Predicting the future trajectory of armed conflict is a notoriously difficult task, even when limited to a period of only one year. Events internal to a country are capable of producing unwelcome surprises: in the DRC we have witnessed the Kasai region plummet into horrendous violence that began over the matter of a local succession, at a time when attention was focused on the volatile east. The foreign policy of a global or regional power can also produce a major change: in Syria the Assad regime had been struggling until Iran and Russia intervened to ensure the regime’s survival. Nothing is ever certain, although short term forecasts extrapolating from ongoing crises are essential towards mitigating armed conflict and dealing with the consequences. This week we look at what 2018 holds for two areas covered in the weekly blog during the last year. These are the Rohingya Crisis and Ukraine. Next week we will look at Syria, ISIS and global terrorism. The conflict series on Africa will continue throughout the year.
The Rohingya Crisis has prompted international headlines but little concrete action to reign in the Myanmar army, which has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh and displaced thousands more internally. There is little indication that the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar will stop despite international condemnation of the security forces and government. Bangladesh and Myanmar have reached an agreement to repatriate the Rohingya back to Rakhine State. This would be a calamitous mistake that no organisation or government should back as there are no viable guarantees that can be made by the Myanmar government regarding their safety. The Rohingya have been repatriated twice before, only for the events of 2017 to take place. For now, the refugees will need to stay put in Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries less the international community become party to a genocide that many claim is already occurring. For this to happen requires the support of countries and organisations for UN led efforts to mitigate the impact on Bangladesh and put viable pressure on the Myanmar government to reform. Without either there is a risk of violence spreading into Bangladesh due to the pressure of the sheer number of refugees in an already tense political environment and potential for ARSA, a violent separatist groups whose attacks triggered the 2017 wave of violence, to escalate its campaign in Myanmar with support from international terrorist groups. Myanmar is supposed to be undergoing a transition from an authoritarian military state towards a democratic one but its actions in Rakhine State have exposed a dark side that has the potential to undermine the peace agreements it has made elsewhere.
Ukraine has remained deadlocked throughout 2017 and this is unlikely to change while the separatists of the east continue to be supported by Russia and Ukraine’s internal political problems remain unresolved. Of the conflicts covered in the weekly blog the Ukraine stands out as one that has the most potential for transformation yet remains intractable. The Minsk II agreement of 2015 has set the parameters by which a cessation of violence can be achieved but has resulted in only limited ceasefires that were then broken with mutual recrimination. A recent Russian proposal for peacekeepers, which would simply provide security for OSCE monitors, indicates a willing to compromise over a conflict that is damaging Russia over the long term and in an election year. The three critical prerequisites towards ending the violence and moving towards a constructive dialogue are the return of control of the Ukraine-Russia border to Ukraine, recognition by the government that the separatists in the east will have a degree of autonomy in a future Ukraine and the tackling of corruption within Ukrainian politics. These are the bare minimum that are required but the key factor is the removal of Russian support and influence in the east, a major step that will require guarantees from Ukraine that the Minsk II agreement will be applied, with associated guarantees from NATO and the EU that they will stay out of Ukraine while the country goes through a process of reconciliation and talks between the protagonists. The slim likelihood of this actually happening virtually guarantees the current stalemate will continue. Stopping the civil war and building a viable peace will be a great deal more difficult than exploiting the political differences between west and eastern Ukraine and triggering a conflict that has become intractable. As has been said before, Ukraine had problems long before the Kremlin decided to interfere so catastrophically in the affairs of a sovereign state, but the causes of the conflict are geo-political and armed conflict was avoidable. The reasons for the continuation of the conflict are different, as the separatists have made gains that they do not want to give up and the positions of the protagonists are entrenched through years of fighting. The peace process has stalled but it should not be abandoned as peace processes can take years of mediation and negotiation before a conflict reaches its end. The framework of a pathway out of the conflict is already in place, what is needed now is trust in order for it to be implemented. This can begin with small measures, including the prisoner exchanges that have already taken place, and build from there as a poor chance of peace in 2018 does not mean there is no chance or that it can’t be achieved in 2019.
The blogs concerning the above conflicts can be accessed at the CARIS website, which has links for Twitter and Facebook:
For the review of the Africa series see:
Next week: Part four of this review, with forecasts for Syria and ISIS and international terrorism.
Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.