Last week, I was at Chatham House in London for International Crisis Group’s presentation of conflicts to watch in 2018. I find it one of the more depressing top-ten lists and we seem to be a way off hitting a top-ten of crises and conflicts that have been avoided.
Which areas or countries made the list? North Korea; US-Saudi-Iran rivalry; the Rohingya crisis encompassing Myanmar and Bangladesh; Yemen; Afghanistan; Syria; the Sahel region; Democratic Republic of Congo; Ukraine; and Venezuela.
Here are some points I took from the session.
1 The list could easily have been a lot longer, with the Israel-Palestinian conflict being cited as the eleventh item on the list in most years. Other countries referred to were Libya, Pakistan and Cameroon.
2 There are no great surprises on the list, with the possible exception of the Sahel – the region that includes Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania – but that might be because it doesn’t receive as much coverage in the media. From recollection, it made last year’s list too.
3 ICG’s representative made the point that politicians frequently overestimate the impact of military intervention and underestimate the influence that can be achieved through non-military measures. Using just a bit more power generally won’t solve the problem and there are some obvious examples of this. I can’t help thinking some history lessons wouldn’t go amiss for a few world leaders and their advisers to hammer this point home.
4 Creative thinking on the part of world leaders is in short supply. It seems to me that creative solutions are essential in view of the number of conflicts across the globe and a large dose of patience is needed too. It can take time to build trust and to achieve results. Militarisation isn’t creative but there seems to be a trend in that direction, which is a shame because history shows it rarely works and is costly on all levels.
5 There are 18 elections across Africa in 2018, including in Cameroon, a country that those familiar with the region see as a potential conflict area. As a result of colonial connections, France and the UK might be able to take (non-military) steps to make a difference and avert a crisis. That’s likely to require creative thinking, a lot of patience and collaboration, but that would seem to me to be a price worth paying to stop a tinder box breaking out in flames.