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Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future
Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future
Speech / Global

Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future

Global Briefing 2013 opening speech from the International Crisis Group's President & CEO Louise Arbour.

Doctrines Derailed?: Internationalism's Uncertain Future

Global Briefing 2013 opening speech from the International Crisis Group's President & CEO Louise Arbour. CRISIS GROUP

I’m delighted to welcome you to Crisis Group’s 5th annual briefing.

My name is Louise Arbour and I’m the President and CEO of International Crisis Group.

Many of you know our work well, some are relative newcomers. In the course of today and tomorrow you’ll have an opportunity to interact with Crisis Group’s staff and board, and you will get, I’m sure, an excellent insight into who we are.

Rather than describe to you here our mission and methodology, I want to steal this opportunity to share with you some personal thoughts developed over my four years in this position, as well as during my previous work in different, related capacities.

It is well known that our work is geographically based, rather than thematic. And you will get, in the course of this Global Briefing, a very good exposure to the breadth of our geographic work, and to a wide spread of detailed views and opinions on the evolution of the conflicts in the regions and countries that we cover.

What we do less often, though, is remove ourselves from this intensely contextual approach to reflect on the state of ideas and institutions that play a more global role in the management of conflict and the advancement of peace and security. Many of these feature regularly in our work, but not always explicitly and usually through the lens of a single conflict or crisis.

Allow me therefore to look at what events over recent years tell us about some of these doctrines and institutions.

I want to look briefly at four issues: (i) the pursuit of international criminal justice; (ii) the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P; (iii) peacekeeping, or perhaps now better put peace-enforcement, missions; and (iv) the international promotion of the Rule of Law.

All these were embraced, albeit some with more enthusiasm than others, in this still relatively new post-Cold War era as desirable investments in the promotion of international peace and security.

When, by tomorrow evening, you have finished surveying with us the state of what I’m sure will appear a rather un-peaceful world, you may ask yourselves what some of these post-Cold War doctrines and institutions have actually contributed.

If the answer is “not enough”, then it might be useful to pause and examine what, thus far, has gone wrong.

Working as we are on some of the most difficult, volatile and war-torn parts of the world, this two-day briefing risks leaving a rather bleak impression and possibly even a sense of doom.  I certainly don’t want to add to that. Not all is negative, of course – the peace process in Colombia, the top-down reforms in Myanmar, potentially positive change in Iran, the first handover from one democratically-elected government to another in Pakistan – not all news is bad.

So as I begin to highlight the shortcomings of existing frameworks for conflict prevention, I want to stress that some of it is working, and that all is fixable. But not if we refuse to take a critical look at the ideas and institutions we have championed for fear of seeing modest gains unravel.

Let me turn first to international criminal justice, now anchored in a full decade of work by the International Criminal Court. We all repeat the mantra that there can be no lasting peace without justice; and that’s true enough. But I don’t think that we have yet resolved the inevitable tensions between the two in a workable fashion.  

Security Council referrals to the ICC are, I believe, particularly problematic. Two referrals by the Security Council to the ICC, in the cases of Darfur and Libya, have done little to enhance the standing and credibility of the ICC, let alone contribute to peace and reconciliation in their respective regions. Last week the judges of the ICC, at the request of the government of Libya, ruled one of the two Libyan cases inadmissible, clearing the way for President Qadhafi’s spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, to be tried in Libya where investigations are already underway.

There have been talks about the Security Council referring Syria to the ICC, amidst a general sense that, first, it will not happen anytime soon and, second, even if it did it would do little to advance a mediated end to the war, which currently appears the only remotely feasible way of ending the fighting. The Security Council’s actions in response to allegations of human rights violations in Sudan and Libya is also in stark contrast to its silence in the face of equally credible allegations of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by government forces in Sri Lanka, where the last few months of the war in 2009 saw tens of thousands of civilians killed in indiscriminate attacks.

It’s true that Security Council referrals expand the reach of accountability to countries that have chosen not to be parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC. But they do so at a cost that any justice system should find difficult to bear: three permanent members of the Council are not party to the Statute and all five can use their veto power to shelter themselves and their friends from this expansion of responsibility. Indeed, Security Council Resolution 1970 referring Libya to the ICC specifically excluded nationals of states not party to the Rome Statute from the ICC’s jurisdiction – Americans for example – except, of course, Libyan nationals.  So much for the Rule of Law, premised as it is on equality before the law.

