EASTBefore we dive into next year's list of conflicts to watch, some thoughts on the year we are about to conclude are in order. In short, 2013 was not a good year for our collective ability to prevent or end conflict. For sure, there were bright moments. Colombia appears closer than ever to ending a civil war which next year will mark its 60th birthday. Myanmar, too, could bring down the curtain on its decades-long internal ethnic conflicts, though many hurdles remain. The deal struck over Iran's nuclear program was a welcome fillip for diplomacy, even dynamism. The U.N. Security Council finally broke its deadlock over Syria, at least with regards to the regime's chemical weapons, and committed to more robust interventions in Eastern Congo and the Central African Republic. Turkey's talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) continue in fits and starts, but the ceasefire looks reasonably durable. Pakistan enjoyed its first-ever democratic handover of power. As important as these achievements are, still more important is to keep them in perspective.
Colombia's peace process remains vulnerable to messy domestic politics in the election year ahead. Myanmar's positive trajectory could derail if the bigotry unleashed on Muslim communities continues unchecked. Moving towards a final settlement with Iran amidst a sea of red lines and potential spoilers -- in Washington, Tehran, and the region -- is undoubtedly a more perilous challenge than reaching the interim deal in Geneva, welcome step though it was. And that Turkey and Pakistan, both entries on last year's "top 10" list, don't make it onto this year's list is hardly a clean bill of health, given the spillover of Syria's conflict into Turkey, and the ongoing dangers of extremism and urban violence in Pakistan.But it is Syria and the recent muscular interventions in Central Africa that best illustrate alarming deficiencies in our collective ability to manage conflict. In Syria, the speed and decisiveness with which the international community acted to eliminate Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons can't help but underscore its failure to act with equal determination to end the fighting; even concerted humanitarian action remains elusive. As the conflict in Syria enters its third winter, there is little indication it will stop any time soon, whatever hopes are centered around the Geneva talks scheduled for January. If the Security Council's role is to maintain international peace and security, then as Syria's conflict claims ever more lives and threatens to suck in Lebanon and Iraq, how else can one judge its impact than as an abject failure?In the Central African Republic, meanwhile, the international community was apparently taken by surprise by the collapse into violence.
There is no excuse for this: Decades of misrule, under-development, and economic mismanagement had left behind a phantom state long before this year's coup unleashed turmoil and now escalating confessional violence. France's robust support for the African Union (AU) in a full-fledged humanitarian intervention was commendable. But without concerted, sustained commitment to rebuilding the Central African Republic (CAR), it is unlikely to make much difference in the long run.So how does this list compared with that of last year? Five entries are new: Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Honduras, Libya, and North Caucasus. Five remain: Central Asia, Iraq, the Sahel, Sudan, and Syria/Lebanon. Of course, by their nature, lists beget lists. It would not have been too difficult to draw up a completely different one. In addition to Pakistan and Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been omitted, though all could have easily merited a place. Nor did South Sudan, apparently on the cusp of civil war, make it onto this year's list.In Afghanistan, next year's elections, coupled with the Taliban's continued insurgency in the face of unsettled international support for a still nascent national army, make 2014 a crucial year for the country -- and a potentially ominous one for Afghan women. In Somalia, despite some gains by an AU mission and a new "provisional" government, al-Shabab militants have shown their continued ability to strike -- both at home and abroad -- and many of Somalia's clans remain in conflict with each other.
Finally, the sheer absence of the state and the rule of law in the DRC could have justified an entry on this year's list, despite the recent welcome defeat of the M23 rebel movement and signs that, finally, the international community can no longer ignore the conflict's regional dimensions.But ultimately, this list seeks to focus not just on crises in the international spotlight -- CAR, Syria, the Sahel, and Sudan -- but also on some that are less visible or slower-burning. Thus Honduras -- estimated to be the world's most violent country outside those facing conventional conflict -- is included, as is Central Asia, which totters ever closer to a political and security implosion. The list illustrates the remarkable range of factors that can cause instability: organized crime in Central America; the stresses of the political competition around elections, as in Bangladesh; the threat of insurgency -- in the North Caucasus, for example -- or the dangers of regional spillover, as in Lebanon or the Sahel.
Then there are the perils of authoritarian rule and an overly securitized response to opposition: in Syria, of course, but also in Iraq and Russia's North Caucasus. An alarming rise in communal or identity-based violence is likewise contributing to instability in Iraq, Syria, and CAR (and Myanmar and Sri Lanka, for that matter). Finally, center/periphery tensions cut across a range of countries on the list. Mali, Libya, Sudan, and Iraq -- plus Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and others -- all wrestle with notions of strong, centralized governance that appear unworkable, yet struggle to find alternatives that don't atomize the state or feed secessionism.Above all, however, the list highlights that deadly conflict rarely springs up out of nowhere or is entirely unanticipated. It usually has long roots: in underdevelopment; states' inability to provide all their citizens with basic public goods; inequality; and divisive or predatory rule. It shows, too, that reducing the fragility of the most vulnerable countries -- arguably among the greatest moral and political challenge of our era -- takes time, commitment, and resources. Three things that, sadly, too often are lacking.
- See more at: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/12/28/the_list_the_stories_you_missed_in_2013#sthash.GFFFeFuD.dpuf