Since 2015, Europe has struggled to respond effectively to the refugee crisis precipitated by conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the MENA region and Sub-Saharan Africa. Causes for this unprecedented level of forced migration include armed conflict, a lack of economic development, weak governance, poverty, and the effects of climate change.
The staggering humanitarian, economic and social costs of armed conflicts underscore the twin imperatives of conflict prevention and peacebuilding. While normative and political commitments to preventing the initial onset and recurrence of deadly conflict are not lacking, the implementation of these commitments remains a significant, though not insurmountable, challenge. Progress on this front requires careful reassessment of current approaches to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in light of lessons learned and present realities.
The failure to prevent violent conflict or build peace not only wreaks havoc on human lives and societies, but also places tremendous political and economic burdens on the international community.
The international intervention in Libya has arguably weakened rather than strengthened international acceptance of the Responsibility to Protect principle. Its acceptance has been weakened, because the intervention – which was the first intervention approved by the UN Security Council based on the R2P principle – ultimately facilitated a regime change in that country. This was one reason why R2P was not subsequently invoked successfully for action by the international community in Syria. Not only has the conflict in Syria reached a new nadir with the suspension of the talks between the United States and Russia; the instability generated by the Syrian quagmire now reaches far beyond the country’s borders.
This development provides a stark example of the chaos that the failure to prevent violent conflict can entail. In Syria and elsewhere, effective conflict prevention has been hampered by a range of factors, including the short time-horizons and self-interest that often condition political decision-making, insufficient institutional capacity and resources, inadequate knowledge (particularly of local contexts), and a dearth of long-term strategies that harness properly the range of preventive tools required to address context-specific needs.