Security Council referrals therefore expose the Court to charges of politicisation, while providing the Court with no compensatory benefits such as additional financial, political or operational support. And in the end, Council referrals may in fact underscore the Court's impotence rather than enhance its alleged deterrent effect, given that in Darfur Security Council backing has achieved so little, while in Libya there is a sense in some quarters that the Court withdrew from a contentious arena leaving the indictees to be tried in a judicial system under severe stress.

Another serious challenge to the Court is emerging from the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, as President and Vice-President of Kenya, after having been indicted by the ICC, and their subsequent efforts to drum up opposition to the Court in Africa. The two are casting their election as evidence of national reconciliation that their trial could compromise. This conveniently obscures the failings of the Kenyan system that permitted indicted criminals to stand for public office. But it highlights the reality of post-conflict environments where justice can be brandished as a further threat to peace.

And finally we will discuss in more detail this afternoon the tensions between the objectives of peace and of justice in the negotiations currently taking place in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC.

So recent events – whether the Security Council referrals, the difficulties the Court faces in Africa, or its balancing act in Colombia – appear to challenge the assumption underlying the international justice enterprise: that holding military and political leaders accountable for war crimes would contribute to peace, by deterring such conduct in the future and encouraging national reconciliation.

This is not to say that we should abandon the fight against impunity. And there’s no question that we must support the Court’s work. But it means that we need to be more strategic about the convergence of justice with the resolution of armed conflicts.

In my view this cannot be done by either peace or justice trumping the other – as in effect it would through sequencing one before the other – but rather by seeking in every case an outcome that maximises both. This in turn requires compromise – both sides have to give. Many justice advocates, however, wary of losing ground, are unwilling to support that approach.  An alternative – creating a model whereby the political and justice tracks are parallel rather than criss-crossing – remains out of reach, although it has, in my view, considerable merit.

Let me now turn to the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, as, first, a doctrine reflecting a modern articulation of state sovereignty as entailing not just states’ rights but also their responsibility to look after the welfare of their citizens and, second, a framework for intervention in the domestic affairs of a state, including through military action, in order to prevent mass atrocities.

Despite early attempts to focus on prevention by all means short of the use of force, in reality the debate over R2P has focused mostly on its sharp end: how to mobilise international support for using military force against a government unwilling or unable to protect its own people.

Combined with some dysfunction in the Security Council – to put it mildly – the doctrine has become hostage to politics, and to public opinion.

It was designed to mitigate the harm to civilians caught in war. But in Libya it was instrumentalised also to effect a change of regime. Whether this showed its potency or will lead to its demise is unclear. Since then the doctrine has proved useless in mobilising the international community to protect civilians in Syria, where well over 100,000 people have been killed so far. In fact it may even be part of the problem: some Security Council members have been reluctant to pass any resolution on Syria claiming to fear it could then be stretched to justify military action.

Still, the idea of using external force to prevent atrocities continues to have currency. It is in fact a requirement of international law under the widely ratified genocide convention; it recently led French foreign minister Laurent Fabius to call on Security Council veto holders to undertake voluntarily not to use their veto to prevent actions designed to stop mass crimes (with the not insignificant caveat that they should feel no such restraint where their national interests are at stake).

R2P was articulated as a humanitarian doctrine, not as a conflict resolution one. Whether it can ever be purely the former remains to be seen: once Qadhafi was declared a murderous threat to Libyans, how could the NATO intervention have ended in any way other than regime change? The failure to recognise this fact opens the doctrine up, inevitably, to a politicisation that will render its utility, I suggest, questionable in the short to medium term.

Third, let me say a few words about Peacekeeping. More blue helmets are deployed today than maybe at any other time in UN history. UN peacekeepers have, undoubtedly, played crucial roles in moving societies from war to peace.

Over recent years, however, their responsibilities have changed almost beyond recognition – with perhaps the most dramatic shift being from peacekeeping to peace “enforcement”. The newly deployed intervention brigades in the DRC, the ambiguous environment in which the UN is deploying in Mali, and the latest calls by the UN Secretary General for more, and more robust, troops to take on Al-Shabaab in Somalia, may herald a new era at the UN of peacemaking by warfare.

