Hot spots in the post-cold war era

Contemporary Conflict Resolution - New and Old Wars - Future Positive
October 22, 1999

Ten years after the end of the cold war, there is no lack of work for the world's military. The international community had hardly had time to celebrate its resolution of the Kosovo crisis, than new calls for humanitarian intervention in East Timor were being made. As these three books show, it is hard for publishers to keep up with the latest examples of humanitarian intervention.

Civil wars, ethnic cleansing, gang warfare and internal repression are not new phenomena. What is new is the ease with which modern communications can bring the horrors of conflict to millions of comfortable living rooms on the other side of the globe. The liberal democracies still spend enormous sums of money on maintaining standing armed forces despite the absence of any immediate direct threat to their territorial integrity. It is scarcely surprising that this has led to an increasing hope that these forces can be used to re-establish the rule of law in ever more distant trouble spots.

These three books deal in different ways with the issues raised by this new approach to international relations. Mary Kaldor believes that the organised violence seen in Africa and the Balkans over the past 20 years is not the same as the old civil wars. She sees these "post-modern wars" as being a feature of globalisation. It is arguable whether the nature of internal conflicts has really changed that much, but it is certainly true that the responses from the rest of the world are being transformed because of global interconnectedness and interdependence.

Kaldor explains her concept of old wars by briefly summarising the early 19th-century writings of Karl von Clausewitz. His study On War remains a key treatise on the use of military force in relations between states, but it still has relevance in the modern world of international alliances. Bosnia-Hercegovina is taken as a case study for the typical new war. Kaldor claims that Yugoslavia was probably the most militarised country in Europe outside the Soviet Union.

This is based on an incorrect statement that until 1986 only Greece devoted a higher percentage of its GNP to military spending. In fact there were perhaps as many as ten European states exceeding Yugoslavia's figures.Nevertheless, Kaldor's description of the difficulties the international community faced in solving this Balkan problem is fair.

Many would argue that Clausewitz would have recognised those difficulties, and that his advice would still have been relevant. After the Dayton agreement, Kaldor believes that there are two possible future scenarios for Europe. The first is characterised by partition of warring parties, and the second looks towards building a cooperative society based on humanitarian principles and the rule of law.

In looking for approaches to future crises, Kaldor argues strongly for the need to reconstruct legitimacy, and rightly draws attention to the importance of war crimes tribunals and the creation of the International Criminal Court. It is unfortunate that the Kosovo crisis is not examined, as that raised other paradoxes over legitimacy. Was it right for Nato to intervene for humanitarian reasons without specific United Nations authority? The book offers hope for some form of trans-national law enforcement arrangement emerging, and does not dismiss the idea that this might be under the auspices of an enlarged Nato. After Kosovo, this may have been taken a step further.

In Contemporary Conflict Resolution , Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse take a more evolutionary approach to the development of thinking about conflicts. They ask themselves whether the world is, as Kaldor argues, facing a fundamentally new kind of conflict, where the old theories no longer apply. However, they argue cogently that the developing tradition of thinking about conflict and its resolution is becoming even more relevant to the problems of today.

This scholarly volume launches straight into a game-theory approach to conflict, which will be familiar to any nuclear strategist of the cold-war period. The classic model of the "prisoner's dilemma", where two players must choose whether or not to cooperate with each other, has direct application to the current problems of two hostile communities living together.

The analysis of the role of a third, outside party in brokering the best outcome for the two parties has great relevance to the role that the international community is increasingly taking on for itself. The authors look at the problems that the United Nations,regional organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have in taking on

this third-party role. The hope that, after the cold war, the United Nations could become an effective agent for conflict resolution has not yet been fulfilled. The authors remind us of its successes in Namibia, Cambodia, El Salvador and Mozambique; and also of the dismal failures in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda.

