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2005 PEACE REPORT

At least no new wars began

by Ramesh Thakur

The Davos-based World Economic Forum has just published the third annual report of its Global Governance Initiative. The past year was rated slightly less dangerous than 2004 but still a long way from being safe and secure. The United Nation’s 60th Anniversary World Summit in September, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen and revitalize the multilateral system, proved disappointing in the security agenda.

There was important movement on postconflict peace-building and the new “responsibility to protect” norm was embraced without much more of real substance. The Security Council remains as is, and leaders were unable to agree on a norm-setting definition of terrorism. The attempt to establish a set of guidelines identifying criteria of legitimacy for the use of military force failed. On disarmament and nonproliferation, scandalously, no agreement whatever could be reached despite the critical urgency and gravity of the threats.

Iraq remains the defining battleground. The elections last January were relatively successful, but disenchantment with the political process led to low voter turnout among Sunni Arabs and their under-representation in the interim National Assembly.

Kurdish and Shiite leaders failed to find common ground with Sunni Arabs over the country’s constitution, producing a draft text that was deeply divisive, despite approval in a referendum in October. The frequency and lethality of attacks against security forces and civilians increased. So did calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops. Both the anti-occupation insurgency and the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife intensified.

Voting in the yearend parliamentary elections was enthusiastic but almost entirely along sectarian lines. The risk of de facto partition and full-scale civil war is high. The choice of “hang in to win” or “quit and lose” may prove to be a false one. Vietnam showed that it is possible to hang in to lose and to quit as a way of cutting losses.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the U.N. noose seemed to tighten inexorably around Syria in relation to complicity in the assassination last February of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. There were positive steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the prospect of lasting peace remained remote.

All calculations have been thrown off with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke and Hamas’ victory at the polls.

In Africa, the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace frayed dangerously with neither side showing willingness to compromise in the ongoing border dispute. The security and humanitarian situation in Darfur remained dire. The small and belatedly deployed African Union peace force could not adequately protect displaced civilians, new fighting erupted, the rebel movement remained divided and Khartoum was less than cooperative. The political settlement sought by the A.U. looks far off.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s shaky transition inched forward amid widespread insecurity. Up to 1,000 still die every day from disease, malnutrition and violence. Almost 4 million have perished in eight years of war.

Zimbabwe’s March parliamentary election gave the ruling ZANU-PF party a controversial landslide over the opposition, but failed to resolve the five-year political impasse. Better news came with Liberia’s successful elections in November, choosing the continent’s first woman president. Burundi’s peace process progressed with major victories by the former opposition (and insurgent) CNDD-FDD in communal and legislative elections.

The security and political situation stayed static in East Asia. Tensions eased for the second straight year between India and Pakistan. Bus service resumed across the Line of Control for the first time since partition in 1947, and unprecedented discussions began between moderate Kashmiri separatists and New Delhi.

But the conflict in Afghanistan between U.S.-led coalition forces and insurgents intensified, with growing concern over the Taliban’s increasing strength. In Pakistan, sectarian conflict worsened as the military government continued to marginalize secular democratic forces.

Democracy collapsed in Nepal following King Gyanendra’s February coup. Maoist rebels intensified their insurgency before declaring a unilateral ceasefire in September.

Thailand’s southern insurgency also escalated, with almost daily killings. There was continuing political violence in Sri Lanka, factional strife within the Tamil Tiger rebel movement, and a troubling loss of momentum in the peace process.

In Europe, the overdue final status process was begun for Kosovo. Destabilized by the unresolved conflict in Chechnya, Russia’s North Caucasus region was the scene of repeated shootouts between police and Islamist militants. Little progress was made in resolving the frozen conflicts in the southern Caucasus — Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia/South Ossetia, Georgia/Abkhazia, and Moldova/ Transnistria.

Haiti’s hope of escaping failed state status was undermined by fiercely polarized elite/populist politics, a hesitant U.N. peacekeeping and international civilian presence, and an inept and corrupt transitional government. Its U.N. force commander has just committed suicide.

The number of significant international terrorist events rose dramatically. Nearly three quarters of attacks took place in Iraq, India and Indian-controlled Kashmir, but the frequency of major incidents also increased elsewhere. Suicide attacks in Israel decreased dramatically from 2004, as Palestinian militant groups largely adhered to an informal ceasefire brokered in February.

The urgency of the threat of nuclear proliferation seemed to increase in a number of places, while progress toward nuclear disarmament stalled completely. Conventional weapons and small arms continue to be produced on a massive scale, with increasing numbers of developing countries entering the international arms trade.

Although there was no fundamental turnaround in 2005, there was some improvement and forward movement. Peace agreements gave hope for an end to long-running civil conflicts in Sudan and Indonesia. No new wars began either within or between countries. And two major breakthroughs did come from the U.N. world summit — agreement to fill a long-standing institutional gap with the creation of a new Peacebuilding Commission, and unanimous acceptance of the principle of the “responsibility to protect,” recognizing limitations on state sovereignty in situations of catastrophic internal violence.

On balance, the international community did marginally better in addressing peace and security issues than in 2004, but still much less well than it needs to do if the world is to be freed from the scourge of war and mass violence. Multiple peace and security challenges confront us in 2006:

* Avoiding the disintegration of Iraq and its neighborhood;

* Resolving the nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, and regenerating positive momentum on the nonproliferation and disarmament of weapons of mass destruction;

* Resolving the big three continuing high-mortality African conflicts in Darfur, Northern Uganda and the Congo;

* Maintaining momentum for the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict;

* Achieving sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan, a resolution of the conflicts in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and further progress in India-Pakistan relations;

* Bringing negotiations on the final status of Kosovo to successful and peaceful conclusion;

* Making significant progress on a comprehensive U.N. convention on terrorism; and

* Making a success of the 2006 U.N. Conference on Small Arms.