This is particularly troublesome as the UN-deployed missions are often required to side with governments of questionable legitimacy; and the weaker these governments are or become, the more the strong arm of the UN will be called upon to prop them up.  In this emerging configuration, the structural drivers of conflict – such as poverty, marginalisation, rising extremism, resource disputes and so on – risk being further neglected.

In addition, the call, as expressed by Lakhdar Brahimi years ago, that UN missions have the means commensurate to their mandates has never been fully implemented. Mandates express ambitious protection of civilian agendas, while troop contributing countries are wary of putting their forces in harm’s way to do just that.

Given also the military vigilantism of drone strikes and special forces operation that the second decade of the war on terror has sought to legitimise, there are reasons to be concerned about the increasing appeal to the use of force in the pursuit of peace, and its search for legitimacy, including in weary public opinion.

On the Rule of Law, Crisis Group has written extensively on the importance of building rule of law institutions in fragile or conflict-affected states.

The link between the rule of law and armed conflict – particularly internal armed conflicts, the most common form today -- could not be better expressed than it was in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948:

“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.

Rule of law institutions are important and the development agenda has long neglected them even under the heading of governance. In most conflict-prone areas we spend, for example, more money and political capital on elections and support for the executive than on the establishment of a competent, professional and independent judiciary. This is true from Afghanistan, the DRC and Somalia to Guatemala, Sri Lanka and the Central Asian republics: weak or corroded judicial systems are both a product of crisis and a sign of crises to come.  

There is also a tendency to conflate the concept of rule of law with the security sector. We do invest in developing the capacity of police and militaries, but we should guard against pretending that this is what the rule of law is mostly about.

Law enforcement is not a bad thing in and of itself and tends to be popular even with, indeed particularly with, authoritarian regimes, as long as there are no constraints imposed on them about the content of these laws.

But understood properly and substantively, the rule of law expresses the requirement of equal benefit and equal protection of the law embodied in Lacordaire’s famous insight that “between the rich and the poor, between master and servant, between the strong and the weak, it is freedom that oppresses and the law that sets free”.

It is difficult to get any traction on recommendations that call for such a substantive and long-term investment in conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution. But short of pressing for such fundamental policy engagement in countries at risk, our work will mimic that of Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain.

Again I don’t want to leave you with this image of the futility of our efforts. Quite the opposite; it is only by acknowledging the inadequacies of our approaches that we have any chance of improving them. As the US prepares to pull out of Afghanistan, there will be a lot of so-called lessons learned about a wasteful decade. Throughout that decade, we have published extensively on the need to invest in the long-term effort to build rule of law institutions in Afghanistan. As others are calling for a repudiation of short-termism in addressing the defining issues of our time such as climate change and economic inequalities, so it is in the field of conflict prevention.

So I will leave you with this invitation. Keep in mind, over the next two days, that events each year expose new weaknesses and contradictions in the doctrines and institutions – the tools – of conflict management. To identify these is not to dismiss those tools altogether – they have, for the most part and despite their shortcomings, been sources for positive change.

Rather to do so should encourage further thinking on how to fine-tune them and use them more wisely to advance peace and security.

Many thanks.

UN peacekeepers walk through water in Boma state, South Sudan, after heavy rains and floods forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes in November 2019. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Climate Change Is Shaping the Future of Conflict

Crisis Group’s President & CEO Robert Malley addressed the UN Security Council’s virtual Arria session on climate and security risks on 22 April 2020. Without global action, he said, climate change could prove to be a slow-moving version of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I am honoured to be joining this Security Council Arria session on climate and security risks. The organisers had the foresight to schedule it to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day; they also had the fortune or misfortune to schedule it to coincide with the outbreak of COVID-19, an apt reminder if one were required of how global challenges necessitate a global response, and of why looming threats necessitate an urgent one. In particular, I want to thank all of today’s co-hosts for calling attention to the growing peace and security implications of climate change. 

I join you on behalf of the International Crisis Group’s team of conflict analysts around the world. Crisis Group is an independent organisation with a mission to save lives by preventing, mitigating and resolving deadly conflict. We do so through field-based research, impartial analysis and pragmatic advocacy to shape the understanding and alter the behaviour of conflict actors and those who influence them.

