Conflict Trends and the Changing Nature of Violence

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    Alexandra Ivanovic

    On 31 October 2014, the United Nations Secretary-General appointed a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, with the aim to undertake a ‘comprehensive assessment of the state of United Nations peace operations today and the emerging needs of the future.’ As support for this review, UNU-CPR was requested to provide three inputs into this process: a paper providing insight into the major recent trends in violent conflict; an addendum to the first paper providing an overview of global and regional trends of intrastate-based armed conflict, and a further research paper reviewing the UN’s experience and lessons on non-military protection of civilians.

    Findings of the paper on “Major Recent Trends in Violent Conflict” included: major civil wars have almost tripled in recent years along with the number of battle deaths; UN peace operations are increasingly deployed to situations where there is no peace to keep with roughly two-thirds of peacekeepers and 90% of Special Political Missions personnel working in peace operations covering countries experiencing high-intensity conflict; an increase in the conflict relapse rate; an increase in the average life-span of UN peace operations. It was also found that conflicts have become more intractable and less conducive to traditional political settlements due to 3 main developments: the emergence of organized crime as a major stress factor exacerbating state fragility, undermining state legitimacy and lowering incentives of armed groups to enter political settlements; the internationalization of civil wars; and, the growing presence of violent extremist Islamist groups in UN mission areas.

    The paper on “Intrastate-based Armed Conflicts” examined the global and regional trends in conflict levels from 1990-2013 finding the numbers and intensity of conflicts varied significantly between and within regions, with most violent conflicts today located in Asia, the Middle East and different parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The paper also highlighted important differences in the nature of violent conflict, whether related to ‘state-based’, ‘non-state’ armed conflicts or ‘episodes of one-sided violence.’

    The third paper, “Non-Military Protection of Civilians in UN Peace Operations: Experiences and Lessons”, highlighted the importance of giving attention to non-military aspects of protection of civilians as the PoC concept is well understood as not just a task for soldiers but a whole of mission concept, civilian missions and their mission components have shown they can provide crucial protection functions, and given the reluctance of peacekeepers to use force in the pursuit of PoC mandates, a closer examination of the non-military tools available to missions was warranted. The review highlighted five overarching points: 1) non-military components, tools and measures of UN peace operations have made significant contributions to their protection of civilian efforts, 2) significant learning and adaptation has taken place within missions to enhance the effectiveness of non-military protection approaches, 3) PoC strategies are not always strategic in terms of setting clear priorities and there may be trade-offs between the PoC concept and the weight accorded to civilian activities compared to military activities, 4) missions should expend greater efforts to protect the space and support the civilian approaches that have yielded the most significant protection outcomes such as local mediation and conflict resolution efforts, and 5) whether the UN should explore whether and how Special Political Missions could be equipped with Chapter VI protection of civilian mandates.