Growing Authoritarianism, Social Inequalities Often a Prelude to Conflict

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

By Margot Wallström
STOCKHOLM, May 17 2019 – I want to talk about peacebuilding and inclusive peace. My main point is that peace begins in the minds of people, and people, communities, societies must be allowed to participate in peace for it to be sustainable. Peace means a lot more than just the absence of war.

I want to highlight the need for this perspective in three aspects of peacebuilding – conflict prevention, crisis response and peace processes. But before going into those aspects, let me begin with the example of Colombia.

As you know, the war between FARC and the government had been going on since the 1960’s, with hundreds of thousands of victims.

The peace process that was initiated around 2012 was in a way unique. It included in different ways victims and local communities, the private sector, civil society, LGBT organisations. And of course, there was a strong presence of women.

The peace deal that was signed in 2016 (one of few good news that year) included agreements on much more than just the laying down of arms – it mentions land reform, political participation, guarantees for social movements, a strategy to tackle drug trafficking and much more.

We keep on being reminded that the implementation is often the most complicated part of a deal. But even that is part of the point I want to make. That – just as with democracy – peace is something you have to work on and conquer every day.

And even if there have been and are challenges related to the peace in Colombia, I maintain that this process was remarkable, because it put the Colombian people at center, and today both parties, the former guerilla FARC and the Colombian government are jointly working on sustainable peace in their country.

1) Going back to the three aspects of peacebuilding, let me start with conflict prevention. We seldom get the credit we deserve for the conflicts that didn’t happen.

And unfortunately, it is often easier to get support for interventions once there actually is a fire. But how many tears would not have been saved, if we had been able to prevent Rwanda? Bosnia? South Sudan?

My conviction is that societies that are democratic and inclusive, with gender and social equality, with a strong civil society have are strongly vaccinated against conflict.

This is one of the reasons why the global backslide of democracy that we experience right now is worrying me. Growing authoritarianism together with growing social inequalities has often been a prelude to conflict.

And this year, for the first time in decades, more people live in countries with growing authoritarian tendencies, than in countries that are making democratic progress.

There is still hope. I recently visited the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality, where I met with a lot of young civil society activists. And coming back to inclusive peacebuilding, I heard one interesting example of how women’s grassroots organisations took part in conflict early warning mechanisms.

They did so by reporting local peace and security risks and threats to the community, the government and international bodies.

2) Let me continue with a second aspect of peacebuilding, which is crisis response, including peacekeeping and stabilization.

Here, a security approach is often needed to save lives. But also, in interventions to stabilise we can help steer the course to a more inclusive process. Women in peacekeeping operations is an example.

When we plan for these interventions, we must think of inclusion and gender from the start. There is no conflict between the need for a quick end of violence, and the long-term aim of creating peaceful, just and inclusive societies. All interventions can be designed to contribute to this.

3) Thirdly, peace processes. Here, an inclusive approach means focusing more on women; less on men with weapons.

It is understandable that, at crunch time, a hasty deal between leaders of conflicting parties might seem attractive. But sometimes; easy come, easy go.

A peace where the voices of communities, of victims, of women have been heard – in preparations, in negotiations and implementation – will be more deeply rooted and has a greater chance of lasting longer.

Coming back to the example of Colombia – it was women that brought issues of land restitution and victims to the agenda; that ensured that confidence-building measures were implemented, that child soldiers were released.

There are other processes where women are less visible, but still make critical contributions. In Libya and Afghanistan, women, young people and local peacebuilders have done important work, with their local knowledge and commitment.

Conflicts are not linear. You can never draw a straight line from a beginning to an end. Their dynamics often look more like a child’s drawing, with strokes forward, backward, to the sides, in all possible directions.

As I said in the beginning, sustaining peace is an ongoing process, of constantly strengthening factors that underpin peace – such as confidence, reconciliation, institutions, equality, democracy.

And in a way, conflict, in a broader sense, is an inevitable part of life in a society. For a democracy, I would say, conflict is vital.

The challenge is to find ways to handle conflicts in a peaceful and constructive way. Strong, well-functioning institutions – be they national, or in the shape of multilateral cooperation, are the way of managing this.

And this is another reason why today’s backsliding of democracy and questioning of international cooperation is such a worrying threat, To conclude, let me get back to the main point about peace beginning in the minds of people.

You might recognize the source of this: the first words of the constitution of UNESCO, which I want to return to, since they so well summarize what peacebuilding is about:

“Since wars begin in in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

In other words – putting people at the center of our thinking.

I’m glad that we are doing that today and tomorrow, and I hope that we can keep on doing it in our daily work for peace and development.

