Intervention and conflict management in a changing world.

Author:Hampson, Fen Osler

The theme of the 2007 National Foreign Policy Conference was Conflict, Reconstruction and the Dilemma of Intervention. In his opening keynote remarks Professor Hampson reviewed the changing patterns of conflict between and within states, analysing the familiar sources of conflict--state failure, group rivalries, bitter competition for resources and wealth--as well as the rise of terrorism. Against this background Professor Hampson discussed the crucial and often successful role of international intervention, by global and regional organizations, by individual states large and small, and by non-governmental institutions, in helping states riven by conflict to bring it under control and to rebuild their societies. He concluded with five recommendations for Canadian policy and action.

La Conference de politique etrangere 2007 tenue a Montreal les 22 et 23 mars avait pour theme le conflit, la reconstruction et le dilemme de l'intervention. Dans son discours d'ouverture, le professeur Hampson a examine; le tableau changeant des conflits inter et intra Etats, analysant les sources habituelles de conflit (Etat non viable rivalites entre groupes, concurrence feroce pour les ressources et les richesses), et la montee du terrorisme. C'est sur cette toile de fond qu'il a discute du role fondamental et souvent fructueux de l'intervention internationale par les organisations mondiales et regionales, les Etats grands et petits et les institutions non gouvernementales en vue d'aider les Etats dechires par les con flits retablir l'ordre et it reconstruire leur societe. I1 a conclu en donnant cinq recommandations au Canada en matiere de politique et de mesures it prendre.


At the turn of the last century, the British historian G.P. Gooch wrote "We can now look forward with something like confidence to the time when war between civilized nations will be considered as antiquated as the duel, and when peacemakers shall be called the children of god." The British economist and Nobel laureate, Sir Norman Angell, offered an equally sunny forecast in his book The Great Illusion (1910). He argued that time forces of globalization would inevitably create a more peaceful world: "Commercial development," he wrote, "is broadly illustrating one profound truth: that the real basis of social morality is self-interest. If the subject of rivalry between nations is business, the code which has come to dominate business must necessarily come to dominate the conduct of governments."

Such optimism was sadly misplaced. The twentieth century came to be known as the century of 'total war' not only because it witnessed two major conflagrations that engulfed much of the planet, but also because it saw the dawn of the nuclear age.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, many hoped the page had turned to a more peaceful chapter in world history. Recall President George Herbert Walker Bush's triumphant vision of 'a new world order.' However, the outbreak or continuation of sectarian violence in the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, and other corners of the globe; the emergence of a more lethal and global brand of terrorism; and a growing cultural divide between Islam and the West dashed many of those hopes. At the same time, there were troubling signs that international norms and institutions, which helped check the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other technologies of mass destruction during the past century, were eroding as a number of states-North Korea, Pakistan, and India-crossed the nuclear threshold. Judging from its first years, the twenty-first century, seems, at first glance, no less dangerous or conflict prone than its predecessor.

Over the past forty years, however, we have learned much about the sources and nature of conflict as well as the means to prevent or contain war. And over the past decade, scholars, diplomats, nonofficial practitioners, and others have turned their attention to studying and understanding the causes of sectarian violence and global conflict trends.


A somewhat surprising picture emerges from this new research. There is now compelling statistical evidence that the high watermark of global conflicts came just as the Cold War was ending. Since then, there has been a steady decline, not just in the number of intrastate wars, but also in their lethality as measured by the number of victims of these conflicts. These statistics also reveal surprising news about interstate conflict--specifically that the number of interstate wars has remained at relatively low, if consistent, levels since World War II.

That some countries and regions are much more conflict prone than others is also striking. The locus of regional violence, measured by the number of battle-related war deaths, has shifted over the past five decades. From 1946 to the mid-1970s, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania accounted more than half the world's battle deaths, but that region is now one of the world's most peaceful with the ending of conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia. Sub-Saharan Africa went from being a relatively peaceful area during the final fifteen years of colonial rule that succeeded World War II to being the most violent in the 1980s and 1990s. The Middle East and North Africa have also been important zones of conflict, peaking with the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1970s, which saw the highest sustained level of casualties and deaths in the region. With the exception of the bloody civil wars that erupted in Central America in the late 1970s (and the ongoing civil war in Colombia), the Americas as a whole have generally been quite peaceful for the past half century. So, too, has Western Europe, although it saw conflict in Northern Ireland and the Basque region. Eastern Europe and Central Asia have seen a mix of savage conflict and peaceful transitions over the same period.

The trend, however, is not all toward a reduction in violence and death. Although civilian deaths related to conflict have gone down overall, the recent bloody mayhem in Darfur and massive killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo show that horrific conflict is still with us. And since 1982, the number of "significant" terrorist attacks, those that have involved "loss of life, serious injury or major property damage", has risen steadily.

Although terrorists continue to lack the technological capacity to build nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction there is little ground for complacency. The proliferation of such technologies increases the risk that they will fall into the wrong hands. Financier Warren Buffett has a sobering calculation of the odds: "assuming a 10 percent chance of a nuclear attack in any given year, the odds of surviving 50 years without an attack are less than 1 percent. If the odds of an attack can be reduced to 1 percent per year, the chances of making it 50 years without a nuclear detonation improve to better than even."

Terrorists are showing greater...

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