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Watch List 2017 - Special Report N°3 | 24 February 2017

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Global Overview

Whether unprecedented or not, the challenges currently facing our global security are immense and cause for considerable alarm. It is difficult to think of a time in recent history when there has been such a confluence of destabilising factors – local, regional and global – hindering collective capacity to better manage violence. These overlapping risks, unchecked, could coalesce into a major crisis – indeed we are currently experiencing a spike in global conflict violence – without the safety net of solid structures to deal with it.

When Crisis Group was founded, its premise was that bringing field-based expert analysis to the attention of (principally) Western policymakers could effect positive change in both preventing and ending situations of deadly conflict. Much of that premise still holds, but for us, as for others, it is no longer sufficient: the West can no longer be viewed either as homogenous or an oasis of tranquility. Increasingly, too, its self-projected image as an unalloyed force for good is becoming exposed. Greater efforts are needed, and urgently, both to understand better the growing dangers of conflict seeping from one arena to another; and to engage a broader array of actors with the capacity to effect positive change.

This document seeks to do two things. First, it aims to highlight those conflicts which Crisis Group believes threaten to worsen significantly unless remedial action is taken. Inevitably perhaps, the countries selected represent a partial snapshot. For that reason we place them explicitly in their regional contexts. But even so, strong arguments can be made for the inclusion of others: examples include Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the South China Sea and Democratic Republic of Congo. A case could be made, too, for the Western Balkans, perhaps, or Central Asian states. That we could provide a rival, equally valid list is itself cause for concern. For each conflict, we seek to indicate the contours of possible policy responses based on ground-up analysis. In putting forward tentative prescriptions, our principal target is the European Union (EU), its institutions and member states, whether working directly or in conjunction with others. An underlying premise of this report is our belief that the EU has the potential – indeed faces an imperative – to bring to bear all the tools at its disposal fully to do its bit, in concert with others, to preserve the threatened field of conflict prevention.

Second, the list can be read as one document. Percolating through it are the range of interlinked dangers and stresses that makes this era so perilous. Essentially, these can be distilled down to three. First, an increasing fusion of the domestic with the international. Second, a sense of crisis overload. And third, growing uncertainty about hitherto assumed structures and institutions to collectively manage danger.

All ten conflicts possess international dimensions, in many instances overwhelmingly so. In such crowded landscapes – with a multitude of actors and equally broad range of motivations – navigating a route to peace becomes immeasurably more difficult. The growing prevalence of non-state armed groups and in some instances their propensity to fracture, together with the blending of licit and illicit economies, churns yet more this complex terrain. This increasing fusion of local and global is reflected further in heightened nationalism and ideological dogmatism, with – as things stand – the triumph of policies designed to cater to short-term tactical imperatives as much if not more than preserving or ensuring long-term stability. This can be seen in burgeoning intolerance to the mass movement of people, as actions are taken to stem or push back the flow without trying adequately to address the reasons why such movement is underway on such an unprecedented scale.

It can be witnessed in the resort to muscular security responses that can neither fully contain the threat nor address its underlying causes. And it is manifested in some actors resorting too readily to the rallying cry of counter- terrorism, with its playbook of repressive measures and eschewing the very inclusivity invariably essential to sustained peace. In the balance between soft and hard power, the latter currently is dominant.

All this, of course, is playing out against – and in part driven by – a growing diffusion of power globally. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the uncertainties such a shift throws up are cause for concern. Further, the stresses to which Europe is currently exposed; the revival of geopolitics; and uncertainty about the future direction of the trans-Atlantic alliance and the underlying commitment to the UN of its traditional power-brokers, represent significant challenges to hitherto durable assumptions about the role of international institutions and law, and the web of alliances built up in the past 70 years. So far so gloomy (and without touching on climate change or demographic trends). But this report also, we believe, contains within it ideas which might contribute to a needed course correction. In essence, it constitutes a call to learn old lessons amid these new dynamics.

What, in particular, might this mean for the EU? We posit two broad observations, outlined in more detail in the following pages. They sit on top of an underlying imperative to ensure that through their actions the EU and its member states do not contribute to generating further harm. In many instances where room for positive change is currently heavily circumscribed, avoiding worse constitutes progress.

First, we seek to identify what Europe’s leverage is with regards to specific conflicts and regions. Often it is indirect, but no less important for that. Frequently, too, we suggest it will involve maximising opportunities presented of shared interests and a division of responsibilities in their pursuit. In this regard, as in all others, speaking with as unified a voice as possible is imperative: dissonance can be exploited. Providing maximum support to the new UN Secretary-General in his efforts to revive that organisation’s work in conflict prevention must also be a priority.

Second, in virtually every crisis we cite, a better balance is required between the desire for quick impact and the need to put in place sustainable solutions. The two need not be at odds with each other – we should reject the notion that it is a binary choice. But it will require Europe to speak out more clearly in defence of core values – in deed, not simply rhetoric; to make clear that its humanitarian and development assistance is for those most in need, not solely for the pursuit of political ends; to nudge conflict parties toward pursuing peace through inclusive dialogue, not simply force; and to prioritise the pursuit of better models of governance, the absence of which is at the root of so many of today’s conflicts.

To some these may appear as thin reeds on which to float notions of charting a more positive course. But in the current atmosphere of uncertainty, through articulating clear, principled and strategic goals and how, tactically, it will seek to work toward them in conjunction with others, Europe has the opportunity to make a significant contribution toward a more stable and peaceful future. by dialogues with other regional organisations to develop an understanding