*Excerpted from an address to the SIPRI Forum on Peace and Development

Do We Need a Global Convention of Common Principles for Building Peace?

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation Peter Eriksson

By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, May 17 2019 – When the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) concluded a three-day forum on “Peace and Development” on May 16, the primary focus was the daunting challenges threatening global security, including growing military interventions, spreading humanitarian emergencies, forced migration, increasing civil wars, extreme weather conditions triggered by climate change and widespread poverty and conflict-related hunger.

For many decades, said the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Peter Eriksson, the rules of war were designed by the Geneva Conventions.

“Do we need to develop and adopt common principles for building peace?,” he asked, before a gathering of more than 400 high-level policymakers, researchers and practitioners in the Swedish capital during the opening session of the sixth annual Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development

The United Nations, he pointed out, is currently implementing reforms for improved delivery on crisis response, sustaining peace and sustainable development while the World Bank has initiated the development of a new strategy for “Fragility, Conflict and Violence.”

At the same time, the European Union (EU) is implementing its “Integrated Approach to Conflict and Crises” while the African Union (AU) is stepping up its “engagement beyond crisis response.”

And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) has developed new recommendations on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace nexus.

Are there sufficient mechanisms in place for bringing actors in crisis-response together with peace building and development actors? If not, what is needed?, Eriksson asked.

Jan Eliasson addressing the SIPRI Forum

Addressing the Forum, Jan Eliasson, chair of the Governing Board of SIPRI and a former UN Deputy Secretary-General, said over the past five years the Forum has shaped global discussions, developed innovative policies and built crucial bridges.

He said SIPRI has a Sahel programme focusing on local perspectives on peace and security, and local perspectives on international interventions in Mali and the region.

The Forum was co-hosted by SIPRI and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

SIPRI, in cooperation with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), has been embarking on a project to better understand the linkages between food security and hunger and help improve the conflict-sensitivity of one of the most important crisis-response programmes, he noted.

“Our work on gender and social inclusivity in peace processes continues to move forward as we advance the knowledge-base and linkages between the SDGs.

SIPRI’s Deputy Director has joined the newly launched Lancet–Sight Commission, evaluating how health and gender equality contributes to peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

The global challenges can never be overcome in isolation but can only be tackled through dialogue and cooperation, Eliasson declared.

Asked for a response, Susan Wilding, who heads the Geneva Office of CIVICUS, the global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs), told IPS: “The answer to the Minister’s question should be yes, we do need to develop common principles for building peace.”

She said the OECD/DAC recommendations speak about ‘prevention always, development wherever possible, humanitarian action when necessary’ and the ‘humanitarian, development and peace nexus’.

But what they fail to take into account, especially with regards to the prevention portion, is the nexus with human rights.

“How can we expect to prevent conflict if we do not first focus on the prevention of human rights abuses? How can we expect to achieve the SDGs at a national level while human rights abuses and civic space restrictions prevail?,” she asked.

“If we do not start to see the link between human rights, civic space and the humanitarian, development and peace agenda, we will surely fail in our endeavours to reach any of the goals.”

Alex Shoebridge, Oxfam IBIS’s Peacebuilding Advisor, told IPS that while the World Bank, the UN, and some donors have sought to reflect on and rework their contribution to building peace, there is a need for a more fundamental shift in international support.

Sustainable peace can only be achieved by locally-led efforts that are inclusive, interconnected, and go beyond Governments alone, he noted.

This is especially the case in contexts where Governments themselves are part of the conflict, as we see in an increasing number of contexts, including Middle Income Countries, Shoebridge pointed out.

“Women and young people must play a key role in shaping peaceful futures for their countries, and not be side-lined or involved in a tokenistic way.”

He said it also requires that external support to peacebuilding go beyond the project cycle and beyond technical solutions focussing on reform of state led institutions.

Research shows that it takes at least two decades for a country to emerge from and transform legacies of conflict. Conflicts are relational, with deep seated inequalities, historical grievances and negative gender norms sustaining and perpetuating conflicts between groups.

And 60 percent of conflicts take place in countries that have experienced conflict before, meaning that development and humanitarian assistance must do more to ensure peacebuilding outcomes are supported in the short, medium, and longer-term, he added.

