Managing Armed Conflicts in the Twenty-First Century

The scourge of armed conflicts has been the bane of humanity from time immemorial. In recent years, however, the intensity and scope of these conflicts have increased exponentially. Part of the reason for this lies in the ending of the Cold War – freed from the confines of global bipolarity, armed conflicts have moved beyond the ideological realm. They now include the spheres of ethnocentric nationalism, religious fundamentalism, border wars and narco-trafficking. This has made it harder for academics to analyse conflicts, and more difficult for policy-makers to resolve them. Other reasons for the preponderance of armed conflict include the availability of sophisticated arms and the fragility of state structures.

Consequently, this is a timely book which examines crucial issues related to the management of conflicts within various regions throughout the world. Through examining lessons learned by means of the comparative method, we could arrive at some generic ‘best practices’. This is something the book succeeds admirably in doing. Another positive feature of the book is the number of young authors who have been gathered by the authors. Together, they contribute a number of novel approaches to the field of conflict management. One approach casts doubt on the traditional distinction between ‘war’ and ‘peace’. In this regard, David Keen’s contribution is quite useful. He argues that the emergence of peace can be a violent process. In turn, this violence, which is embodied in peace, may help to account for mass violence or civil war. Within the African context, this is a particularly poignant reason why Africa has suffered so much from the phenomenon of ‘return conflicts’. For practitioners, the lesson is clear: a peace agreement does not guarantee one peace. For this reason, the international community should remain engaged in post-conflict reconstruction long after the signing of any peace agreement.

The various chapters on the changing role of UN peacekeeping also emphasise that there has been a radical shift in the UN’s position regarding the use of force. Various contributors point to intrusive military enforcement actions, as well as the use of preventive deployment of peacekeepers. Macedonia is a good example of the aforementioned shift. This, in turn, raises questions over the sovereignty and noninterference in the affairs of member states – a point often reinforced by Africa’s leadership. This is something which both the African Union (AU) and various sub-regional organisations may need to discuss further.

In their contribution to this volume, Aliodun Alao and Funmi Olonisakin argue that the relationship between natural resources and conflict is not simply one-dimensional. Rather, they maintain that war economies occur within the context of state collapse. Once again, this approach casts doubt on whether or not embargoes on blood diamonds – or ‘naming and shaming’ – actually do work, since they deal largely with the symptoms of a deeper problem. Consequently, rebuilding states and their authority – as opposed to their power – is central in order to come to terms with this vexing problem. Other chapters in this book cover issues such as truth commissions and the quest for justice; civilmilitary relations and the protection of civilians; the role and utility of private security companies in conflict management; the rise and fall of UN peacekeeping in Africa; the need for greater burden-sharing within the NATO alliance; and the travails of keeping peace in nuclear South Asia.

This book is a must-read for scholar and practitioner, and combines penetrating analysis with a lucid writing style.

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