Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Top Ten Wars of 2015

Look, papa.  Visitors!

And a Happy New Year to you too.

The new president of the International Crisis Group, Jean-Marie Guehenno, has issued his own New Year greetings in an article on the ten wars to watch in 2015 in Foreign Policy magazine.

For the most part they're the old familiars that continue to plague Africa, the Middle East and Asia with two exceptions, Venezuela and Ukraine.  So, to summarize, here's the rundown.  No. 10 - Venezuela.  No. 9 - Libya and the Sahel.  No. 8 - Yemen.  No. 7 - Afghanistan.  No. 6 - the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  No. 5 - Somalia.  No. 4 - Nigeria.  No. 3 - South Sudan.  No. 2 - Ukraine.  No. 1 - Syria, Iraq and the Islamic State.

You can follow the link to get the details.  What's important is that the list is not exhaustive nor does it reflect growing tensions elsewhere that could evolve into major wars in the coming years.  I found Guehenno's introductory comments most cogent:

Conflict is again on the rise after a major decrease following the end of the Cold War. Today’s wars kill and displace more people, and are harder to end than in years past.

The Arab world’s turmoil deepened: The Islamic State captured large swathes of Iraq and Syria, much of Gaza was destroyed again, Egypt turned toward authoritarianism and repression, and Libya and Yemen drifted toward civil war. In Africa, the world watched South Sudan’s leaders drive their new country into the ground. The optimism of 2013 faded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ebola ravaged parts of West Africa, and Boko Haram insurgents stepped up terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria. The international legal order was challenged with the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and war is back in Europe as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine.

So what do the last 12 months tell us is going wrong?

On a global level, increasing geopolitical competition appears, for the moment at least, to be leading to a less controlled, less predictable world. This is most obvious, of course, with regard to the relationship between Russia and the West. It’s not yet zero-sum: The two nations still work together on the Iran nuclear file, the threat of foreign terrorist fighters, and, for the most part, on African peacekeeping. But Russia’s policy in its neighborhood presents a real challenge, and its relationship with the United States and Europe has grown antagonistic.

China’s relations with its neighbors also remain tense and could lead to a crisis in the East or South China Seas. The struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia shapes the contours of violence between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East. Major Sunni powers are themselves divided: The contest between the Saudis, Emiratis, and Egypt on the one hand, and Qatar and Turkey on the other, plays out across North Africa. Elsewhere on the African continent, powers jostle in Somalia and in South Sudan’s increasingly regionalized war; and the DRC has long been a venue for its neighbors’ competition over influence and resources.

Rivalry between major and regional powers is nothing new, of course. But hostility between big powers has stymied the U.N. Security Council on Ukraine and Syria — and leaves its most powerful members less time and political capital to invest on other crises. As power gets more diffuse, antagonism between regional powers matters more. Competition between powerful states increasingly lends a regional or international color to civil wars, rendering their resolution more complex.

... jihadi groups remain a persistent, growing threat. The Islamic State and its new affiliates in Sinai and North Africa, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, and al Qaeda franchises in South Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Yemen, and the Sahel are destabilizing governments, killing civilians, and radicalizing local populations. But grouping these movements is often pointless: While they say their ambitions are global, diverse radical enterprises feed off local grievances.

Although these jihadist groups use horrific terrorist tactics, they are more than just terrorists. They seek to control territory. They often blend brutal tactics with astute political or social outreach. Some present themselves as alternatives to a corrupt and unjust state, providing basic public goods — particularly security and justice, albeit often cruel variants thereof — when a government has failed to do so. Few of the wars they fight in are initially driven by international jihad. Extremist ideology often comes late to the party, and always amid other sources of violence. But once there, it makes finding a mediated end to wars much more challenging.

Clearly such diverse problems don’t lend themselves to generic prescription. Solutions require a granular understanding of each conflict, its drivers, its protagonists, their motives and interests. Any response needs to be tailored to context. But we can offer a few general ideas based on the past year.

First, too often this year, policy has lacked a political strategy. This applies as much to the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State as it does to the Nigerians’ against Boko Haram. Military action won’t work alone; in fact, it often perpetuates underlying drivers of conflict — power inequalities, underdevelopment, state predation, identity politics and so forth. What keeps countries together are political settlements. Ending wars or avoiding crises requires a process that steers toward that.

Second, talking makes sense more often than not. The bright spots of this year — the Iranian nuclear file, Colombia’s peace talks, Tunisia’s transition, U.S.-Cuba relations — all show the value of dialogue, even when awkward or unpopular. Of course there are risks, particularly in talking to groups with exclusionary agendas or where criminal motives outweigh political ones. But at the moment the balance is dangerously weighted against dialogue: Policymakers need to be more flexible, eschew dogmatic declarations about who they can or cannot speak to, and where force is necessary, wed it with engagement, even if only to isolate those who are genuinely beyond the pale.

Third, political inclusion should more frequently be a guiding principle of today’s leaders. Over time, that means building institutions that are representative, effective, and protect all citizens — long, arduous, and intensely political work. In fragile countries, the rush to elections that empower the winner at the detriment of the loser, or to ratify constitutions that concentrate power in one individual are dangerous. Exclusion is a major driver in many of today’s wars — all main groups need a seat at the table to protect their interests.

Fourth, it is much better to prevent crises than to try to contain them later. This means engaging before local conflicts gain a jihadi dimension, for example. It means addressing communities’ grievances before they take up arms. It means trying to end wars before factions fragment, making peace efforts more difficult.

Particularly important is to shore up those states in troubled regions that are reasonably stable, or at least have not yet collapsed. This means making sure military aid does not entrench rulers and perpetuate bad habits. But it also means greater caution in advocating regime change, instead nudging leaders toward more inclusive politics, better provision of basic public goods and services, tackling corruption, and improving relations with neighbors. None of this is easy, particularly given the many crises occupying world leaders. But it is clearly better than picking up the pieces afterwards. In fact, given that that the world’s crisis management capacity is already at breaking point, a collapse in another region — like Central Asia, for example, or the Gulf — would be disastrous.

Guehenno's world view is reminiscent of what had been Canada's foreign policy approach pre-Harper.  If anything it serves as an indictment of the Harper-Baird "shoot'em up" approach to international relations with its black and white simplicity.

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