There have been more conflicts in recent times, and peacekeepers face great difficulty in dealing with them. Foreign Affairs magazine reports that the amount, strength, and length of current military disputes worldwide have hit their highest levels since the Cold War, based on computation from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. Meanwhile, the efforts of those tasked with maintaining peace have diminished, as mediators are unable to secure lasting peace among the fighting parties. Therefore, the magazine’s specialist suggests a significant shift in the strategy towards peacekeeping.
Ten years ago, conflicts typically lasted for 7 years, and 33 conflicts were active each year. In 2022, there were 55 ones that lasted between 8 and 11 years. The columnist also notes that a lasting, full-scale peace has been impossible for a decade. Conflicts often become frozen and can resurface at any time, as seen in Ukraine or the Middle East. As a result, a quarter of the world’s population lived in areas of conflict in 2022, and the number of displaced people reached a record in 2023.
The usually peacemaking countries — EU, UK, US — have now switched to managing conflicts. “But events in the Middle East and elsewhere are a reminder that conflict can be managed for only so long. As fighting flares worldwide and the root causes of conflict remain unresolved, traditional peace building and development tools look increasingly ineffective. The result is that aid bills grow, refugees are displaced, and fractured societies continue to suffer. A new approach to resolving and managing conflicts and their impact is urgently needed,” the expert writes.
Why is it more challenging to put an end to wars than before? Firstly, the nature of conflicts has transformed: now, they normally occur between states and armed groups that possess advanced weaponry, technology, and funds obtained from natural resources and criminal activities. As opposed to the Cold War, where confrontations were mainly between the two superpowers, conflicts currently tend to have a more international scope. Countries like Russia, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE take part in foreign wars, either directly or indirectly. And the more parties involved in a disagreement, the more difficult it becomes to resolve it.
The UN previously acted as the primary mediator for resolving conflicts, but now has been sidelined. The UN Security Council frequently reaches a stalemate due to the differences in geopolitical views. UN peacekeeping missions are becoming fewer and shorter. They lack the trust of conflicting sides and the ability to have an impact on the ground, and struggle to find political solutions to cease the conflict. They can settle only for monitoring ceasefires.
Many leaders in America and Europe are struggling with the worldwide crises and face changing priorities. They have to pick which fight to handle. “Attention has instead shifted to dealing with the consequences of conflicts — waves of refugees and cross-border smuggling of drugs and weapons, in particular — rather than their causes,” the expert writes.
Today, in reality, UN involvement occasionally leads to a decrease in tensions or, at most, the initiation of a delicate political process. In conversations with Foreign Affairs, several negotiators and policymakers confessed that their aspirations usually only extend to reaching bilateral agreements for temporary peace or specific aims, like the 2022 arrangement concerning the exportation of Ukrainian grain. UN diplomats no longer have influence in talks or achieving positive results, thus they have “lost much of their raison d’être.”
Until recently, some officials from around the world saw ceasefire as a result of negotiations. But the recent Hamas attack, Israel’s bombing, and the escalating violence in Syria demonstrate the shortcomings of this containment policy. It does not solve disputes and needs ongoing attention. We must deal with complaints, stop violence, aid negotiations, and implement security measures. Peacekeepers can overlook signs of conflict reemerging, once violence has decreased. It is crucial to remain vigilant and identify possible threats. This issue becomes more severe when the military or the regime remain in charge during political transitions without being responsible for past incidents of violence.
Numerous politicians and diplomats have warned multiple times that the situation in Palestine is unsustainable. But the efforts of Trump administration have focused on enhancing the relations between Israel and its past Arab opponents. And it made no effort to tackle the root causes of Palestine-Israel conflict.
Furthermore, humanitarian aid is often used as a solution to unresolved conflicts. In Syria, for instance, where the conflict has been ongoing for 12 years, the 2023 aid amounted to USD 4.81 billion for national programs and USD 5.7 billion for refugee support. These amounts are rising, and donors are struggling to keep pace.
Significant changes are necessary for refugees to safely return home without suffering from violence and discrimination. The Foreign Affairs columnist suggests that external aid is mandatory. There must be appropriate management, an economic setting that combats corruption and crime, availability of space for civil discussion, grievances, group decision-making and management. And this, first of all, should be handled by powerful states.
Diplomats should be cautious when using the word “peace” and refrain from terming the ceasefire negotiations as a peace process. The expert opines that real peace is still far from being achieved. He separates the stages of conflict management, resolution, and peace building. “Most important, a new approach to mediation is needed. Today’s world is defined by geopolitical competition and requires something very different. They must become advocates for their own cause, making the public case for peace, and they must secure diplomatic support and engage with a wide variety of groups, including civil society,” — the Foreign Affairs expert said. They ought to collaborate closely with locals, giving them more power and considering national particularities. And peacekeeping should engage more non-traditional actors, such as middle Powers, humanitarian entities, and the private sector.