So­cial con­tracts: Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and risks

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - RU­BINA ABU ZEINAB-CHAHINE By Ru­bina Abu Zeinab-Chahine, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor at the Hariri Foun­da­tion for Sus­tain­able Hu­man De­vel­op­ment.

In many coun­tries, the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of top pri­vate ac­tors such as Google, Face­book, Ap­ple or Ama­zon have sur­passed that of govern­ments in terms of re­al­iz­ing what peo­ple want, do and think. “But what hap­pens if govern­ments are able to ac­quire these ca­pa­bil­i­ties? Is this a force for bet­ter pub­lic pol­icy?” asks David Eaves, a tech­nol­ogy and gov­ern­ment ex­pert from Har­vard Univer­sity in a de­bate ti­tled “Re­think­ing the so­cial con­tract.”

How can govern­ments adapt and over­come the pol­icy and gover­nance chal­lenges in a world of un­cer­tain­ties? Re­think­ing so­cial con­tract in an era of chang­ing global dy­nam­ics may be the way out. But why are we scared? Why do we stay alert and alarmed? What is this feel­ing of un­ease?

We are at the cross roads; threats, vul­ner­a­bil­ity, risk and fear are desta­bi­liz­ing and un­der­min­ing so­cial con­tracts. The sense that what holds so­ci­ety to­gether is col­laps­ing in­di­cates that the so­cial con­tract has cracked.

The three terms – threats, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and risk – are se­cu­rity nomen­cla­ture that are fre­quently in­ter­changed or used in­cor­rectly. Since these terms can ap­pear out­side the se­cu­rity in­dus­try, un­der­stand­ing their dif­fer­ent and in­ter­ac­tive re­la­tion­ship is vi­tal in the com­pre­hen­sive eval­u­a­tion of cri­sis man­age­ment. While a threat is de­fined by se­cu­rity con­sul­tants as “any­thing that can ex­ploit a vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” vul­ner­a­bil­ity is de­fined as the “weak­nesses or gaps in pro­tec­tion ef­forts.” Risk is the in­ter­sec­tion of both; it is “the func­tion of threat ex­ploit­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to ob­tain dam­age” as de­fined by a con­sult­ing firm Threat Anal­y­sis Group. A risk sit­u­a­tion usu­ally in­volves dan­ger.

So­cial change hap­pens; it has al­ways been good in some as­pects and bad in oth­ers. Dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween these terms is im­por­tant in order to un­der­stand true risk.

An opin­ion piece by Laura D’Olimpio ti­tled “Fear, trust, and the so­cial con­tract: What’s lost in a so­ci­ety on per­ma­nent alert” pre­sented on ABC NEWS states that “Trust suf­fers in a world on per­ma­nent alert. But it’s not the only thing we lose.” She adds, “It is the so­cial con­tract that pro­vides us with pro­tec­tion and a feel­ing of se­cu­rity that al­lows us to trust our rights and lib­er­ties will be up­held.”

Learn­ing to trust is not easy, but it’s es­sen­tial if the so­cial con­tract is to re­main in­tact. Pro­tect­ing so­cial con­tracts oc­curs when min­i­miz­ing risk, which hap­pens by min­i­miz­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity and block­ing threat. In the ab­sence of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, risk be­came min­i­mal; the same ap­plies in the case of threats.

So, can threats be pre­vented? And if so, how?

In a world of ex­treme chal­lenges, un­der­pin­ning the no­tion of the so­cial con­tract is in­sight­ful. In­deed, there is also great cer­tainty that in many coun­tries the so­cial con­tract is in deep cri­sis, and that we need to bet­ter un­der­stand what it means for states and so­ci­eties in dif­fer­ent set­tings.

Coun­tries af­fected by vi­o­lent con­flict and fragility are de­fined as more vul­ner­a­ble and sus­cep­ti­ble to forces from inside and out­side, hin­der­ing govern­ments from pre­serv­ing law and order. Pro­found so­cial dis­trust of state in­sti­tu­tions threat­ens ef­forts to build vi­able states and shared cit­i­zen­ship.

Global ac­tors have been strug­gling to find suc­cess­ful for­mu­las to pre­vent­ing vi­o­lent con­flict and sus­tain­ing peace which re­quires a shift from one-size fits all so­lu­tions.

A win­ning for­mula ex­ists only by pro­mot­ing con­tex­tu­ally rel­e­vant de­vel­op­ment strate­gies that are home grown and that un­der­stands as­sets, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and threats. “Neg­a­tive” peace, driven by elite po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ments, will never in­sure a path to na­tion­ally owned and last­ing peace.

Today, a group of schol­ars and pol­icy-ad­vis­ers are re­search­ing 12 coun­tries in the project ti­tled “Forg­ing Re­silient So­cial Con­tracts: Pre­vent­ing Vi­o­lent Con­flict and Sus­tain­ing Peace,” a part­ner­ship be­tween UNDP’s Oslo Gover­nance Cen­tre, The New School, New York and Friedrich-EbertStiftung. The project sur­veys what a “so­cial con­tract looks like, and means to peo­ple, in dif­fer­ent coun­tries af­fected by con­flict and fragility.” The com­par­a­tive re­search is meant to re­veal the drives of re­silience while un­der­stand­ing what the so­cial con­tract means in dif­fer­ent con­texts, ex­plor­ing the no­tion in de­sign­ing strate­gies and ac­tion plans to pre­vent vi­o­lent con­flict and re­in­force last­ing peace in coun­tries af­fected by con­flict and fragility.

The study de­fines the re­silient na­tional so­cial con­tract as a “dy­namic agree­ment be­tween state and so­ci­ety, and dif­fer­ent groups in so­ci­ety, on how to live to­gether.” It ex­plores how states can avoid risks by low­er­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity and threats through var­i­ous pro­cesses. More­over, it in­di­cates three drives of a re­silient so­cial con­tract: tack­ling core con­flict and fragility con­cerns by po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment, fos­ter­ing in­clu­sive­ness, and build­ing so­cial co­he­sion, while still un­der­stand­ing the dy­namism and adapt­abil­ity mech­a­nisms of each county in tran­si­tion from con­flict and fragility.

Nowa­days, so­cial con­tract, a term cer­tainly known to all, is tested in its abil­ity to build re­silient peace in an age of ter­ror. An ap­proach that en­tails a moral and po­lit­i­cal obli­ga­tions con­tin­gent with an agree­ment that is im­plicit or ex­plicit within a so­ci­ety.

With more re­searchers study­ing the rel­e­vance of so­cial con­tract as an “ac­tion­able idea” in order to pre­vent con­flict and fragility, the model will still pre­vail even when it is over­looked. So, let’s stop count­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and start mea­sur­ing risk.

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