October 29, 2016

Diplomat Describes Causes of International Conflict, Prescribes Possible Solutions

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Complex cultural conflicts and an over-reliance on violence contribute to the prevalence of war in the world today, according to Carne Ross, the director of the Diplomatic Advisory Group.

Ross spoke about the causes of international conflicts at the Cornell Institute for African Development’s annual symposium on Friday, which focused on extremism and security in the state of Africa.

All of the continents, except Antarctica, are currently suffering from disputes in at least one area, according to Ross. He explained that these disputes are very different than they were in the 20th century. Eighty percent of the conflicts currently handled by the United Nations Security Council involve wars within states, which creates a constant climate of tension, according to Ross.

“We see a blurring of the lines that defined conflict in the past,” he said. “[In place of] the mass killing we witnessed in the first and second world wars, [we now see] limbo wars. It is neither war nor peace.”

Today’s disputes also show less distinction between soldiers and civilians and take advantage of methods of warfare like chemical weapons, according to Ross. He added that warfare can be precipitated by a greater complexity of factors.

“In any single conflict today … at a minimum, religion, extremism, the depredations of weak institutions and weak government, the proliferation of weapons and gross poverty” all contribute to intra-state disputes, he said.

Ross offered possible “prescriptions” for the metaphorical sickness of international conflict, saying it is essential that countries move away from methods of “top-down, state-based or government-based response.”

The U.N. Security Council focuses its efforts on governments that often have little power over the people they represent, according to Ross. He suggested using a more localized approach, saying the organization should engage with non-state groups on the ground and work “from the bottom up.”

When asked who was at fault for the prevalence of war in the world, Ross said he believes it should not be “morally legitimate” for governments to use force because it “gives others permission to do the same.”

“I personally think that the right we have culturally given to certain people to wage war, that is the fault,” he said.

The symposium continued into Saturday with expert panels focusing on development and extremism in Africa, according to Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, the Director of the Institute for African Development.