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Non-Intervention: An Alternative Way for Modern Conflict Resolution?


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It has become a cliché that the end of the cold war marked a significant change in the paradigm of conflict resolution, or perhaps, conflict ‘accommodation'. Humanitarian intervention - simply the coercive (or non-coercive) use of force (or the threat of its use) to prevent and/or protect serious violations of human rights - has become a tool of choice and first resort by the international community. This has especially followed ‘humanitarian ceasefire agreements' that are neither comprehensive nor substantive, just for the sole objective of giving peace a chance.

As part of this norm building, the international community has been quick to underscore the ‘responsibility to protect', or R2P, as an inseparable element of humanitarian interventions. In an attempt to mitigate the vagaries of an emerging normative principle, the international community has denominated R2P by such high-sounding conditionalities as ‘within capability, within range and under imminent threat of physical danger, without prejudice to the primary responsibility of the host government in protecting civilian populations'


This piece posits that notwithstanding its arguable impact, there is need to ask such questions as: what has been the real impact of humanitarian interventions; have they really proved the panacea to the massive population displacement and the gross violations of human rights by state- and non-state actors (that accompany post-cold war conflicts); and do they really address the deep-seated social, political, economic and other inequalities that serve as the root causes of such post-cold war internecine conflicts

This piece only seeks to highlight the need for continued, scientific debate about non-intervention as an alternative to humanitarian interventions in complex emergencies within Africa. Humanitarian interventions became more fashionable in post-cold war Africa where, in sharp contrast with the much-anticipated dividends of peace, stability and development, the continent was being ravaged by a cycle of devastating conflicts, disease and poverty. Given western disengagement, Africa tended to review the political rhetoric of ‘African solutions to African problems' and started to evolve the politics of ‘non-indifference' to violent armed internecine conflicts


This heralded the historic interventions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Mano River Union region conflicts in Liberia (1990) and Sierra Leone (1991 and 2003), and subsequently in Côte d'Ivoire (2003). At the continental level, the African Union redeemed the poor image of the Organisation of African Unity by launching unprecedented interventions in Darfur and Burundi in 2004, and subsequently in Somalia in 2008

Spineless multidimensional integrated missions, largely shorn of western army capabilities, have carried out such ‘robust' mandates, short of enforcement action. These capabilities have rather been packaged within the frameworks of external initiatives, hybrid and parallel operations, for African mandated missions. The best-known external initiatives within the continent are ACOTA (the African Contingency Operations Training Assistance) by the USA, and RECAMP (Reinforcing African Peacekeeping Capabilities) by France, as well as support from the African Peace Facility (APF) by the EU

Outside of the African Union and United Nations systems, other protection (or nation-building) missions have been deployed in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan by USA-led coalitions. Generally speaking, in Africa, these interventions were undertaken to facilitate humanitarian access, as well as protect civilians and create conditions for a peace to keep by a derelict United Nations system. This objective also included creating conditions for the withdrawal of occupation forces after contentious invasion of other regional countries

On the surface, all these interventions have been deemed to impact on the humanitarian situation simply because of the subsequent deployment of complex peace operations by the United Nations. In that regard, the fragile peace that now prevails in many of these countries have been attributed as direct outcomes of the humanitarian interventions

But is such a view a scientific or political one? This question is critical to the debate, given a number of factors, including but not limited to the following

* The absence of rapid deployment capabilities, and the slow force generation and deployment of operations that heightened expectations of quick fixes

*The inability of the humanitarian missions or the difficulties that accompanied their capacity to achieve appreciable or desired levels of protection of civilian populations


* The low levels of credibility of humanitarian interventions as a result of a combination of the foregoing factors, coupled with the fact that the missions were themselves targets of sometimes avoidable attacks and fatalities resulting from violations of weak ceasefire agreements


* The peace that prevails in these countries is not only fragile, but comparatively has lasted far less than the duration of the conflicts that preceded the respective humanitarian interventions


* In many instances, the plight of displaced populations was rather exacerbated by the pendulum swings in the course of conflicts in which the protagonists did not wield substantive military superiority


* To the contrary, the humanitarian interventions by missions without comparable capabilities to the operational re-requisites of the robust mandates seemingly served to create truce conditions for weaker sides to rearm and re-strategise


* In consequence of these factors, displaced populations grew in number and/or suffered repeated movements that further aggravated their situatio

Without going into any further detail, it is obvious also that humanitarian intervention is being used in all situations of conflicts from self-determination by minorities, to bringing down dictatorship and ushering in democracy, and ending occupation by invading armies, even where such counter-occupation struggle employs the use of terrorism as a weapon

These factors serve strongly to suggest that it is more scientific not only to assess the extent to which humanitarian interventions have facilitated humanitarian access, but also to what extent they have helped to stem widespread, systematic violence and whether the absence of such interventions would have helped to limit the numbers of affected populations, even though the violent armed conflict might have continued as long as the humanitarian interventions did

Empirically, therefore, the view that humanitarian interventions are having the right or desired impact towards conflict resolution may be faulted. It is arguable that in spite of the significant paradigm shift, humanitarian interventions may not be the only tool for conflict management and resolution by the international community. Some alternative tools that are worth considering in this short piece are

* Non-intervention to allow the conflict to run its course and yield a military victory to one or the other side, especially in situations where the conflict arises from a ‘just cause' for self-determination by nations suffering inequalities


* Political intervention in extending diplomatic, material and other support to ‘keep the sovereign state one' subject to internally supported post-conflict peacebuilding


* Credible protection missions by coalitions of willing states, with the right capabilities and armed with appropriate sanction by the United Nations Security Council, especially to contain and/or defeat aggression in an inter-state conflic

That war is a horrible thing is a well-known reality to human society, including those of Africa, which have suffered centuries of injustice. But borrowing from the idea of Karl von Clausewitz, the 19th century Prussian military thinker, the fact that war is horrible should not be the predominant rationale why we must hasten towards humanitarian interventions, willy-nilly, as a modern conflict resolution tool

Rather, especially because of the devastating impact of war and conflict on Africa, we must as modern society devote a great deal of resources towards dealing with their root causes, and preventing them as anti-social human activities arising not only from a clash of interests. We must also deal with the incidence of wars and conflict as a result of the deep inequalities within society, bad governance and lack of respect for human rights by those mandated to protect them. The modern wisdom of undertaking humanitarian interventions in all and any situations may not be more expedient than the ancient wisdom of allowing protagonists to fight to the bitter end. That perhaps may yield better lessons and create more durable peace

Festus B Aboagye Senior Research Fellow, Training for Peace Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)







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