Professor Peter Wallensteen
Professor Peter Wallensteen is the Dag Hammarskjold professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden and is also research professor of Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, US.
He is the director and founder of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), which – since 1982 – has recorded ongoing violent conflicts and collected information on an expanding range of aspects of armed violence, including conflict dynamics and resolution. The UCDP data is one of the most-widely used data sources on global armed conflicts, and its definition of global armed conflict is becoming a standard in conflict studies. Last week he was at Addis Ababa University, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Ras Mekonnen Hall, for a public lecture on the global conflict situation. His lecture started with the Cuba-American hostility and ended up with the South Sudan conflict. Henok Reta of The Reporter sat with the professor at the Embassy of Sweden, which is located off Yared Street, for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
The Reporter: You said in your lecture that there have been more peace agreements than any period after the end of World War II and the Cold War when the world is still facing many challenges.
Peter Wallensteen: Yes. There have been wars and that makes people more pessimistic. There are more wars than peacemaking efforts. It is indeed partly true that in the past couple of years but the world has seen more peace agreements through various parties including the United Nations Peace and Security Council and various regional organizations. Now, we find ourselves in a new challenging situation. In some parts of the world peace appears to be declining as conflicts are escalating. However, there are success stories. For instance, in the Philippines the Christian government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have managed to work out their differences. Peace process in Colombia is also another important success. Remarkably, the United States and Cuba are set to normalize their relations. These look good, but on the other side, there are problems in South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and the Gaza strip where there are bloody confrontation.
Your handout shows a significant decline of wars and armed conflicts after the Cold War. What is the reason?
Ten years after the end of the Cold War armed conflicts and protracted wars across the world have been reduced. However, from around 2003, there have been new wars and terrorism emerged as a new factor for instability and conflict. On the other hand, tensions were looking a bit scary everywhere. The tension in the Korean Peninsula could be mentioned as one example. Latin America used to have a lot of military regimes now things are functioning in a democratic manner. Africa itself has seen relatively better governments in those years. Botswana, Ghana and some others have seen stable and inclusive governments. The societies have been engaged in those peace agreements and they were very much instrumental in insuring peace in their respective countries. External influence in the form of making weapons available for the warring parties is also another problem. Things are not always uniform. I was saying governments need to have the ability and resoluteness to engage all parts of the society. I think it’s a failure having not imposed an arms embargo on Syria. That should be the first thing to do when planning to end conflict and that didn’t work in Syria. That has led Syria to becoming one of the worst conflict zones in the world. We are learning how some countries avoided wars and how their success was achieved. This provides basic inputs for the research we are carrying out.
What are the basic problems that hamper peace agreements everywhere?
I think the first problem is fragmentation. There are dozens of actors in every conflict zones. They have their own agenda. For instance, if you go to Syria people talk about many things. I was told that in Syria one person has to negotiate with 50 different actors. Recruitment criteria for negotiators include tribe, religion, political or ideological affiliation and family line. This has been our major findings in the survey.
Despite the positive signs, there is a strong argument that conflict itself has changed its character over the years. Do you think this argument is correct?
I think it has changed its character. During the Cold War it was between the two rivals—the US and the USSR. A destructive role was played by those actors. These were two rich countries who can supply weapons and money to others. The two used to supply weapons in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Horn of Africa. Nowadays, terrorism is the major source of conflict in the world. It has come out as a common feature. So, yes it has changed its manner and purpose in the course of time.
Since you have been studying the types of conflicts in the world would you please state which one is becoming common these days, and which part of the world is prone to this type of conflict?
I think it is internationalized civil wars. Some states may want to be more autonomous so they might confront governments with help from neighboring nations. Some of these countries may be bigger and richer so they can be involve enormously. That makes things tougher to deal with. Indeed, much of the literature on peace and conflict is on the interstate conflict but that has changed in the past 25 years. Ethio-Eritrea and Indo-Pakistan could be mentioned as examples. We have had more civil wars that have been internationalized, and the world has to think of ways to deal with the issue. Respecting the rights of others, becoming more inclusive, equality and finding a common ground for power sharing arrangement can be the things people should think about when dealing with situations. Since the 1980s there have been more than 200 peace agreements and most of them were changed into actuality. For example, Liberia had some 14 peace agreements to end its internal conflicts and it has been peaceful for the past ten years. That is good, but Ebola is another problem for the country because the people haven’t recovered enough from the wars.