“We can’t take our eye off the ball, when structural causes of conflict such as inequality and marginalization remain unaddressed,” declared Shoebridge.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The US Strategy for Regime Change in Iran: A Dangerous Game

By Haider A. Khan
DENVER, May 17 2019 (IPS-Partners)

With the further recent escalations involving US and Saudi accusations of Iran’s involvement in damaging four commercial carriers in the Persian Gulf, and the US military plans to send 120, 000 troops, the US has raised the stakes in the dangerous game of trapping Iran to take steps that can justify US attack on Iran. Some US politicians like the Republican senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas talk about “two strikes—the first strike and the last strike,” that will presumably lead to the end of the current detestable rulers of Iran. How plausible is this scenario and what is likely to happen geopolitically if and when the US belligerence leads to an actual military confrontation with Iran? Furthermore, even if an Iraq-like initial scenario results— not a sure bet, to say the least— will ordinary Iranians greet the North American invaders as liberators?

Haider A. Khan

Politics of pacification through the winning of hearts and minds aside, even in purely military terms, Iran would be much more difficult in operational terms than Iraq was. Iran is more than three times the size of Iraq with a population that is also more than three times that of Iraq. Its topography is very different from Iraq’s. The invaders will face a rugged mountainous terrain; but the bigger factor will be political. The Battle of Baghdad could be avoided because instead of leading the urban resistance Saddam Hussein fled ignominiously. Consequently, the infamous police and the army also did not resist. Indeed, the repressive as well as the ideological state apparatuses all simply disintegrated. This made the initial takeover more of a cakewalk than it might have been. Even so, the “peace” was never won by the US forces The people in Iraq on the whole resent the US presence. Politically, the Shias have gained and are in a tacit alliance with Iran.

Although many Iranians hate the regime of the Islamic Republic, the threat of a foreign invasion with memories of 1953, will present them with a cruel dilemma at best. To support the US invaders with the prospects of a long civil war, or to resist the invaders as patriotic citizens of Iran will put them between the rock and a hard place, or for those who prefer classical analogies—- between Scylla and Charybdis.Given Iran’s history and the cruel record of perfidy of the US, many will choose the latter option.Thus a US invasion will most probably result in a bloody Battle of Tehran, resembling the battle of Stalingrad, or at the very least, the battle of Algiers.

Furthermore, although it may not be so clear to Bolton, Pompeo or Trump and neocon chauvinists, the US power relatively speaking is in decline. It is highly unlikely that US will get any diplomatic leverage over Russia or China. More likely, these two powers will support Iran diplomatically, logistically and behind the scenes even militarily.

With this further escalation using not just bullying rhetoric but also accompanying military moves by the US fleet and semi-lunatic invitations to Iran to make conciliatory telephone calls to the White House through the Swiss intermediaries, the situation is likely to worsen. If the most recent episodes are accurate indications of things to come , then there will soon be other manufactured incidents and allegations. No proof will be offered by the US rulers even to the allies or responsible committees in the congress.

Senator Sanders and a few other voices are so far the only voices of sanity in the US legislature. Will the Trump administration be transparent? Will Bolton allow an open debate before manipulating the administration to launch a strike against Iran? His record with Iraq and his consistent support for the neoconservative program of regime change can not be very reassuring for those who support a more pragmatic US foreign policy.

Any sane person would wish things to be different from what they appear to be in Washington. But as matters stand, the above is pretty close to the scenario we have now with potential for rapid deterioration. It is a reasonably good guess that the Iranian hardliners are also doubling down and are preparing for an asymmetric war—something they have announced already as a possible scenario. Given Iran’s military weakness vis- a- vis the US and its regional allies, such a response will seem to these military minds to be eminently rational in terms of military tactics. Anyone familiar with the recent developments in non-cooperative game theory will be able to understand this response as a logical deduction in the environment that the US has created with the series of moves that began with the US unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. One can only hope that Iran will not make the first move inviting disaster for the Iranian people and the region.

And what will the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia really gain geopolitically from a war with Iran? A long drawn out bloody war will destabilize all. Saudi Arabia is much weaker than Israel. So is UAE. These polities will face severe internal strains and external threats. Israel may be able to contain things better in the short run; but it too will face problems with many of its adversaries in the region. Thus, it is hard to see a clear geopolitical winner once a shooting war begins even if Iran is invaded and partially occupied by the US troops.

The writer is a Professor of Economics, University of Denver. Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former Senior Economic Adviser to UNCTAD. He could be reached by email hkhan@du.edu

Stop The War on Children

A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza. According to a new Save the Children report, 72 percent of child deaths and injuries across the world’s deadliest conflict zones are caused by landmines, unexploded ordinance, air strikes, and other explosives. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 17 2019 – Too many children are dying as a result of explosive weapons, and the international community must step up to protect and declare children off limits in war.

In a new report, Save the Children documented the devastating toll that armed conflicts have on children psychologically and physically and is urging further resources and political commitment to protect them.

