Peace on the decline

The Uppsala Conflict Data Program at the Uppsala University Department of Peace and Conflict Research is reporting that the number of violent conflicts has seen a rise in recent years as peace initiatives are falling off. The Center’s largest number of registered conflicts took place during the 1990’s, but a steady decline began to take place thereafter and continued until 2002. Since then, the number of active conflicts has been holding steady around thirty.

“This is of course a cause of concern. Today’s ongoing conflicts are extremely protracted,” comment researchers Professor Peter Walensteen and Lotta Harbom. “This indicates that the successful negotiation efforts of the 1990s are no longer being carried out with the same force or effectiveness.”

Today’s conflicts appear to be intractable and drawn-out, and the researchers believe that the 1990s peace strategies need to be improved in order to achieve results. At the same time, there are encouraging trends. Conflicts between different groups and peoples, with no involvement of the state, are decreasing in the number of both conflicts and fatalities.

“This type of conflict often arises in the wake of civil war, but they seem to be easier to bring to an end,” says Joakim Kreutz at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest problems in recent years is the lack of negotiations in the war torn Middle East. Even as the United States takes measures to physically curtail violence, there have been few visible signs that any of the parties in question are being addressed in a meaningful way.

The Middle East is the region in which peace initiatives are most clearly conspicuous in their absence. The central importance of the region for the world’s oil supply and for world religions makes this serious. The conference in Annapolis in lat November 2007 was the first attempt since 2001 to bring the parties together. They even found it difficult to agree on the declaration that started the negotiations, notes Peter Wallensteen.

“This is a worrisome sign. At the same time, we have to welcome all attempts to bring peace to this area. It has been more than 60 years since the UN General Assembly adopted a plan for Palestine. It must be adapted to today’s reality and implemented.”

During the year other regional conflict complexes have emerged and worsened. The crisis in the Sudanese region Darfur is now spreading to the surrounding countries, such as Chad and the Central African Republic.

“These developments have prompted neighboring countries to take certain peace initiatives,” states Lotta Harbom. “The international mediators in the Darfur conflict, including Jan Eliasson, who is also a visiting professor at Uppsala University, are working to arrange negotiations among the parties. But thus far they have had no success.”

It’s likely that many of these conflicts will continue to linger until the United Nations (and others) decide to press en masse. The larger peace deals in the 20th Century were accomplished through multi-national pressure, persuasion, and promising that we’ve seen little of in the last ten to fifteen years.