How much have you done in assessing the impact of the developed world in fueling internal conflicts in some of the developing countries which are mostly found to Africa?
The developed world might have been involved in those countries, but the most striking one is the involvement of the neighbors across the border although they say they respect the territories. I think the important thing is that a conflict in one country is actually a challenge to the region. The country should work out things by itself as quickly as possible before it opens doors for others who have an interest there. Outside powers such as France, Britain, the United States and sometimes China and Russia have enormous resources so that their involvement changes the dynamics of the conflict. So, the region has to act quickly in resolving the conflicts to keep those powers outside.
The Horn of Africa has long been associated with armed conflicts and internationalized civil war like any volatile region across the globe. Can you say a few things with regard to the region and what the future might hold?
The Horn of Africa is one fragile region. There are many tensions that need to be recognized and be dealt with in a clever way. I think some wise leadership in some of the countries in the region has brought peace negotiations ahead of conflicts and that is seen as a positive outcome for ensuring peace in the region. However, the birth of South Sudan has brought another problem to the region. Somalia still requires a lot of attention. The involvement of regional and continental organizations such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the AU is vital since it is a fragile region.
Some say that Ethiopia’s involvement in the region has been significant in maintaining regional stability as it quashing Al-Shabaab. Do you think this is the right thing to do?
I would like to see more negotiations and more peace agreements rather than more weapons and ground troops there. Involving troops in another country may have beneficial effects but it also has risks and tensions. Your ambition to bring about peace has to be clear and complemented with participations from parts of the society there. The ultimate purpose should be that.
Do you think Kenya’s involvement in Somali is a similar one with that of Ethiopia?
Both countries went to Somalia at different times and both have the right to defend themselves. However, if the efforts are emphasized on military actions you are escalating the tension. Other ways of initiations like mediation and negotiations, like what you are doing in South Sudan right now, are better options. The purpose should be expressed clearly that it’s all about promotion of peace and stability in Somalia. Somalia’s problem is not a regional one and it should be prioritized by the international community since that has been a 25-year-old problem. Unless the world stands together to deal with such a problem it will be very difficult to solve it. Cambodia had a similar problem and it was a problem of some countries in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, and these types of problems require more international effort.
What do you recommend is the right manner to deal with some extremists like Al-Shabaab?
I’m not an expert on Al-Shabaab. I think both Ethiopia and Kenya have the potential to develop other mechanisms other than military actions. That can be done with a lot more international assistance. My experience from other similar situations is that this extremist group is a faction that aspires to control power, but it doesn’t necessary mean that it rejects any engagement in some sort of a peace arrangement. I don’t think it’s absolutely impossible to talk to these people. Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, rebels in the Sahel region around Mali or the Taliban are not intractable. They have got different sub-groups in the society so it is always dangerous to use military force. They can reunite so that no one could wipe them out forever. Very few people might like wars but many want to see peaceful settlements everywhere and these groups may wake up someday and find other solutions.
What about the situation in South Sudan?
It’s a terribly sad development we have come across in South Sudan since its birth. First it looked promising when they came out of decades of war in a peaceful manner but it suddenly turned out to be a devastating conflict. I think the current peace arrangement that is currently progressing with the help of the Government of Ethiopia, the IGAD and the international community seems to be promising but there is a long way to go. It is not easy to go into such a country unless a ceasefire agreement is reached and things become calm. Security is an issue there. More attention and support from the international community could facilitate things and find a lasting solution there. An international peacekeeping force may be needed as well to pursue the peace arrangement. For the time being power-sharing looks like the only means to capitalize on the efforts being made to see a peaceful South Sudan. Maybe it is going on the same route that Liberia went through before as several peace agreements were made. The current problem in South Sudan is a problem that is linked to the wars that took place before the secession.
What can you say about the “no-peace, no-war situation” of Ethiopia and Eritrea that has been prevailing since the end of the dreadful war that took place between the two countries in late 90s?
