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Is Letting Them Fight It Out in
Angola the Only Choice?



Jan. 27th, 1999

LONDON - The UN has now decided to give up on peace-keeping in Angola, the site of Africa's second longest-running civil war in a continent where it's difficult to measure the worst. It certainly proves what Clausewitz wrote, that everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. An Angolan peace was arbitrated as long ago as 1991. It couldn't have been more straightforward--giving both sides a share in running the country. Yet human malevolence and personal greed is now so out of control that the antagonists don't want peace. They want the spoils of war, in this case diamonds and oil, and they want it all. Again, to paraphrase Clausewitz, war is not just an act of senseless passion. Belligerents often calculate the relative costs of continuing the conflict versus reaching some kind of compromise agreement.

We know very little about how to make peace. Compared with the study of war and the machinery of war, both practitioners and scholars have given it scant attention. But what we do know can be discouraging. In about 50% of cases negociated settlements have led to renewed war within five years. Most civil wars in history have ended with the outright victory of one side or another, and the most stable peace settlements in civil war have been achieved by military victory, rather than by negociation.

Perhaps the UN is right to pull out of Angola. Could it be that it's a wise world world that folds its arms and lets the war run its course? After all this is what the Security Council effectively did when the Hutus massacred the Tutsis in Rwanda and the Tutsis took their revenge by chasing the Hutus into Zaire and toppling the government that gave them succor; or when the Eritreans and Tigrayans felled a murderous dictatorship in Ethiopia; and when Yoweri Museveni's warriors drove out the equally evil dictatorship in Uganda. Perhaps, gruesome though the carnage of war was, those countries are now more stable than if the UN had entered the ring and tried to separate the contestants. Yet, apart from the uncertain morality of the hands-off approach--and even President Bill Clinton has publically apologised for America's stance during Rwanda's pogrom--there are rarely such quick victories. More usually war is a long drawn out affair in which atrocities, economic turmoil and environmental degredation are the fuel for even more rabid hatreds and more no-holds-barred fighting. As in Bosnia, peace after negociation may be only partial (and it is easy to argue the Dayton Agreement has settled nothing), but it does create some space for wiser counsels to be heard and non-militaristic modes of behaviour to see the light of day.

If peace-making is an infant industry, then that is all the more reason to try and fashion some new tools. While outsiders may have little leverage on the central elements of irrationality, contested values and identities that propel the conflict, they can work at the margins to build incentives that will dampen down the violence. In this way it is possible to influence the calculations of belligerents on the pluses of a negociated settlement.

Cambodia has been Asia's most intractable civil war, even worse than Angola in many respects. The "killing fields" of the Khmer Rouge were more systematic and more total than anything Angola has experienced. Yet, while the UN was marginalised in Cambodia, after successfully negociating peace and organising elections, when Hun Sen destroyed democracy with his coup, the international community stayed engaged. It did not buy the argument that Hun Sen's victory was a quick road to stability. It has continued to act as if it believes peace is more than an absence of war. Hun Sen, desperate for foreign aid and investment, has gradually been wooed to compromise, creating more political room for his rivals. And he has apparently given the green light to the UN team now about to report on the workability of a war crimes tribunal to bring to justice those who led the Khmer Rouge-led genocide. The UN human rights team, headed by Thomas Hammarberg, the former secretary-general of Amnesty International, has given witness not just to personal bravery but to the virtue of perseverence.

We assume too blithely that wars happen despite the intentions of rational people. In truth they happen often BECAUSE of the intents of rational people. War, to paraphrase Clausewitz one last time, has increasingly become the continuation of economics by other means. It is not, as we outsiders see it, a breakdown of the system. It is a way of creating an alternative system of profit and power.

It is because the framers of the Oslo accords understood this they were able to successfully bring Yassir Arafat along. He and his cabal of officials who run the Palestinian Authority have gained tangible economic and financial benefits from peace.

Economic incentives probably can't be used in Angola, where diamonds and oil are at hand. Therefore we should think of how to deploy economic penalties. One way, used surprisingly rarely as a weapon of diplomacy, would be to deny its political leaders and their families access to foreign bank accounts and overseas travel. Colombia's decision to freeze guerrilla bank accounts and confiscate their deposits seems to have been more effective than years of military engagement. If the warlords of Angola have no foreign bank accounts and, moreover, were deprived of their markets for diamonds and oil, their vested interest would be radically transformed.

This is no time to despair of Angola. There are other methods besides traditional UN peace-keeping for edging the protagonists towards peace. Peace making has to be a creative business. We have to study war a little less and peace a little more.


Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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