Manual International mediation in civil wars: bargaining with bullets

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This chapter addresses three context-setting questions.

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First, what do we know about the nature and patterns of war during the post-Cold War period? Second, what are the putative root causes of these wars and why did they escalate? Finally, what are the implications of conflict analysis for peacemaking strategies? Particularly in the first half of the s, there was a sharp, unprecedented increase in the frequency, or overall number, of armed conflicts on the globe, and most of them are in fact essentially internal to states but with transnational linkages and global implications. The trend lasts well into the twenty-first century.

By , wars had decreased by 60 percent from an earlier peak in to the lowest level of warfare on the globe since the s. The overall pattern of the post-Cold War period is an unambiguous one of progressive war termination: old wars are settled much more rapidly than new wars break out. Although headlines in the mids led with insurgency-related violence in Iraq following the invasion, or terrorist bombings in London, Lebanon, or Israel, the principal threats to international and human security continues to be found in mostly internal wars; indeed, in Iraq most deaths are the result of sectarian strife rather than confrontation between insurgents and the occupation forces www.

By , the number of violent armed conflicts had dwindled to the point where the aftermath of misguided US intervention in Iraq clearly emerged as the most violent setting on earth, with an estimated 60, deaths between and Indeed, the danger of quick escalation to an all-out nuclear exchange worked against direct superpower engagement, as Smoke argued in War: Controlling Escalation Realists, such as Mearsheimer, view the Cold War as a period of remarkable global stability.

He argues that given the contemporary sense of chaos, one day the relative security of the bipolar standoff between the United States and the Soviets will be missed.

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The next forty-five years in Europe are not likely to be so violent as the forty-five years before the Cold War, but they are likely to be substantially more violent than the past forty-five years, the era that we may someday look back upon not as the Cold War but as the Long Peace. Mearsheimer 35 7 14 Untold sorrow If the Cold War produced an essentially bipolar system of international relations from the s through the s, the dominant theme of postCold War international relations in the s and early s has been one of fragmentation and multipolarity. The weakening of the sovereign, national state as the central unit of politics is a consequence of globalization and international economic integration from outside and the appeal of ethnic nationalism from within.

Lundestad observed that these schizophrenic centralizing and centrifugal trends characterize the post-Cold War period Lundestad For this reason, it is difficult to even give the contemporary era a defining name; its reference point is what has come before: the post-Cold War era. For example, Western countries and neighbors alike found it very difficult to influence the course of events in tumultuous Central Africa.

In the countries of the Great Lakes region especially Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo DRC , intense conflicts raged throughout much of the s without the ability of the international community to significantly affect their trajectory; similarly, today, there is little ability or willingness to stem fighting in conflict settings such as Sri Lanka as sanctions have marginal effects and there is no willingness or ability to field substantial military deployments.

Equally ambiguous in some cases is the distinction between criminal violence and political violence. Thus, the intensity of violence in an internal conflict is invariably difficult to precisely measure; in the case-study chapters that follow, Untold sorrow 15 for example, best guesses are given from the ostensibly most reliable sources. Often, the ability to assess levels of fatality can only be approximated post facto, as has been the case in determining the overall fatality count due to war in Bosnia.

By considering only frequency of conflict, we may be lulled into believing there is an overall downward trend in armed violence when it may be that those conflicts now raging are much more intense. One way to assess the human costs of war, beyond fatalities, is to consider the exponential increase in refugees that wars generate. In early , at the height of the global refugee crisis, there were an estimated The concern with diffusion of civil war is about the escalation of internal conflict across borders and the tangible linkages that make contemporary borders lines on a map.

Lake and Rothchild argue in their analysis of ethnic conflict that: 16 Untold sorrow Diffusion occurs when ethnic violence in one state increases the probability of conflict in a second. In other words, if conflict in Rwanda incites similar violence directly or indirectly in Burundi, the conflict will have diffused. Escalation occurs when a conflict in one country brings in new, foreign belligerents — whether neighbors or great powers with global reach. In many instances — such as Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union,14 Rwanda, and Burundi, to name just a few — conflicts are fueled and complicated by strong identity bonds that link groups across borders.

For example, the conflict between Tamil separatists and the government of Sri Lanka is linked to the nearby Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and such seriously complicating attempts to peacefully resolve the civil war in Sri Lanka; likewise global remittance flows to the Tigers are significant see Chapter 7. Conflicts may be linked when ethnic groups reside astride international frontiers, or when military or political alliances yield military and political support across borders.

Solving one problem may mean, in fact, solving several, or the failure to address the regional dynamics of conflict may lead to war recurrence. Explanations for the prevalence of internal or society war may be found in the structure of the international system, such as the historical legacy of colonial-era borders and dysfunctional states, or globalization-induced growth of socio-economic inequalities;15 other levels of analysis have also entered into the research on the underlying or root or once-removed causes of such conflicts.

Grievances that develop in situations of political and social discrimination produce the systematic exclusion of usually minorities from political power.

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Invidious discrimination and social hierarchies along group lines lead to perceptions of relative group superiority or inferiority. Indeed, all of the case studies in this book have at times shown significant patterns of such structured socio-economic inequality. Why do social conflicts in deeply divided societies erupt into organized violence? A central question in the analysis of a conflict is the underlying causes of deep conflict in a society and the chain of events that precipitate violence.