Climate change is already shaping and will continue to shape the future of conflict

So what brings us to this climate conversation? Quite simply, the conviction that climate change is already shaping and will continue to shape the future of conflict, and that we ignore that relationship at our peril. In that sense, and as today’s meeting illustrates, the climate conversation is at an inflection point. That’s not only because of the latest, alarming facts on the ground. It’s also a reflection of who is now and should be at the table. For years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has documented trends that can instigate or exacerbate violence. Given the rate at which global warming is outpacing projections, the increasing rise in sea levels, the growing scarcity of resources, and the frequency of extreme weather events, it would be a dereliction of our duty if peace and security actors failed to join the diplomats, scientists, activists, and others in taking this challenge seriously.  

We are relative newcomers to this conversation, and so we approach these issues with humility and have much to learn from you. But I’d like to offer a few thoughts for further discussion. 

First, we should be careful to neither understate nor overstate the nature of the relationship between climate and deadly conflict. Let me be clear, independent of the links to deadly conflict, climate change is an existential challenge that puts vulnerable populations at increasing risk and requires far more robust action than we have seen so far.

Understanding the precise relationship [between climate and deadly conflict] matters because only from that understanding can we derive sound policy prescriptions

But as regards the link to conflict, understanding the precise relationship matters because only from that understanding can we derive sound policy prescriptions. By not understating the causal link, I mean acknowledging that climate change is undeniably a conflict threat multiplier. We are by now all familiar with the data suggesting a ten to twenty per cent increase in the risk of armed conflict associated with every half-degree increase in local temperatures, and that could be a conservative estimate.  Researchers will of course debate the precise role of climate-related risks in any crisis, but there's wide consensus that climate change can, for example, increase food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition, disrupt livelihoods, and spur migration or what have been called environmental refugees. And these are all key factors that, as Crisis Group has documented for over two decades, can in turn play a key role in shaping deadly conflicts – for example, by prompting inter or intra state clashes over resources, discrediting central states, or bolstering the appeal of non-state armed groups and facilitating their recruitment drives. 

At the same time, the relationship between climate and conflict is not linear; it is complex and nuanced. In some situations, small variations in climate can contribute to significant increases in violent conflict; in others, large variations in climate will not. That’s because what matters in this instance as in so many others is how authorities deal with the problems induced or exacerbated by climate change: how equitably and effectively they allocate and distribute resources; how inclusive and accountable they are; whether there are good inter-community mediation mechanisms or not. And so on. 

Moreover, climate change does not necessarily trigger resource scarcity. In some instances, it does, in others, it does not: rising temperatures and volatile rainfall mean that many areas have fewer resources, but it also means that some may have more. Greater resources may be a net positive in terms of peace and stability, although as Crisis Group has also documented it can contribute to increased competition and violence if that competition is poorly regulated by the state.

Deadly conflict and political instability can contribute to climate change

Finally, the relationship can be inverted, in that deadly conflict and political instability can contribute to climate change – for example, through illegal logging in the Amazon. 

In other words, the impact of climate change on conflict is context-specific, which is why we believe that marrying the kind of granular, field based political analysis our organisation undertakes with climate expertise could produce the most effective conflict prevention outcomes. 

The kinds of conflicts I refer to come in two broad categories. First are tensions within states arising from climate-related resource scarcity; these require domestic political responses that the UN may be able to support. Second are tensions between states over scarce resources – especially in the case of water – which require a diplomatic response that the UN may be able to facilitate. Drawing on recent Crisis Group reporting, I will address an example from each category in turn.

Crisis Group works to mitigate the effects that climate change can have on violent conflict around the world, including in Africa's Sahel region (pictured). CRISISGROUP/Jorge Gutierrez Lucena

Across the Sahel and even as far south as Kenya, Crisis Group has analysed how climate-related factors have exacerbated intercommunal conflicts between herders and farmers. Peace will require states restoring their ability to peacefully regulate conflicts in those rural areas, especially in relation to disputes over inhabitable land and other resources that are becoming scarcer due to rising temperatures and variable rainfall. 

