Human security is emerging as a sophisticated and compelling strategy to address the extreme problems of children in contemporary wars. The child soldier is increasingly seen as an icon of ‘new’ wars – transformed from a young person into a weapon. Whether as members of local militias or as suicide bombers, child soldiers are children growing up among failed adults in failed communities. Some not only fail to learn to read or write, they also fail to learn the humanity they need to be successful neighbors and parents.
Turning children into weapons is an act of generational destruction. Failed adults are more likely to make failed neighbors and failed parents. The cycle can continue for generations. Thus the real costs of war cannot be tallied for years, for decades, for generations….
Child soldiers reveal the genocidal aspects of contemporary wars. Child soldiers are, explicitly or tacitly, direct attacks on the generational transitions of communities. The cruelty of new wars reveals major gaps in educational policy frameworks currently in use by the international community. Education policy today focuses thinking about education as a civil rights problem. This leads to concerns for access to the ‘provision’ of institutional services. Developed during the post World War II period, education was constructed as a neutral, technical process complete with generic experts who taught and generic students who learned. Their classrooms were ordered around literacy and numeracy. Their ends were national economic growth. Little attention was paid to security issues and their consequences, either shorter or longer term.
This approach to development, while admirable, is insufficiently compelling to drive today’s strategic operations in the brutal, even genocidal face of ‘cultural identity’ wars and their aftermath. Under these conditions, when civil societies are threatened to their generational core, traditional classrooms and curriculum are no longer sufficient. The problem is no longer one of civil rights. It has become a much larger problem of generational survival.
This paper suggests that the emerging human security frameworks, while still mired globally in failing narratives, may offer the best direction for future work. Emerging human security narratives focus on the protection of local populations, especially children. They require defense against the forced recruitment of child soldiers. These new narratives center on the protection of generational agency. They mobilize local and external communities to actively secure safe places for children to grow and develop as normally as possible.
How then should scholars and strategists examine the practical questions of deterrence? What appears to be working on the ground in new wars? Against the allure of muscular and violent warriors stands a small group of internationals working side by side with caring local parents and neighbors desperate to defend their children. Together they have constructed an emerging strategy of local community protection that places at its center, the protection of children’s agency in the face of those who seek its annihilation. This paper examines the problems of research and data collection under these conditions, turning to ‘fugitive literature’ and strategic desk reviews. It briefly surveys general, large-scale responses to recruitment deterrence in Bosnia, Albania, Ingushetia, Sierra Leone, Colombia and Panama. It concludes that while causal claims may not be advisable, scholars can at least begin to map the strategic intent of the institutions involved. Beyond that, more work is needed to map the political and cultural economies that either threaten or defend children.