Opting Out of War: Strategies to Prevent Violent Conflict

November 2012 | Mary B. Anderson, and Marshall Wallace

A decade after CDA founder Mary Anderson’s landmark book Do No Harm examined the complex roles of aid amidst conflict, the study of conflict prevention was focused on the questions: If most people want to avoid war and its costs are so high, why is it also common? And, if war requires an unnatural effort, why does preventing violent conflict remain elusive? CDA colleagues knew of communities in conflict areas that had somehow managed to avoid participation in war. Looking closer, 13 examples emerged.

How had these communities succeeded in opting out of war? And, do their strategies hold any relevant lessons for broader peacemaking efforts undertaken by international actors? Opting Out of War broadened the discussion of how conflict prevention can work and shines a spotlight on strong markers of community resilience. Ten years on, the stories of these 13 contexts continue to deserve our attention. They provide insight for today’s communities and international actors, including those grappling with new conflict dynamics amid rapid environmental change.

The communities described in this book were successful for two main reasons, both of which continue to be affirmed as effective locally-led peacebuilding:

1. The communities acted with intentionality and planning to set themselves apart from the agendas of the war, for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. They made a decision to opt out of war as a community, choosing an identity that was well known, traditional, and incompatible with the war. They maintained normal life as much as possible through continuing to provide public services and promote economic activity. And they supported internal cohesion through local dispute resolution and codes of conduct, as well as celebrating across differences, such as through festivals, holidays, and sporting events.

2. The communities did not avoid interaction with actors in the conflict nor attempt to be irrelevant to conflict. They were not hidden from view by remoteness or because of their insignificance in numbers, rather achieved security through engagement with fighters (and trickery).


Citation: Anderson, Mary B., and Marshall Wallace. Opting Out of War: Strategies to Prevent Violent Conflict. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012.