The revelation of 9/11 still applies. Our peace too will depend on the extent that we are willing and able to work together to prevent conflict or re-construct peace in other parts of the world.
We live in turbulent and instable times and, as the world moves deeper and deeper into the era of resource scarcity and massive shifts in the tectonic plates of power, this mix is only likely to get more potent and more dangerous.
At the present there are some 74 conflicts in progress around the world, the overwhelming majority of which have occurred inside states or between ethnicities. Some believe that what this tells us is that era inter state war is over – that these “little” brush fire, intra state wars of recent years, are the only wars there will be in the future – and that the age of great wars is passed.
I am not one of those – partly because there is so much dry tinder lying around and far too many firebrands; partly because interstate competition, especially in the developing world is not diminishing, it is increasing. And partly because the best structures for fighting wars, the most powerful ideologies for driving wars and the most destructive weapons for using in wars, still remain in the hands of nation states.
But all major conflicts are preceded by a period of instability. Indeed one way to look at the world’s present “little” wars is that they are the “pre-shocks” which always accompany major shifts in the established order. If we can control these better, by preventing them where we can, intervening more wisely where we have to and then reconstructing peace more successfully afterwards, we may make it easier to avoid a wider conflict.
We have shown that we are anything but good at this. We seem condemned to making and re-making, even the mistakes we know are mistakes, over and over again. The Iraq experience – and Afghanistan too – represent the triumph of hubris and amnesia over common sense. And in consequence, in both of those countries, we are now in grave danger of snatching a peace making defeat from of the jaws of a military victory.
But there is a deeper reason for our failures. The “gun boat” diplomacy approach to peace making isn’t working. If this were to lead to the end of intervention in the future it would be a tragedy, because we are going to need more of this, not less in an increasingly globalised and interdependent world. The fact that we have got it wrong so often should not blind us to the fact that there is a way of doing it right.
The things that have to be done to increase the chances of success – and things that should not be done because they can lead to failure – are not exactly rocket science and they are definitely not new – if only we could remember them long enough to apply them.
Avoid the conflict if you can – it will be much cheaper that way. But if conflict cannot be avoided, remember that it is not over when the fighting is finished. So, spend at least as much time and effort planning peace as you do in preparing for war; make sure your plan is based on a proper knowledge of the country and leave your ideologies and prejudices at home. It is a mistake to try to fashion someone else’s country in your own image; leave space for them to reconstruct the country they want, not the one you want for them. Remember that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression; so don’t lose the “golden hour” after the fighting is over – remember that an army of liberation has a very short half life before it risks becoming an army of occupation. Dominate the security space from the start; then concentrate first on the rule of law; make economic regeneration an early priority; remember the importance of articulating an “end state” which can win and maintain local support; but leave elections as late as you decently can. be sensitive to local traditions and customs. Understand the importance to the international community effort of co-ordination, cohesion and speaking with a single voice. And then at the end, do not wait until everything is as it would be in your country, but leave when the peace is sustainable.
And remember, foresight, which is the mother of prevention. There is no reason why the need to intervene should always take us by surprise. If the international community had put as much effort into prevention as we have into military intervention, some recent conflicts could have been avoided altogether.
Cohesion is the key. Multilateralism is better than unilateralism. Success can only come from a joined up approach which views the continuum of peace making as a “seamless garment” stretching from prevention, right through to the final exit of the interveners when a sustainable peace has been reconstructed.
To be successful needs more than good intentions and a warm desire to do something to help. Intervention is a very blunt instrument, whose outcomes are not always predictable.
So it is not for the faint hearted – or the easily bored. It needs steely toughness and strategic patience in equal measure. And a willingness to commit a lot of troops at the start, a capacity to provide sustained international support to the end and an ability to endure a time frame that is measured in decades, not years.
And the only reward, is that all that expenditure will be less than the cost of the war that was avoided, or the price of chaos which would have ensued if the international community had stayed at home.
What that means is that intervention should not be undertaken lightly or because no-one can think of anything better. Intervening has a tendency to make the interveners arrogant and those subject to intervention, either angry or dependent – and often both. Intervention should not be the first policy option. It should be the last answer, not the first instinct.
The bad news is that intervention is expensive, tough and difficult to do.
The good news is that, if we can learn to do it better, we will get our fingers burnt less often – and in the process may make the world a much safer and less painful place than it is at present.
 Heidelberg University Centre for the study of Conflicts annual report quoted in Pravda 22 May 2006