Peace on Earth?: World still gripped by conflict as peacemakers struggle

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The Independent Online
Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men: but how do you make it happen? As the Cold War becomes a memory, diplomats, soldiers and academics are trying to find new ways of stopping conflicts, or dealing with them when they break out. Christopher Bellamy investigates.

Peace remains as elusive as ever. The risk of major armed conflict between states may have reduced, though it has certainly not gone away as the recent confrontation between the United Nations, United States and Iraq has shown. And conflict within states and between groups operating unchecked across state borders is increasingly evident.

The UN Charter was designed for a world where the only actors were nation- states. Despite the confident predictions of a New World Order in 1991, the UN has often found itself inept, if not powerless.

But a new approach to security is slowly emerging. Since the end of the Cold War academics and other experts have increasingly called for a more holistic approach to security, taking account of wider human, demographic and environmental factors which lead to discontent and conflict, as well as the traditional areas of military defence, arms control and disarmament. In the long term, this could mean diverting traditional defence resources to other areas to create a secure environment.

Since the end of the Cold War, and the break-up of the Soviet Union six years ago, the need to widen the definition of security - and what to do about it - has been widely discussed.

Military forces have increasingly been involved in humanitarian aid, development and disaster relief, and in what are now often called "complex emergencies", although there is no formal definition of the latter. The linkages between all these areas became increasingly apparent.

A new definition of security, embracing conflict prevention and resolution, development and disaster relief as well as traditional defence, was discussed at a conference in Prague on "Security in the Third Millennium". The conference, which explored the interaction between the three Ds - defence, disaster and development - was sponsored by Nato, by the Czech Institute for International Affairs and Britain's Cranfield University.

The relationship between defence and development is particularly complex. It is not always a simple see-saw, where resources invested in defence are denied to development.

Since the end of the Cold War the only part of the world where military spending has increased is the Asian Pacific Rim - where the advance of the "tiger economies" (until recently, anyway) combined with new and long- standing tensions has enabled those countries to spend more on arms. The role of the US as the arsenal of democracy in the Second World War created an industrial momentum which sustained half a century of post-war economic dominance. But in the Soviet Union and in Africa, money squandered on arms brought economic collapse and chronic instability, respectively.

The military has taken an active role in many of the complex emergencies since 1991, sometimes moving into areas such as post-conflict reconstruction where it is not the most efficient way of doing business. This has given rise to frequent accusations that the military is simply looking for a role. After all, a soldier costs about four times as much as an aid worker. A key problem of recent years has been the emergence of new political structures which did not relate to nation states, including international corporations and "sub-state" or "non-state" actors - warlords and cartels. In dealing with complex emergencies, it was therefore difficult for the UN to know with whom to negotiate.

In areas rich in natural resources, local security was increasingly the responsibility of commercial security firms, while larger security issues were increasingly the responsibility of multinational organisations. Many of the "complex emergencies" such as Somalia and Bosnia, resulted from the implosion or collapse of nation states, and the emergence of many such groups. The UN has, so far, tried to resolve such emergencies by refocusing the power of the state - using a mixture of military power and emergency aid. However, this may not always be the best way and military forces may be seen as imposing an unwanted authority.

The UN has no definition of "complex emergencies" - but then there is no definition of "peace-keeping" in its Charter. A "complex emergency" could start with a natural disaster, or with reckless and destructive exploitation of natural resources, as happened in Bougainville in Papua New Guinea leading to deprivation, exploitation, abuses of human rights and conflict.

New views about security could mean some far-reaching changes over the coming years. There have already been demands to alter radically Nato's "Strategic Concept", last re-written in 1992, which has changed little since the Cold War and which many observers regard as anachronistic. Oliver Cromwell, reporting to Parliament in 1654, reminded it that "though peace be made, it is interest that keeps peace" This has been the approach used in Northern Ireland and Bosnia: pour in resources and investment, and give the people something to lose if there is a return to violence.

Recognition of the D3 concept of development should mean that previously hidden connections become apparent.

l The writer is Reader in Military and Security Studies at Cranfield University.

fiVe causes of war

There are five main causes of complex emergencies:

Economic - there is a strong correlation between poverty and instability, although even relatively well-off countries like the former Yugoslavia are not immune.

Societal - the inclusion or exclusion of social groups, and their access, or otherwise, to power.

Cultural - notably religion, but also ethnic and linguistic.

Environmental - access to raw materials, water and arable land.

Ideological - revolutionary and political movements, though these usually overlap with the other factors.