It’s an unhealthy situation. It brings about more danger. I don’t know when the time is ripe for settlement, but it needs a lasting settlement. I know there was a commission on boundary issues and peace agreement and that have to be part of the efforts towards a lasting solution. It is very difficult to think about the future at this moment. I don’t know much and I can only speculate about what can be done in the future. I think these are two proud nations can sort out their differences together and find a way to have lasting peace without external influence. They should be open to an international assistance as well when the right moment comes.
Some people associate the case in Ethiopia and Eritrea with that of India and Pakistan. Is that the future for Ethiopia and Eritrea?
The India-Pakistan case goes back to 1947 and it perhaps can be a lesson if there is any similarity. Hostilities of this sort will not benefit anyone. I hope that Ethiopia and Eritrea would normalize their relations soon.
Has your data program center in Uppsala done anything in relation to the conflicts and war between the two countries?
Yes. We were following the developments of the war since it started. We have also been observing the peace agreements that were being made between the two countries and their mediators and the final agreement when it was reached between the two leaders in Algiers in 2000. However, we were not requested to have a role in any of these peace agreements so there is no specific data.
Do you think that the peace agreement signed by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president Isaias Afeworki is a cause for the current situation prevailing between the two countries?
I don’t think I am the right person to comment on that. I don’t know about the details of the document. But that agreement is still prevailing and I think it’s not good to go away from it. That might deteriorate things. Still, I will be very happy if Ethiopia and Eritrea ask me to help out sort their differences and if they want to come to the discussion table I will be happy to assist.
Do you think engaging elders and communal leaders in peacemaking effort is the right approach in solving problems in Africa?
It’s hard to say that it is the best approach but you may have conflicts that can be dealt with this way. For instance, there is remarkable contrast between Somalia and Somaliland btu Somaliland managed to solve issues by building upon traditional means. Unfortunately, that has not been possible in Somalia. I very much applaud this when you have prominent figures like Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel. I think it’s very good to look into African values and traditional practices when you are looking for solutions in Africa. For instance, in some cases, women play a crucial role in peacemaking processes Liberia can be mentioned as a good example. In Liberia women had a very crucial role to play in the peacemaking process. It should not be limited to the process of making peace but in leadership as well. I have come to understand that there is an untapped resource with women in every peacemaking process. Wise women can form associations to influence the society. I think that is one area Africa should put in to use.
What can you say about the peace and security institutions in Africa. Do you think they have the right structure to deal with African problems?
There are institutions in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia. And these institutions are crucial for promoting peace in Africa and provide information on conflicts observed on the continent. One of the projects we carry out at Uppsala is promoting these institutions to become well-organized places to study and resolve problems in the continent. We have invited some of the scholars from Africa for a quick training at Uppsala. One of these people was Professor Yacob Arsano of Ethiopia, and another smart fellow from Nigeria who unfortunately died in a plane crash. Our data program reveals that Africa has had more conflicts than any other continent followed by Asia. African countries need to depend more on African initiatives. We will be very much supportive to those African universities. One of the major roles these institutions play is that they would give you more details on the conflicts solved through a peace agreement. A peace agreement can never be an end to the conflict. South Sudan can be good example in this regard.
Is water a cause for conflicts and do you see any potential for conflict between Ethiopia, Egypt and other members of the Nile basin?
I think water could become a cause of conflict. One of the longest rivers in Europe is the Rhine River which flows through Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. There has been no war in relation to this river because the commission on the technicalities in 1800 had made things easy. I think the agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan and other countries would be vital in working things out. The water belongs to everybody, and waters have no nationality. So, I’m hopeful this will work out for all the Nile basin countries.
Do you agree that the current economic growth in some of African countries is a guaranty to safeguard them from any further conflicts and wars?
No I don’t. You have to make sure that the economy is shared by all segments of the society. Sometimes this could become an opportunity for some fanatic groups to access finances. Some countries still face problems after their economic boom because the resources are not shared equally and the democratic framework is not properly employed. The beneficiary of this economic growth should always be the mass. Moreover, the growth of a certain nation should never become a threat to its neighbor. China’s economic development should never be used to build up its military because it would terrorize others in the region.