the well-being of a nation's citizens. In addition, armed conflicts destroy natural resources, infrastructure, and human lives. The establishment of peace permits the recuperation of stable conditions for development and liberates resources for needed investments, although it does not ensure in and of itself that the resulting development will be sustainable.

"Certain aspects of the issues of peace and security bear directly upon the concept of sustainable development. Indeed, they are central to it (WCED, 1987, p. 290)."

"Renewable resource scarcities of the next 50 years will probably occur with a speed, complexity and magnitude unprecedented in history...We have come to understand that scarcities of renewable resources often produce insidious and cumulative social effects, such as population displacement and economic disruption. These events can, in turn, lead to clashes between ethnic groups as well as to civil strife and insurgency (Homer-Dixon, 1993, pp. 38-39)."

"Also, some conflicts begin when people without shelter or other basic human rights seek better lives for themselves and their families by taking up weapons to fight against their own government or their neighbors (Carter, 1993, p. 78)."

"Possible destruction of the environment during warfare is a threat to every human...The Science for Peace Institute at the University of Toronto estimates that 10 to 30 percent of all environmental degradation in the world is a direct result of the various militaries (Lanier-Graham, 1993, p.xxix)."

Defining Sustainable Development

At this point in the Conference, it becomes important to define and conceptualize the idea of sustainable development, already mentioned and debated in preceding discussions, and to show how it has been operationalized at various levels. At the outset, sustainable development was little more that an abstract concept. In recent years, however, there have been advances in raising the theoretical precision of the term. As a result, the usefulness of the concept in practical applications, case studies, and sustainable development planning has expanded dramatically. As a part of this process a need to disaggregate the various dimensions of the concept arose, particularly the need to specify the ideas of social, environmental, political, economic, and cultural sustainability.

There has also been a great deal of effort dedicated to the definition of general and specific indicators, as well as methodologies, for the construction of tendencial and desired 'scenarios' that reveal the possible and probable paths for development from the perspective of sustainability. These steps have been taken at various levels. The United Nations, for example, has been attempting to refine and promote the idea on a global scale and in individual nations through its International Commission on Sustainable Development and related organs and programs. More and more local, state, and national governments are doing the same.

"A proposal has to be economically and... ecologically sustainable...However, equally important is the social side, and here we mean equity, social mobility, social cohesion, participation, empowerment, cultural identity, and institutional development...It is, to my mind, an essential part of the definition of sustainability, because, let me remind you, the neglect of that side leads to institutions that are incapable of responding to the needs of society. We see the consequences of that in tragedies from Somalia to Rwanda and from Liberia to Bosnia (Serageldin, 1995, p.4)."

"Democracy in the twenty-first century faces no task more pressing than to generate a nobler, more sustainable vision of the aim of life and society. Yes, it faces also the task of generating a cultural consensus which would make non-coercive conflict resolution possible. It has urgently to devise means of massive redistribution of resources, globally and within individual societies, to prevent cataclysmic conflict between the opulent and the impoverished. Yet most fundamentally, it needs to generate a vision of being human which would make a sustainable human presence on this earth possible (Kohác, 1995, p. 60)."

Sustainable Development and Peace

The foregoing discussions identified how the situation or the process of peace contributes to the process of sustainable development, and how the idea of sustainable development is being defined, promoted, and put into action across the globe. This has prepared the way for an in depth look at the different ways in which sustainable development can aid in the process of peace construction.

This is not a trivial question, and consequently must be examined carefully. Sustainable development, if achieved, contributes decisively to the dissipation, if not the elimination, of several of the primary causes of conflict discussed at the beginning of the Conference. If a sustainable development strategy has been successful in terms of the reduction of poverty, the leveling of social inequalities, and the optimum allocation of scarce resources, then certainly many of the situations that exacerbate conflict between different groups, communities, and nationalities will be avoided. Improving the conditions for social justice in particular is fundamental to the promotion of peace in a variety of contexts throughout the world.

There are many ways in which sustainable development can lead to a situation of stability, security, and peace. Sustainable development, if comprehensive, represents a multi-disciplinary idea which acts not just economically, nor solely ecologically, not only politically, but on all of these fronts. Beyond this, sustainable development has implications for improvement of the institutional structure. The modification or reform of institutions for the purpose of resolving potentially contentious situations democratically lies at the heart of the idea of sustainability.

Take for example the question of fresh water resources. The dispute over water rights at one level or another represents one of the principal causes of real or potential conflict in many different parts of the world. There are some who say that the great war of the next century could arise from a struggle for the control of fresh water, a resource increasingly under pressure from demographic expansion and economic activities. Experiences of sustainable development in the area of management of supply and consumption of water have led to the creation of mechanisms which aid users to define the norms for allocation, use, and transfer of water rights in a democratic process. In practice, this democratic process of resource allocation replaces previously existing conflict. At the local level, the gun has been replaced by meetings between neighbors or committees who must learn to share a watershed. On a macro level, international accords and committees can serve as substitutes for wars.

"A dramatic turnaround story has occurred on the left bank of the Gal Oya irrigation project (in Sri Lanka) trust and reciprocity were nourished on a face-to-face basis prior to attempts to organize farmers into large groups...the level of conflict among farmers has also declined. Now with the assured water supply and the availability of a discuss and settle disputes..., the frequency and the seriousness of conflicts have been greatly reduced..The extent of that mutual respect was demonstrated in 1981 when communal violence broke out in the district, with some roving bands of Sinhalese youth burning Tamil shops in the marketplace: The reaction of the Sinhalese farmer-representatives was to go to the homes of the Tamil Irrigation Department officials in order to protect them from violence (condensed from Ostrom, 1990, pp. 167; 170-172)."

