How Do Wars End?

I had the great pleasure of attending Southern Denmark University’s Center for War Studies‘ signature event “How Do Wars End?”.  The conference started with the riveting reflections of the famous Danish author, Carsten Jensen, on “The Forever Wars”.  He described his experiences embedded with Danish troops in Afghanistan and related the soldiers’ problems dealing with a lack of clear strategic goals within the conflict, complex  homecoming struggles, as well as the current trend towards privatization of war. His books included characters that range from traditional soldiers to drone pilots and who grapple with ethical challenges as well as boredom.  He also provided a wonderful overview of war literature from around the world, leaving the audience with a compelling urge to run to the library.  The next presentation was by Christopher Kolenda, a Senior Military Fellow at King’s College London.  Kolenda served as commander of an infantry task force in Afghanistan which handed out notebooks and pencils to the local community as part of its peacemaking strategy (in part influenced by Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea).  He also co-authored the McChrystal assessment on Afghanistan and has worked with strategic policy on Pakistan as well.  He delivered an insightful explanation of why the US has trouble managing war termination; including the cost of failure to follow up early negotiation opportunities, problems related to centralization of security decision-making, and the challenges of narratives which delegitimize the enemy and impede negotiation.  This was followed by Joachim Krause , the Director of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.  He discussed confusion regarding the definition of war and set forth a typology, ranging from cabinet wars to classic international wars, limited wars over specific islands, post-modern wars, hybrid wars, people’s wars, religious wars, wars of secession, civil wars, and the emergence of war economies.  He ruefully commented on the negative consequences of war efforts that were terminated too early as well as those that were terminated too late.  The breadth of his presentation served as a confirmation to me that the ethics academic, Jonathan Glover, had appropriately named his book on the scope of atrocities committed in the 20th Century, HumanityCian O’Driscoll of the University of Glasglow reflected on the Victory of Just War, ruminating on the scope of triumph.  He was followed by Thomas Obel Hansen of Ulster University who gave a thorough overview of transitional justice, breaking myths and underscoring real dilemmas in practice.   In conclusion, I gave a perspective from international law in which I reflected on the challenges we face given the lack of normative agreement on what we mean by peace, explaining the difference between negative peace and positive peace, as well as institutional failures to implement peace in the long term.  I gave an overview of the book Promoting Peace through International Law and then proceeded to discuss specific cases. I noted the Peace Accords in Colombia and the observation that there is no more war in the Americas.  To counter this, I used the example of Guatemala, which formally experienced a Peace Accord in 1996 while having 1 million IDPs and 200,000 refugees who claimed land restitution, as well as 200,000 paramilitary troops and 3,000 URNG guerillas who required demobilization.  In spite of a solid commitment by MINUGUA, USAID, World Bank, EU, Norway, and other entities, Guatemala experienced a serious setback in human rights and security, well documented in a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. At present, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, as well as high levels of illiteracy, and a homicide rate that renders it one of the most murderous countries in the world.  Most crimes are not prosecuted and the state’s security system has been infiltrated by criminal elements resulting in a parallel state. Thus, there is in effect a new war between criminal elements and the government.  This experience leads us to consider the process in Colombia, which has an overwhelming 7 million IDPs to contend with, difficult in particular due to ongoing polarization within the society regarding accountability vs. amnesty dilemmas.  I called for more research in peace studies, in particular adding legal and critical perspectives.

Kudos to  Anders Engberg-Pedersen and Sten Rynning for organizing a thought-proving conference!

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