To take one specific instance, northern Nigeria has experienced large declines in the length of the rainy season and an increase in desert or semi-desert conditions over recent decades. These changes have dried up many natural water sources, diminishing pastures and farmland. In the northern states most directly impacted, they have exacerbated long-running contests between herders and farmers sharing the same resources. They are also forcing large numbers of herders in search of productive land to migrate south, resulting in increasing conflicts between them and central Nigeria’s growing populations of sedentary crop farmers. This violence has increased Nigeria’s security challenges and stretched the military from a much-needed focus on Boko Haram.

When states fail to address these intercommunal tensions, then a variety of armed groups – including criminals and jihadists – are able to fill that vacuum and violently exploit the distrust of governments among marginalised rural communities. But while military measures against such groups are necessary, an effective response cannot only be security based: there needs to be a political component, such as the promotion of inclusive dialogues to reduce intercommunal tensions and engage armed groups; an economic dimension, including ways to formalise the grey economy and to reform the livestock sector; and a climate dimension, including prioritising humanitarian assistance to those most affected by environmental changes.

Crisis Group’s President & CEO Robert Malley addresses the UN Security Council’s virtual Arria session on climate and security risks on 22 April 2020.

Moving on to inter-state dynamics, Crisis Group has also looked at the transboundary water conflicts around the Nile river basin, and specifically the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Since 2010, Ethiopia has been building the dam on the Blue Nile River as its highest development priority. Given the Blue Nile is the main tributary of the Nile River, Egypt fears the dam threatens its water supply. 

A tough negotiation has been made even harder as rising temperatures and falling precipitation trends are likely to lead to increased water scarcity across the Nile Basin. Over the last few years, technical experts from both countries and Sudan, which is also impacted, had neared a consensus about how fast Ethiopia could fill the dam’s reservoir to minimise downstream impacts. Those talks have since run into new obstacles, but what is most striking about this example is not only how a resource-scarcity issue around water rights has been intensified by climate change conditions, but also how the resulting diplomatic negotiations could strengthen regional institutions that can address both climate change and conflict issues in the future. So while these negotiations are far from complete, there is at least some reason to be hopeful that climate-induced urgency will prompt action.

We have, of course, much more to learn about links between instability, conflict and climate. For now, and beyond the need to devote increasing attention to the politics of climate-related security risks, I’d propose two steps to make our collective policy response more effective: first, we have to shorten the timeline used to assess climate risks; second, we should prioritise geographies where climate risks intersect with fragile politics.  

Until recently, the tendency was to discuss climate change on the 10- or 15-year timelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. But as you all know, the peace and security community operates on a much shorter timeline. Our goal should be to document closer to real time which areas are experiencing the fastest effects of climate change, when further environmental changes could occur, and what they might look like.

Second, as I mentioned, just as climate risks vary based on different geographies, so too do conflict risks vary based on different politics. Political decisions matter greatly when it comes to how resources are allocated and who can access them, whether distribution is viewed as equitable and fair or iniquitous, and those issues matter greatly when it comes to conflict risks. So we must ask where among the set of most likely climate crises are existing institutions and state capacity weakest, and recommend appropriate policy steps to strengthen those institutions and the effectiveness of state responses. 

In closing, I wanted to briefly comment on COVID-19, both generally and with respect to climate specifically. The pandemic clearly presents an era-defining challenge to public health and the global economy. Its political consequences, both short- and long-term, will only gradually become clearer. At Crisis Group, we are paying close attention to places where the global health challenge intersects with political conditions that could give rise to new crises or exacerbate existing ones.

More specifically, it is worth reflecting on how COVID-19 may impact the politics of climate change. True, there has been a recent reduction in carbon emissions, but it could prove short-lived. Two economic factors are likely to complicate efforts: the price of oil has dropped precipitously, which may slow investments in renewable energy, and there is the risk of a global economic recession, which would constrain the already limited time and resources available to policymakers on many other issues, including climate change. As a result, the policy challenges ahead will be significant in addressing both climate change itself and its relationship to conflict. 

But there is one overriding political message we should take from COVID-19, which is that without prompt global, collective action, climate change could prove to be the slow-moving version of the coronavirus outbreak, reshaping economic, political and security conditions around the world. 

We have no alternative but to push forward – and for that effort, I thank all of you and look forward to hearing from you.