Wars - and how to avoid them

A new OU course examines the best ways of preventing armed conflict
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From Rwanda to Northern Ireland, bloody conflicts between neighbours are one of the great evils of our age. Over the last 50 years, more than 200 civil wars have been fought bringing death to millions, and untold misery to many more.

But we can transform these desperate situations, and ways to do this are examined in a new Open University course, War, intervention and development (course code TU875).

The significance of the course content is underlined by that fact that the Government is part-funding the course through its Conflict Prevention Fund. And among its first students are expected to be military peacekeepers, as well as aid workers, corporate employees and others venturing into a conflict situation.

They will be hoping to improve on a situation where half of all peace settlements brokered fall apart within a decade.

"Peace is not just the absence of war. A stable peace requires that people be committed to the future of their country, and that requires equity, justice, and development," explains Dr Helen Yanacopulos, the development studies lecturer who is in charge of the course.

"The course looks at ways to analyse wars, look at the many players, look at the power relations, the history and the context. In doing this we look at how we can transform conflicts and potentially address inequalities and power relations contributing to the escalation of conflicts to war. Then there are tools for intervention: how you can intervene, and how to decide whether intervention won't actually make things worse. The golden rule is 'Do no harm'. We also look at the roots of war."

Yanacopulos adds that the course breaks new ground in linking conflict and development, which itself can help to cause or to alleviate conflict.

The course includes case studies of real-life conflicts including those in Sierra Leone, Nepal, and Northern Ireland, and there are interviews with key players such as former International Development Secretary Claire Short.

The course is suitable not just for those directly involved in conflict intervention, but for anyone interested in understanding these critical issues, says Dr Yanacopulos. It can be studied as part of the MSc in development management or as a stand-alone; but because it is of Masters standard, prospective students should either have a first degree, or have completed some undergraduate courses and have some relevant experience. There will be an online tuition option making it accessible to students anywhere in the world.