The Lessons of Experience

At this stage, case studies will provide illustrations of the topics brought up in the preceding discussions. These cases will depend on the invited speakers who will present them, but the possibilities are numerous.

An obvious example from history would be the situation of Europe after World War I as compared to the circumstances which followed World War II. In the first case, the post-war negotiation strategy of the victorious nations attempted to further cripple the vanquished by exacting a high price in the form of restitution (see Keynes, The Economic Consequences of Peace, 1920). After the second world war, the victorious allies sought first and foremost the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Europe. While in 1918-19 the conditions for the renewal of bitter conflict were established, so in 1947 the foundations for the construction of a peaceful and sustainable Europe were laid.

Many other examples, positive and negative, can be discussed, from the experiences of Europe and the Americas, to those from the Middle East, from Asia, and from Africa. By way of further illustration, of growing importance is the question of rising pressure from the migration of poor populations fleeing from areas of low carrying capacity and economic underdevelopment. Such migrations throw host societies into disequilibrium as the hosts attempt to assimilate the displaced population. This situation often leads to conflict, as can be seen in Europe with the African immigrant community and in the United States with the migrations from Mexico and Central America. By raising the carrying capacity of the countries of origin, sustainable development strategies can offer an effective solution, reducing over time the causes of such migrations which represent today one of the principal potential causes of conflict between North and South.

"Almost 1 million Haitian `boat-people', one-sixth of the entire populace, have fled that island nation, an exodus fueled in large part by environmental degradation...El Salvador, one of the most troubled nations of Central America, is also one of the most environmentally impoverished, with some of the worst erosion rates in the region. 'The fundamental causes of the present conflict are as much environmental as political, stemming from problems of resource distribution in an overcrowded land' (Brundtland Report, 1987, p. 292)."

"As political fragmentation and instability spread, national governments can no longer provide the physical and economic infrastructure for development. Countries in this category include Afghanistan, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Somalia (Brown and Kane, 1994, pp. 28-29)."

"A television newsman, overhearing the argument, asked her: `But if the Mexicans and Central Americans keep pressing in, won't this mean that eventually most of Texas will become Mexican?' and she said, looking defiantly into the camera: `If Hispanic mothers in Central America have many babies and anglo mothers in Texas have few, I suppose there will have to be an irresistible sweep of immigrants to the north. Yes, Texas will become Spanish (Michener, 1985, p. 1233).

Policy Implications

Finally, a panel of participants from diverse backgrounds will reflect on some of the major themes arising from previous discussions, and attempt to extract relevant conclusions for policy makers. What are, after all, the useful lessons for international institutions, for governments, for organized civil society, for citizens from the experiences mentioned? What can be done to promote sustainable development? How does one increase the scope of development programs in the interest of peace promotion? How should these lessons be applied in today's world, in light of future trends and forecasts (at least one generation)?

"As part of its prevention strategy, the Administration is vigorously promoting sustainable development, both at home and abroad (Committee for National Security, 1995, p. 45)"

"At the international level, our projections suggest that the population-driven environmental deterioration /political disintegration not inevitable. This future can be averted if security is redefined, recognizing that food scarcity, not military aggression, is the principal threat to our future. This would lead to a massive reordering of priorities- giving top place to filling the family planning gap; to attacking the underlying causes of high fertility, such as illiteracy and poverty; to protecting soil and water resources; and to raising investment in agriculture (Brown and Kane, 1994, p. 33)."

"Adopting a central organizing principle- one agreed to voluntarily- means embarking on an all-out effort to use every policy and program, every law and institution, every treaty and alliance, every tactic and strategy, every plan and course of action- to use in short, every means to halt the destruction of the environment and to preserve and nurture our ecological system (Gore, 1993, p. 274)."

The symposium will close with a synthesis of the discussions, highlighting the primary recommendations presented. The material from the Conference will then be edited and published in the form of a book for distribution and instructional use.


Brown, Lester R. and Kane, Hal. Full House. Reassessing the Earth's Population Carrying Capacity. W.W. Northon & Company. New York, 1994.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Out of Control. Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century.. Collier Books. New York, 1993.

Carter, Jimmy. Talking Peace. A Vision for the Next Generation. Puffin Books. USA. 1993.

Clinton, Bill. "The National Security Science and Technology Strategy". In: National Security- Science and Technology Strategy. The White House, Washington, DC, 1995.

Committee for National Security. National Security- Science and Technology Strategy. The White House, Washington, DC, 1995.

Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Penguin Books. New York, 1993.

Homer-Dixon, Thomas F., Boutwell, Jeffrey H., and Rathjens, George W. "Environmental Change and Violent Conflict". In: Scientific American, February, 1993.

Kaplan, "The Coming Anarchy". In: Atlantic Monthly, February, 1994.

Kohác, Erazim. "The Faces of Democracy - Looking to the Twenty-first Century", In Kettering Review, Fall 1995.

Lanier-Graham, Susan D. The Ecology of War. Environmental Impacts of Weapons and Warfare. Walker and Company. New York, 1993.

Michener, James A. Texas. Fawcet Crest. New York, 1985.

Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action.. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, New York, 1990.

Redclift, Michael. "Sustainable Development and Popular Participation: A Framework for Analysis". In: Grassroots Environmental Action. People's Participation in Sustainable Development, Dharam Ghai and Jessica M. Vivian (Eds.). Routledge. London, 1992.

Serageldin, Ismail, Cohen, Michael A., and Leitmann, Josef (Eds.). Enabling Sustainable Community Development. World Bank, Washington, DC, 1994.

Sustainable Development Symposium