Evolving Crises Require New Ways to Respond
Posted on: October/18/2014 12:24 pm by: William Brooke Stallsmith

The world is changing in ways that ought to lead us to reconsider how we think about stabilization and transition. Since World War II, the need for programs to support governance, security, and related issues has been a product of violent political unrest and military conflict. This has been the framework for the involvement of IST members in places like the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and it is likely to remain the case in new and ongoing conflict zones such as Ukraine and South Sudan.

In the future, though, crises requiring outside help in re-establishing stability and building institutions may arise instead from economic, social, and climatic causes.

  • Some scholars have traced the origin of the Arab Spring and subsequent unrest to an unprecedented drought in the Middle East that decimated crops, inflated food prices, and eroded the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of rural families.[i]
  • The ongoing Ebola pandemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone threatens stability by disrupting economies and fraying bonds of trust—both within communities and between citizens and governments.
  • Looking a bit ahead, we can imagine how the ongoing slump in prices for raw commodities, itself the result of slowing economic growth in China, could unbalance governments and fuel unrest in countries from copper-dependent Zambia to iron ore-exporting Indonesia.

As the origins of stabilization crises get more complex, we need to bring more flexibility and imagination to our thinking about and planning for the way we respond. For example, in light of the likelihood of economic-driven crises in vulnerable countries, planning for relief and stabilization programs may need to coordinate with the International Monetary Fund or private-sector financial firms. Similarly, given the lurking threat of regional or global pandemics, such programs may also need to include more active ties to the US Centers for Disease Control or the UN’s World Health Organization.

Whatever may be the way that future stabilization challenges unfold, our approach and attitude should build on the wise words of Heraclitus of Ephesus, some 2,500 years ago: “The only constant is change.”



[i] Center for American Progress, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, February 28, 2013.

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