Thursday, August 03, 2006

Crisis Group Pessimism

“July 2006 was the grimmest month for conflict prevention around the world in three years. In 36 months of publishing CrisisWatch, the International Crisis Group has not recorded such severe deteriorations in so many conflict situations as in the past month, and several have significant regional and global implications.”

CrisisWatch, the International Crisis Group’s monthly report, is habitually a bit grim, generally counting more conflicts deteriorating than improving globally. (The Human Security Report suggests a broad trend in the other direction since the end of the Cold War.) Nonetheless, this month’s report is in a class by itself.

The negative assessment isn’t unfounded: July was bad month. ICG cites not only the new wars in Lebanon and in Gaza, but the destabilizing influence of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Somali conflict, the Mumbai bombings, and increased violence in Sri Lanka as significant regional deteriorations. Throw in an increase in poor North Korean behavior and it’s hard to find reasons to celebrate, other than perhaps that the DR Congo elections we not a disaster.

It would be easy to throw up one’s hands in frustration at all this. It would also be easy to point fingers—most if not all of the conflicts involve the negative influence of one-sided American foreign policy. It might be more useful, though, to point out what has not happened. No third country in the region has, as yet, been dragged militarily in the conflict in Lebanon. Perhaps more interestingly, nothing terrible has arisen out of the Mumbai bombings. One nuclear power, India has nominally blamed another, Pakistan, for supporting terrorists on its soil, and not for the first time. But India has responded mostly with police actions—a few arrests, security improvements. There has been no nuclear standoff and no international diplomatic crisis. Not long after the bombings, the biggest news out of India was a boy trapped down a well.

That the conflict over Kashmir has become this stable, after decades of violence and two wars, would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The capacity of terrorists to destabilize the region has been largely neutralized. We should all be so lucky as to have an Israeli government that was this measured in its security policy.

The worst of it is probably the Horn of Africa, where Somalia may become the site of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The two have been in and out of conflict since the latter’s independence, and Somalia is utterly ill equipped to resist. The brief prospect of a stable, organic (if not quite democratic) government emerging there is vanishing. Tens of millions of people in at least three countries stand to have their lives disrupted if not threatened for some time.

Washington, with its hands at least a little on all of these, could well learn a lesson—its balanced policy of engagement on the Indian Subcontinent, however wobbly, has borne fruit. Its one-sided interventionism in the Middle East and the Horn are proving disastrous. One hopes they will notice.

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