Global war: after the battle
When the guns fall silent, war-torn nations face an even tougher challenge: keeping a stable peace. What problems do countries face in the aftermath of conflict?
Wars are times of action. As bombs fall, militias battle for control and the death toll rises, newspaper editors find no shortage of stories to splash across their pages.
When the guns, drones and planes fall silent, however, a new challenge begins: the formidable task of building a nation and keeping the peace.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, that work is just getting started. It will not be easy: today, fragile new governments struggle to maintain control, rebel groups threaten violence, and war-ravaged infrastructure is in desperate need of rebuilding.
Many countries have faced similar problems – with varying degrees of success. Take Guatemala: in 1996, a war between Mayan rebels and the government ended, but over 15 years later tensions remain. Guatemala is now the world’s fourth most murderous country, with the worst human rights record in its region.
Bosnia, too, maintains a delicate peace. Between 1992 and 1995, Serbian forces slaughtered tens of thousands of Bosniaks in a horrifying campaign of ethnic cleansing. Today, the groups live side by side, but memories of the conflict are a serious barrier to unity.
Even where there is stability, war’s legacy is deeply felt. Since 1975, landmines left over from war have killed or mutilated over one million innocent people. And in every war, nations must deal with those who are forced to flee their homes: Turkey and Jordan are already struggling to support over 100,000 Syrian refugees apiece.
The costs of war are not only felt where bombs fall. In America, 2.4 million veterans struggle with the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan – and of these, one fifth suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts think around 500 veterans commit suicide each month – leaving another legacy of mourning families and communities.
Where wars play out, the impact of trauma may be even more profound. After over 30 years of conflict, many Afghans do not know anything but war. As a result, 60% suffer from major depression, in a world coloured by distrust, fear and violence. Building a unified and effective nation in such troubled circumstances is a huge challenge.
Keeping the peace
These problems, many say, show how little war itself matters. The fate of nations is not decided by bombs and guns, but the tentative and delicate negotiations of peace. It is not what happens on the battlefield that matters, but how people work together when war is over.
Of course decisions made in peacetime are important, others say. But these are always made by the nations that win military conflicts – those that have stronger weapons and superior strategies. War is where history is made: peace is about dealing with the results of these world-changing conflicts.
- Do you think the action of war gets more media coverage than the developments of peacetime? Why?
- What is more important in deciding the fate of global affairs: war, or peace?
- You are a newspaper editor. Instead of covering stories about war and conflict, you want to carry positive articles about countries working towards peace. Research a story that you might want to feature, and create a front page.
- Do some research into the challenges facing Iraq, which is in the process of moving on from a recent conflict. Write down three major challenges that the country will have to overcome in its peace process.
Some People Say...
“Some countries will never be at peace.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- When wars finish, do other countries stay involved?
- Absolutely. When wars come to an end, the affected countries can play a more active role in the international community. They might start trading with other nations and international businesses. For this reason, it makes sense for governments to support peace-building in other countries – stable nations provide a market that can make other economies strong.
- What about in my own country?
- After initially fleeing their homes to escape conflict, many find themselves unable to return to their country – and may have to start a new life anywhere else in the world. People who seek asylum might need support from the countries they settle in, and refugee communities will also contribute to their new homes by sharing culture, skills and experience.
- The Guatemalan Civil War lasted for 36 years, leaving 200,000 people dead and displacing one million. The conflict began when left-wing guerillas rose up against the country’s government, which responded by cracking down on rural peasants and indigenous people – the rebels’ main source of support. Because the vast majority of victims of the war were indigenous Mayan people, the Guatemalan government was accused of genocide – and bitterness is still deeply felt among the Mayan population.
- The Bosnian war took place between 1992 and 1995, after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Under the government of Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serbs attempted to secure territory in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and war resulted, with sustained ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Bosniak population. Events like the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica Massacre, in which 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered, were definitive moments of the genocide.
- These explosive devices are hidden in the ground, and explode when they are stepped on or disturbed. They are designed to destroy enemy soldiers or vehicles, and have been used extensively by insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. When conflicts end, however, the landmines remain: if normal civilians disturb them, they explode, causing mutilation, lost limbs, or death. Today, 159 countries have signed a treaty banning the use of landmines.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- PTSD, as it is commonly known, is an anxiety disorder that results from serious psychological trauma – being threatened with death, for example, or suffering sexual or physical violence. Symptoms of PTSD might include panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia, and paranoia.