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As a new year dawns, Carolyn Hayman looks at long term trends in world peace


Peace Direct Chief Executive, Carolyn Hayman, looks at long term trends in world peace and asks, if conflict is again rising, what responses do we have?

  • Published

    13 January 2014
  • Written by

    Carolyn Hayman

’Think of a conflict, any one will do – Sudan, Sri Lanka, Nepal – there will always be local people building peace.’ That was the cover of our brochure back in 2006. By the time we reviewed it in 2009, Sudan and Nepal were out of outright conflict, though sadly Sri Lanka was not. That was the trend that we’ve seen for most of the time since Peace Direct launched to the public in 2004, with more hot conflicts ending than beginning. And up to about the middle of 2013, I could make a good case that we’d make war history, before we made poverty history. As the old saying goes, ‘If war is the answer, I just don’t know what the question was.’

Now, I’m not so sure. In Syria, we have another raging conflict, like the one in the Balkans 20 years ago, that is just as savage, just as cruel to the neighbourly ties that have existed for decades, and just as immune to international mediation. We have rapidly escalating Sunni/Shia conflict in places where it never existed before. Our Kashmiri colleague told me of a student who came to a 6 day peacebuilding workshop and refused to eat anything, because he was Sunni and the cook was Shia. The influence of extreme religion – Islamism, but also Buddhism and Christianity – is also spreading to new parts of the world. And conflicts have reignited in countries recently out of war, including South Sudan and Iraq. Many of these trends are of course inter-related.

Back then, many people also talked about resource wars: I remember a headline from 2009, where a UK Defence spokesman said, ‘There will be wars over water and the British army will be involved.’ I thought at the time that was ridiculous, and I’m still hopeful that where politicians or other leading figures aren’t involved in stirring up violence, conflicts, which will always exist, can be solved peacefully. It’s very clear that no amount of fighting will increase the amount of water available overall.

If conflict is again rising, what responses do we have? Here are some suggestions:

  • Less grandstanding by the international community. When the UK and US demanded regime change in Syria, despite the fact that it was well known that at least half the population supported the Assad regime, we lost all ability to play a useful role in mediating the conflict. A cheap appeal to the human rights community lost the chance of saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
  • Rapid intervention. This is a lesson that seems to have been learned in the case of South Sudan. We know from Darfur and elsewhere that the longer conflicts continue, the more fractured the insurgents, and the harder it is to bring them all to the peace negotiations.
  • A greater voice for women in peace negotiations. As one Sudanese woman put it, ‘It’s easy to see what the men will focus on in a peace agreement – power, security, positions in the government. But put the women under the tree to talk and they will be speaking of education, of health, of rebuilding roads and markets.’ Both perspectives are needed.
  • Massively more resources for local-level peacebuilding initiatives. While no-one can stop politicians and other leaders from stirring up hatred between groups (as for example Milosevic did so successfully in Kosovo), people can be educated to understand and therefore resist the provocation to violence. We’ve seen our partners do this, in Pakistan, in DRC, in Sri Lanka and in Sudan. Local peacebuilding works – and it is lack of resources, not lack of capacity, that prevents it from being scaled up to national impact.

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