Putting the warlords out of business (Jean-Marie Guéhenno, SEPTEMBER 11, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

Around the world, about 25 places – depending how you count them – are now at war, down from a peak of more than 50 in the early 1990s. In terms of the number of people killed in battle, the world is at a hundred-year low. New conflicts sometimes start up, like Nepal’s, but for every new conflict, two old ones are going out of business.

There is less war than there used to be.

This month’s news from Burundi is the latest example of the trend. Some 200,000 people died in a 10-year civil war that created hundreds of thousands of refugees and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. In the past year, however, with help from the United Nations and the international community, a Constitution has been approved, an election has been held, a democratically elected president has been sworn in and power is being transferred.

The UN secretary general has asked the Security Council to keep peacekeeping troops in Burundi to help consolidate peace during disarmament and demobilization. Burundians finally have reason to be optimistic, but the rest of the world must continue to help so that Burundi has a chance for lasting peace.

Half a world away, the Irish Republican Army has declared an end to its armed struggle. Liberia is also at peace now, and more than 100,000 fighters have been demobilized in the past year. In East Timor and Sierra Leone, peacekeepers are packing up and going home, their work finished. Some are heading to Sudan, to help with a peace agreement to end a two-decade war that left two million people dead. The agreement there was generally seen as shaky, but seems to have held despite the death of John Garang, the leader of southern Sudan’s long struggle.

Any of these conflicts could again fall back into war, as peace usually takes a decade to take root. And there are still plenty of other places – from Afghanistan to Congo to Haiti – teetering between war and peace. But the numbers are going down, and even in those places, there is real hope.

In Afghanistan, UN workers are helping to prepare for the first parliamentary elections since the overthrow of the Taliban. Congo is preparing for national elections and militia groups in the east are on the run after robust military action by UN peacekeepers. Haiti is moving toward re-establishing a democratic government while UN peacekeepers help the authorities stabilize a dangerous and fragile situation.

What has led to this wider trend away from war?

One of the most important elements, unmentioned here, of course, is unilateral intervention by the U.S. and Britain and the threat of said, Africa’s peace seekers (Abraham McLaughlin, 9/12/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

[E]ver since Sept. 11, 2001, Sudan’s government was desperate to please the US. Back in the 1990s it had hosted Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. It now feared its “terrorist haven” label and economic pariah status would continue. Or worse, that the US might invade.

Ending the notion that sovereignty is inviolable has required nations to reckon with democratic and humanitarian standards even where conflicts seem purely internal.

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