The sections that follow evaluate current strands in the literature about the root causes of conflict. However, if a truly robust theory of causes of violence were to be comprehensively and convincingly elaborated, surely the advocate of such an integrated theory would win the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. In evaluating causes of war, context is critical. Social structure: ethnic relations Contemporary internal conflicts have markedly different characteristics than conventional international conflicts, which may help explain their protracted nature.

They tend to be highly selective in their coverage of events and not unbiased in their interpretation of these events. Incendiary perceptions such as these make conflict hard to avoid and even harder to limit. The interaction between structured ethnic relations and patterned inequality as a deep driver of conflict is documented well by Stewart , , who describes such structures in terms of horizontal inequalities, a theme that resonates in the case studies of South Africa, Burundi, and Sri Lanka evaluated in this book.

The problem of ethnic outbidding in contemporary internal conflicts is pervasive. Manipulation of identity to frame disputes in ethnic terms by political leaders heightens the breadth and depth of inter-group conflict. The following excerpt illustrates the conclusions. Untold sorrow 19 The extensive Human Rights Watch field research. While communal tensions are obviously a necessary ingredient of an explosive mix, they are not sufficient to unleash widespread violence.

International mediation in civil wars: Bargaining with bullets

Rather, time after time, the proximate cause of violence is governmental exploitation of communal differences. The governmental role can take several forms. The resulting differential in status can breed violent resentment on one hand while inciting, or being seen to excuse, more violent forms of repression on the other. In this climate, when private attacks on vulnerable community occur, the government may fail to condemn, let alone prosecute, the offenders.

Such attacks may even be carried out by official forces, with similar impunity. If the targeted community protests that is considered further evidence of its posing a threat or being alien to the interests of the state, and can lead to intensified repression. Human Rights Watch viii In both cases where there is an identifiable state, and cases where the state has collapsed, creating the capabilities for organized violence is a problem of collective action Denardo In explaining elite predation, two predominant theories exist, one emphasizing cultural and constructivist factors such as communication, and the other emphasizing more material, political economy factors such as market incentives and more traditional entrepreneurial skills.

For this reason, theories of de-escalation that follow in the next two chapters draw upon this insight of the role of elites in conflict analysis. Studies of organized violence in internal conflicts have highlighted not only the role of political leaders who articulate grievances and organize and lead conflict organizations and the masses that support them, but particularly the influence of mid-level mobilized elites e. Contesting the state Competition for ownership of the state is another common element in the analysis of civil wars.

In these instances, group membership is an entitlement system of state-sanctioned status and wealth to the exclusion of others. In addition to capture of the state by a group, the weakness of the state also allows for ethnic challenges to succeed, creating in such weak-state environments an opportunity structure for insurgent violence Fearon and Laitin Rules established and enforced by the state determine the goals that ethnic communities may legitimately pursue and the strategies and tactics they may employ.

The state, then, is a party to most contemporary ethnic conflicts.

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Esman 18, 19 The close fit between causes of conflict analysis and the problem of exclusion of key groups from state power raises a number of questions about how state weakness and ultimately failure are related to the outbreak, duration, and settlement opportunities for war. When does the weakness or failure of a state make the agenda of the international community? Although conflicts of interest are omnipresent, and it is often said that conflict is a healthy phenomenon, a constructive social process Kriesberg , the conflicts which are of concern in this study are those substantive disputes within a state that turn violent and which over time, through mass killing, have gone horribly wrong.


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In general, violence breaks out when the normal process of politics in a state breaks down; state autonomy and capacity collapse and alternative forms of authority arise. The state loses its monopoly on violence when institutional constraints are unable to contain the dispute; it spills over from the halls of parliament and onto the battlefield and the streets.

Many contemporary internal conflicts also feature disputes over sovereignty, to include two of the five case studies analyzed in this book. Conflict situations in which groups claim exclusive title of territory for control or access are generally perceived to be more intractable than those in which there is a high degree of intermingling and economic interdependence and integration.

For territorially based ethnic groups, conflict over territory is usually zero-sum — win or lose everything. For many groups simultaneously, the territory is sacred and must be possessed. For this reason, internal conflicts with a strong territorial dimension are more likely to lead to the vexing problems of secession, irredentism, or forced migration.

Economic drivers What is manifested as an ethnic- or identity-driven civil war may have its roots in economic and environmental conditions. The upsurge in superficially communal violence is not necessarily a product of the end of the Cold War and the re-emergence of primordial, ancient hatreds, as some have suggested was the case in wars in the former Yugoslavia Kaplan Instead, the roots are arguably deeper, in modernization, 22 Untold sorrow industrialization, urbanization, or environmental mismanagement. For example, Homer-Dixon argues that deep-seated demographic pressures, environmental degradation, and urbanization are often the hidden causes of violent conflict Homer-Dixon , In Somalia, the violence crystallized around subethnic, or clan, divisions.

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In Algeria, the divisions are intra-religious, between more secular Muslims and those advocating an Islamist point of view that seeks to more closely wed religion and politics. These cases poignantly demonstrate that withingroup conflict can be as destructively violent as between-group strife.

Issues of natural resource management especially of highvalue commodities such as oil , access to employment, the absence of water and food security, lack of affordable, decent housing, or systematic economic discrimination — all have been seen as strong underlying drivers of conflict that have over time erupted into violent conflict. Economic dependence on single or especially valuable commodities derived from natural resources can enable armed conflicts and may lengthen their duration. Such commodities produce significant income streams, usually for the state. It is increasingly clear that exclusion from natural resource returns can lead to mobilization by those excluded and disaffected.