The record of regional organisations is seen as even more patchy. Europe is well endowed with institutions (OSCE, EU, WEU, Nato, the Council of Europe) that should have a role in conflict resolution. In other parts of the world, the regional groupings are less effective or non-existent. As the book indicates, regional organisations have the advantage of proximity to the source of conflict and familiarity with the main actors, cultural values and local conditions. They have sometimes the disadvantage of being too closely involved with the disputing parties. Filling the remaining gaps are the humanitarian and non-governmental agencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a long and distinguished history in this role, but there are now more than 500 NGOs concerned with conflict prevention and management.

In a chapter on preventing violent conflict, Miall, Ramsbotham and Woodhouse look at Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo in the 1990s as case studies. The Macedonia experience, which saw the first-ever UN deployment of a preventative peacekeeping operation in 1993, is a good example of how a small force used early can stabilise a potential flashpoint. Albania is shown as an example of the potential difficulties in assessing what factors will trigger conflict. The anarchy stemming from failed pyramid selling schemes was stabilised by the Italian-led UN intervention. Reviewing Kosovo, the authors conclude correctly, at the time of their writing in September 1998, that it had gone well past the stage of conflict prevention. For approaches to a solution in Kosovo or in East Timor, the reader must turn to the sections on ending violent conflict and post-settlement peace-building.

South Africa, Israel-Palestine and Northern Ireland are used as case studies to show the complexity of the process. Peace processes take a long time. While the primary responsibility for preventing, managing and transforming violent internal conflict lies with the domestic populations, the authors conclude that outsiders are essential to help the process. Rightly, they argue that the international community has no option but to become involved, and that is their hope for a more peaceful future.

Contemporary Conflict Resolution deserves to become a standard work in the field.

Michael Edwards, who is a civil society specialist at the World Bank, takes up the story where the other two volumes conclude. His long field experience with Oxfam and Save the Children has given him a passion for finding practical ways to make the world a better place. Future Positive is an optimistic vision of how to get to a future where people cooperate universally to end injustice, poverty and conflict.

After the horrors that he has experienced at first hand, it is heartening that Edwards can hold such idealistic views of how the world might be changed. He dismisses the imposed solution, which ignores individual responsibility. He argues that every person can make a difference by demonstrating cooperative behaviour wherever they are. Yet, as he readily admits, the devil is in the detail.

Aid to the poorer nations needs to be targeted to encourage development goals, rather than the disappointing restrictive system that has emerged over the past 50 years. Edwards looks for the same rules to be applied internationally to all peoples. He advocates a global regime that is "light but firm" rather than the current one, which is "heavy and loose".

He is at his most optimistic when he looks at how such a system might emerge. He starts with the importance of ethics, but admits the difficulties of turning philosophical thought into political reality. As we have seen in recent British foreign policy, an ethical doctrine is easy to describe but difficult to deliver. He believes that it is possible to convince people that they can affect the future well-being of their children by their actions today. He admits that international cooperation is one of the least popular of causes, but blames the way the message has been communicated.

If this is the start of a new way of communicating the message, it is to be welcomed; but the realist will have little hope of it changing the selfish way that the world conducts its business. In all of politics, we see short-term self-interest winning the votes in elections. While a prisoner's dilemma analysis might show that a cooperative strategy would provide the best global outcome, most voters, and their representatives, adopt the parochial view, which makes everyone a loser. This is at its worst in the United States.

Edwards deserves to be read widely: we all know that what he says is sensible, but it is still a long way from being achievable. Some common themes emerge from these three books. The international community has a role in promoting peace, prosperity and security throughout the world. Early action to prevent a crisis is always the best approach. Top-down imposed solutions are never enough. People must learn that cooperation is good for them as well as for their neighbours, and most importantly for their children.

Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden is a trustee, World Humanity Action Trust.

Contemporary Conflict Resolution

Author - H. Miall, O. Ramsbotham and T. Woodhouse
ISBN - 0 7456 2034 5 and 2035 3
Publisher - Polity
Price - £49.50 and £14.99
Pages - 0

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