“International law makes clear that everyone has a responsibility to make sure children are protected in war. Yet explosive weapons continue to kill, maim and terrorise thousands of children every year,” said CEO of Save the Children International Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

“Every warring party – from armed groups to governments – must do more to protect children and abide by this important moral principle to protect children,” she added.

“We are calling on governments to adhere to the humanitarian laws and norms and human rights provisions that are there to protect children. We have been underestimating the harm done to children by explosive weapons in densely populated urban areas. And attacks that cause disproportionate civilian harm are illegal under international law,” echoed Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK.

According to the report, 72 percent of child deaths and injuries across the world’s deadliest conflict zones are caused by landmines, unexploded ordinance, air strikes, and other explosives.

In fact, children are seven times more likely to die from blast injuries than adults involved in fighting.

In Afghanistan, explosive weapons were the cause of death in 84 percent of child conflict fatalities over a two-year period compared to 56 percent of civilian adult deaths.

In Gaza in 2014, all reported child fatalities were the result of explosive weapons.

Just earlier this week, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen’s capital Sana’a killed four children.

Children are also 50 percent more likely to be victims of a blast injury after conflicts are over as they are finally able to go outside and play again.

Mahmoud, a 12-year-old from Gaza, was playing in the street when he was hit by an explosive weapon and lost his eye.

“I heard an explosion and I felt something go into my eye. I touched my eye and began to run. I felt blood pouring out,” he told Save the Children.

Not only do such experiences leave an emotional scar, but also injured children are more likely than adults to suffer more complex internal damage as their underdeveloped skulls and muscles offer less protection to the brain and other organs.

For instance, the different make-up of children’s bones and tissue means that amputated limbs must be managed carefully. Bones continues to grow as the child grows, so wounds must be regularly tended and bone shaved down.

Without care or the necessary knowledge, children will live with life-lasting consequences, noted former Director General of British Army Medical Services and member of the Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership (PBIP) Major General Michael von Bertele.

“The sad reality is most medics just haven’t been trained to treat children injured by blasts. Nearly all the textbooks and procedures we have are based on research on injured soldiers, who are usually fit adults,” said von Bertele.

“We know children’s bodies are different. They aren’t just small adults….without [highly specialised knowledge], children are left with even worse disabilities, and often intractable pain for life,” he added.

For example, Iraqi 9-year-old Hassouni was severely injured by a car bomb as shrapnel penetrated his skull. One of his hands was paralysed and Hassouni lives in constant pain.

Medical manager of Syrian Relief Dr. Malik Nedam Al Deen echoed similar comments, stating: “For more than eight years we’ve seen children dying on the operating table from wounds that adults have survived. The tragedy is these deaths could have been prevented with basic training.”

Now, PBIP, a coalition of doctors and experts founded by Save the Children, has developed the world’s first guide to help doctors treat and save more children’s lives. It provides child-specific knowledge and treatments geared towards those who have suffered blast injuries. 

“In a war zone, you’re mentally prepared for the adults. You expect to treat injured soldiers, and even civilian adults. But the sights and sounds of a young child torn apart by bombs are something else,” said lead author of the manual Paul Reavley.

“Until this manual, there really hasn’t been anything to prepare doctors for dealing with the horror of children injured by blasts. For the first time it tackles psychological, as well as the physical, challenges. It’s not just a guide to practical procedures – it’s a crucial emotional crutch,” he added.

In May, Save the Children’s partner Syria Relief began distributing the manual to emergency units across northwest Syria including Idlib and Aleppo. The guide will later be dispersed to other conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Yemen.

“This manual is designed for anyone with a medical degree and a scalpel. I’m excited this is going to doctors in Syria. It’s a simple solution that will undoubtedly save lives,”said Al Deen, who helped co-author the guide.

Alongside the manual, Save the Children launched a new campaign to #StopTheWarOnChildren and a 10-point charter which was presented at the Hague in the Netherlands to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Dutch Princess Viktoria. 

The charter highlights the need to ensure parties to conflicts adhere to international law and standards, including the suspension of arms sales where there is a risk of killing or injuring children, hold perpetrators to account, and provide children with necessary, practical assistance.

“This manual is a practical step that will save countless lives. But prevention is the best option. Even in war, children have a right to protection,” said Watkins.

“The bottom line is that all governments and armed forces need to stop treating children as though they are adults in miniature. Evidence on blast injury shows they are more vulnerable, and this should be reflected in how those using explosive weapons assess risk – and how agencies responsible for investigating possible war crimes review evidence,” he added.