PDF: 05 Civil War
THREAT: Civil War
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. Genesis 17:8
Civil war is defined by what it is not – not war between fielded forces of nation states. Because there is often no “army” to be defeated, internecine inconclusive lethality can continue for decades, even centuries. Similarly, insurgency is defined as not civil war but it is just a matter of degree. Insurgencies can be victorious; the Long March of the Communist forces in China, or the uprising by American merchants against good King George.
The longest running civil war today is said to be the struggle since 1948 by the Karen in Myanmar (Burma) but the Philippines (1960s), Thailand (1960s), Somalia (1977), Sri Lanka (1983) are just some of the other conflicts that extend over decades. But this Guinness book of records approach misses a crucial point. The southern Thailand conflict actually arises in Siamese annexation of an Islamic Sultanate in the 16th century; the Moro (“Moor”) insurgency in the southern Philippines originates in the Spanish conquest of 1571. The Troubles in Northern Ireland date to victory by William over James II at the Boyne in 1690. Deep rifts in the Balkans date to when and where the Ottomans were halted in the 15th century.
What may be civil war in all but name may be called an insurgency or terrorism for rhetorical reasons as with present-day Iraq, invented in 1932 when Whitehall sought to unite three Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra) into a new impossible entity.
Foreign intervention in civil wars is a gamble and the US had a run of bad luck – backing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Shah in Iran, Iraq against Iran — a geopolitical three-in-a-row loss. This points to intrinsic dangers of taking sides in “local” conflicts, or systematic short-sightedness in US foreign policy. Intervention such as this often escalates into a proxy war.
As the roots of civil wars and insurgencies are often very deep — like a village feud in Calabria — the origins are so distant that which party is clearly “right” or “wrong” is meaningless. The cycle of violence can only be solved with adult supervision and the only legitimate “adult supervision” at present – apart from some land-giving God – is the United Nations and International Courts.
A jury of the world will find few civil wars or insurgencies to have a clear good guy or bad guy. Any genuine interest in solving a conflict requires a juristically neutral appreciation of the harms, the claims and the logically possible judgements.
As with civil society, conflict that disrupts the public order – “world peace” — can only be effectively resolved in the context of rule-of-law. Nation states unable to solve conflict must – in the broader interest — surrender to international juristic solutions.
There is an array of conflict-resolution methods starting from the proposition that most conflicts – with wisdom and effort – can be transformed from a zero-sum game into rational new arrangements that maximize each side’s needs. Failure to understand that arises from the primitive reptilian brain; curable in most cases. The “jury of the world” will readily see what is just in the case of most disputes if the logical alternatives – often a complex of rights and duties – is derived from the true origins of the conflict.
The UN is the worst form of conflict resolution except all the others that have been tried*. The veto-based Security Council ensures that any civil war soon becomes a proxy war, in principle if not in reality – a race for “our side” to win rather than the conflict be justly resolved. Any use of the UN’s palpable powers is thwarted or perverted. Any effective system for global intervention and solution of civil wars necessarily depends on retirement of the veto power.
*pace Churchill on democracy