Why War After Paris is Misguided and Peace Is Becoming (Almost) Impossible

Long read

Photo by Peter Albrecht

Photo by Peter Albrecht

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

France, Lebanon, Iraq, Nigeria and Mali experienced devastating terrorist attacks this month; 130 dead in France, 41 in Beirut, 26 in Bagdad, 9 in Maiduguri, and 19 victims in Bamako. Hollande’s declaration of war on Daesh and extremist groups in the Sahel means an intensification of on-going French military operations, alongside those of the US, UK, their allies in the Middle East, and Russia. Civilian fatalities from these operations are also high (for example, about 2,500 civilian fatalities since Saudi Arabia started its airstrikes and operations in Yemen; the deaths of “thousands of civilians” from Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria) and bound to breed more misery and hatred.

Many peacemakers are calling for restraint after the Paris attacks and for a formulation by our leaders of a vision for Europe that is united in its diversity.Others urge the many communities that make up Europe to instigate and promote a culture of peace from within and actively reach to others across religious, social, and ethnic divides. This is indeed important and must be part of a European (and Lebanese, Iraqi, Malian, Nigerian) peace-making agenda. However, a focus on a culture of peace and bridging divides is not enough and peacemakers may need to engage political leaders more robustly on the on-going military counter-terrorism response. We should also pick up the search mirror and understand how some of the profound ongoing changes in warfare and violent conflict will affect the effectiveness of peace-making at a global level in the years to come.

Let’s start with Hollande’s declaration of war against Daesh. If the aim of this war is to reduce terrorist threats to civilian populations around the world, then consider what such war really entails. These days fatalities from war, of course, are mostly civilian – so de facto, you’re killing civilians to protect civilians, which is nonsensical and shameful. But that aside, it is also counter-productive because destabilised and war-affected countries are easy places to run and grow armed (political, criminal, extremist – you name it) groups. War is destabilising and war-affected countries tend to be unstable for a long time; most countries at war today are so because they were at war in the past. So waging war as we are doing in Syria and other places is not threat-reducing, it is more of a long-term threat-multiplying strategy. There is surprisingly little to be heard on this from (particularly Western) peace-making and peace-building organisations.

Now for two other on-going tectonic shifts that will fundamentally affect the effectiveness of peace-making over the next few years. Both are discussed in greater depth in a report I recently wrote for Saferworld, a forward-thinking peace-building NGO in the United Kingdom.

The first is that the tools of making peace are well on their way to becoming instruments of war. In an article for Russian defence journal VPK, General Valery Gerasimov (Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces) wrote in early 2013 that war and peace are becoming more blurred and“methods of conflict [now involve] the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures”. Unlike NATO and Western efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to “win hearts and minds” and “win the peace” after the invasions there, Russia has successfully deployed the soft power toolbox in Ukraine before troops were deployed and then throughout hostilities. As this approach to warfare gains further traction, the dilemma for peacemakers is critical; how do you make peace in contexts when the tools you typically use to do so are part of a war-making effort?

The second is that the nature of war has changed and we’re now dealing with ‘hybrid conflicts’. In a simple review of 53 countries affected by widespread societal violence (i.e. different levels of violent conflict), I found that 35% (19) of them were affected by three or more forms of (often inter-connected) violent conflict: political, criminalised, extremist, and/or environmental and climate change driven. I define these “hybrid conflicts” in the Saferworld paper as “violent conflicts or situations of widespread violence where elements of grievance, greed, and/or extremism are intertwined – and where climate changes may play a role”. Why is this important? Well, there are significant differences, to oversimplify, between making peace between opposing groups that are mainly motivated by political aims, and doing so between criminal groups driven by financial interest. We certainly are not equipped to do the latter, let alone do so well when group identities and motivations (and conflict issues) are even more mixed up.

What this means is that in the absence of (or willingness to) influence, peacemakers have to prepare for the knock-on effects of military responses to acts of terror, look hard at the successful execution of hybrid warfare strategy and the rise of hybrid conflicts, and re-think how we go about our work.

So what’s the photograph? It is a recent picture of a search mirror (used when poking your head over the compound wall is ill-advised) by one of our good friends, Peter Albrecht, during his time in Garowe (Puntland, Somalia). We like it as it conveys the current posture of peace support operations in hybrid conflict areas and of many of today’s peacemakers in relation to intensified military action in countries affected by religious extremism. Aside from being a great photographer, Peter writes insightful analysis and you can access some of his recent thinking on peace-keeping in Somalia in DIIS policy briefs. If you want to learn more about the photograph or our work, just get in touch with Peter or myself.

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