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World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development

Some 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence, and no low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet to achieve a single Millennium Development Goal. Fixing the economic, political, and security problems that disrupt development and trap fragile states in cycles of violence requires strengthening national institutions and improving governance in ways that prioritize citizen security, justice, and jobs, according to the World Development Report 2011.

The World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development follows a speech delivered by Zoellick in 2008 to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, entitled “Fragile States: Securing Development”

Noting that military and development disciplines too often worked on separate paths, Zoellick called for bringing security and development together to break the cycles of fragility and violence affecting more than one billion people.

The WDR has sought out the experience of countries and national leaders who have managed successful transitions away from repetitive cycles of violence: this, we feel, is the report's real contribution.- Nigel Roberts, WDR co-Director and Special Representative.


The report shows how 21st century organized violence appears to be spurred by a range of domestic and international stresses, such as youth unemployment, income shocks, tensions among ethnic, religious or social groups, and trafficking networks. In citizen surveys done for the report, unemployment was overwhelmingly the most important factor cited for recruitment into gangs and rebel movements. Risks of violence are greater when high stresses combine with weak capacity or lack of legitimacy in key national institutions, as shown by the recent transitions and turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa.

The importance of legitimate Institutions

Capable, legitimate institutions are crucial because they are able to mediate the stresses that otherwise lead to repeated waves of violence and instability: more than 90 percent of civil wars in the 2000s occurred in countries that already had a civil war in the previous 30 years. Elsewhere, gains made through peace processes are often undermined by high levels of organized crime. And countries where violence takes root fall far behind in development, with poverty rates more than 20 percentage points higher, on average, in countries where violence is protracted than in other countries.

Stopping repetitive cycles of violence requires fostering more capable and legitimate institutions and better governance, the report argues. In situations of violence and fragility, deliberate efforts are needed to build political coalitions that are “inclusive enough” to generate broad national support for change.


Building confidence is essential to reducing risks of conflict, and involves signaling positive intent -- through credible early results and measures that convincingly lock-in commitments to change. A key lesson from country experiences is that two or three tangible early results are generally sufficient to begin the restoration of confidence.


True institutional transformations, require time. It typically takes 15 to 30 years for weak or illegitimate national institutions to become resilient to violence and instability, according to new research commissioned for the report. Societies that have succeeded in moving away from violence have gone through a sequence of transitions to transform their political, security and economic institutions. Successful early reform efforts have generally focused on providing citizens with improved security, justice and jobs, and understanding the positive and negative inter-relationships between them. Where one of these elements is missing, transitions have faltered.

Insights from national experience

The report provides a set of tools that have been valuable in countries making successful transitions, to rebuild confidence between citizens and the state. These include transparency measures, special budget allocations for disadvantaged groups, new appointments, removal of discriminatory laws as well as credible commitments to realistic timelines for longer-term reform. The report also outlines five practical programs at the national level to link rapid confidence-building to longer-term institutional transformation:

  • Support for community-based programs for preventing violence, creating employment and delivering service, and offering access to local justice and dispute resolution systems in insecure areas.
  • Programs to transform security and justice institutions in ways that focus on basic functions and recognize the linkages among policing, civilian justice and public finances.
  • Basic job creation schemes, including large scale public and community-based works that do not crowd out the private sector, access to finance to bring producers and markets together, and the expansion of access to assets, skills, work experience and finance.
  • Involving women in security, justice and economic empowerment programs.
  • Focused anti-corruption actions that demonstrate how new initiatives can be well governed, drawing on external and community capacity for monitoring.


Adapting international assistance

The report recommends enhanced international support in the following areas:

  • Providing more, and more integrated, assistance for citizen security, justice and jobs, including greater assistance for job creation and to build well-governed police forces and justice systems.
  • Reforming internal agency systems to support rapid action to restore confidence and long-term institution-building. This requires changing international agencies’ budgeting, staffing, and fiduciary management procedures to provide faster assistance and end stop-go patterns of aid.
  • Acting at the regional and global levels on external stresses such as the impact on fragile states of international corruption, trafficking and food insecurity.
  • Involving women in security, justice and economic empowerment programs.
  • Forging new international consensus on the norms of responsible leadership and encouraging exchange of knowledge that draws on the experience of middle-income countries.

Last updated: 2011-09-08