As conflicts and crises persist around the world, there is growing uncertainty about how—or if—they will be resolved. The international order is fraying, generating uncertainty about who will intervene and how these interventions might be funded.
There are interminable conflicts, like the situations in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, which have produced years of violence, countless thousands of deaths and even more refugees. Then there are the emerging hot spots, including northern Mozambique and the China-India frontier, and any number of potential flashpoints, like the Eastern Mediterranean. Even in situations where there is some tenuous hope of reconciliation, there is also uncertainty—such as South Sudan, where a 2018 peace deal that put an end to years of civil war is for now holding, even as widespread violence continues to plague the country. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine has now brought high-intensity, interstate warfare to the heart of Europe for the first time since the end of World War II.
At the same time, the nature of terrorism is also changing. After a period of recalibration following the loss of its caliphate in western Iraq and Syria and the subsequent death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State has once again become more active in the two countries, even as it shifts its attention to new theaters of operation, like the Sahel, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. In so doing, the group and its affiliates are taking advantage of dwindling international interest in mounting the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns needed to meet these new challenges. And a recent spate of seemingly lone-wolf attacks in Europe show that the threat terrorism poses there has faded, but not disappeared.
These developments come at a time when Western powers have shown a flagging interest in conflict intervention, more broadly. The deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, a region that has been battered by attacks from Islamist groups and fighting among local militias, is one of the few conflicts to rouse European efforts to restore stability—and prevent a potential surge of migrants. But even there, European leaders have stopped short of backing the kind of large-scale military engagement required to turn back the militant groups, and they are now making plans to wind down their involvement, which has failed to accomplish any of its stated goals.
U.N. peacekeeping operations, which might traditionally have played a role in mitigating these conflicts, are in need of significant reforms. Sexual abuse scandals and a mounting reputation for becoming ensnared in difficult, unwieldy missions in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have curbed the global appetite for peacekeepers. Now funding constraints due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic could further jeopardize the U.N.’s peacekeeping capabilities. The resulting vacuum has opened up opportunities for regional organizations, including the African Union, to fill the gaps, both in terms of stemming conflict and responding to disasters. But it is not yet clear if they will.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of proliferating humanitarian emergencies due to conflict and natural disasters. Persistent fighting in eastern Congo hampered the response to the Ebola outbreak in the region and continues to slow humanitarian efforts. Meanwhile, Yemen is entering the fifth year of a cholera outbreak that has already killed nearly 4,000 people. Refugee numbers are swelling, even as climate change and the coronavirus pandemic are set to generate new crises, while further stretching the scant resources available for addressing the existing ones
WPR has covered the world’s conflicts and crises in detail and continues to examine key questions about how they will evolve. How will the war in Ukraine affect efforts to intervene in existing conflicts and prevent emerging ones? How will persisent conflicts in Syria, Yemen and the Sahel be resolved, and can more humanitarian crises be averted while the fighting lasts? As the effects of climate change accelerate, will the world address the humanitarian crises it causes? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.
Conflict prevention: Taming the dogs of war (Chatham House, April 1, 2022)