Speaking honestly and forthrightly is often frowned upon in regional politics. Being too explicit or realistic, for example, is often seen as ‘unhelpful’ or, even worse, as sabotaging the ‘art of the possible’. Being an Idealist, in contrast, is synonymous with being progressive and enlightened. A common symptom of political idealism, especially over the last twenty-five years, has been to create an organization or initiative and then worry about defining its everyday purpose, form and function at a later point in time. “Build or create it and they will come” isn’t an unfair way to describe this approach. Take the African Union’s African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), for example. In theory, it is a regional mechanism designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts in Africa. In truth, it remains nothing more than a construction site. The fifty-four member-states of the AU, whose headquarters continues to be largely financed by the European Union, have not really taken ownership of the ‘site’. Nor have they fleshed out one of the APSA’s main elements – the African Standby Force (ASF). Yes, the truth may be ugly and in ‘bad taste,’ but the reality today is that the APSA is only being taken seriously by those who make their living from it. » More
As the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War draws closer, it must be remarked that the most significant change to the geopolitical map since 1914 was not the defeat of fascism, nor the death of Soviet-style communism, but the complete collapse of all the European imperialist systems of government. Of course, various forms of hegemony, colonialism, and suzerainty still exist in the modern world and European nations have not been above overseas conflict since the end of the Cold War. However, a century after the start of Europe’s bloodbath the continent, now at peace, has turned inwards in its thinking.
Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading academics in peace and conflict studies, provides a sweeping summary of the history of violence and conflict since 10,000BCE in his book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’. Using a wide array of case studies, historical evidence and statistics, Pinker concludes that, contrary to popular perceptions, since the dawn of civilization the world has become increasingly less violent.
For instance, the research of Manuel Eisner suggests that during the Middle Ages the rate of homicides in Europe lay somewhere between 20 to 40 per 100,000 persons, while in modern times estimates place the rate closer to 1 per 100,000. Similarly, we know that deaths relating to war have been trending downwards since 1946 as a consequence of a reduction in interstate and international armed conflict.
National minorities are a political and social fact in Europe and many other parts of the world. In Europe, the issue of national minorities became particularly acute after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 as well as more recently after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s. The newly created independent states became hosts to national minorities: for example, the Baltic States and Ukraine to a Russian minority, Romania to a Hungarian minority, Croatia to a Serb minority and vice versa, just to name a few. » More
Peace processes – and the mediators that shepherd them – increasingly address the legacy of large-scale human rights violations. They can provide a crucial ‘moment’ for addressing the causes and consequences of an earlier conflict. To this end, peace agreements often include justice provisions: attempts to begin to deal with the past through a range of judicial and non-judicial measures such as amnesties, prosecutions, truth-seeking and reparations. While ‘justice provisions’ such as these are important, the argument here is that security arrangements in peace agreements are as important, if not more so, for accountability. Mediators’ influence on the content of a peace agreement may be limited, but there are still ways in which they can contribute to more effective security arrangements.