Civil wars have plagued countless countries in recent years, not to mention over the course of history. The rationales for such wars have varied, if there is such a thing as a rational rationale for fighting and killing one's neighbors and fellow citizens. "Civil war" has got to be in the Hall of Fame of ignominious oxymorons. Although warfare between different countries may be equally deplorable, the reasons and circustances are usually different from internal conflicts, and need to be evaluated separately.
There are no positive benefits from civil wars, except perhaps in the eyes of the overly cynical who consider it a way to limit population growth or advance self-serving oblique geopolitical or ideological interests. Although the domestic and international "military-industrial complex", about whom President Eisenhower warned us all, may have a pecuniary interest in enabling forcible exertion of the will of nationalities and groups, their agenda in civil wars is usually somewhere between pernicious and immoral. In short, the world community should do whatever is possible to deflate local conflicts from escalating to bloodshed.
Progress in the pursuit of peace should be made wherever possible. While no single panacea has yet been identified, all measures that contribute toward maintaining peace and encouraging peaceful resolution of conflicts should be embraced. The value of an idea should be judged according to whether it promotes peace or advances the pathway to peace, rather than a litmus test of whether it alone will deliver peace.
Ideas / Solutions
In today's complex fabric of countries, alliances, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), there is an opportunity to advance peace in a manner that did not exist centuries ago. It centers on a key point of leverage that matters to all governments and all insurgent groups, and which is, in itself, often one of the subjects of dispute that has led to war: Money.
Since governmental funding often translates to roads and infrastructure, food and health care, and schools and economic opportunity, it can also be used creatively to force cooperation between people in the same country who ordinarily compete for, and battle over, these resources. Rather than just transfer aid to a ruling government, as has been done -- and abused -- routinely in the past, a new system is imperative, so as not to simply line the pockets of the powerful and increase their advantage against their adversaries.
An innovative five-step solution could lay a foundation for a collaborative relationship that would benefit all factions of an internal struggle, while imposing a strong disincentive to hostility.
The first step is for the international community -- in tandem with the country's prevailing government, dominant powers, ruling party, or most powerful faction -- to identify the country's greatest needs and wants. It may be that the country most needs food, oil and other energy sources, medical resources, economic development assistance, construction of infrastructure and facilities, or other assets, services, or assistance. This determination by the international community must also be made in consultation with representatives of other factions, minority groups, and those who are not in power, to ensure that their needs are included in the country's list of financial priorities.
The second step is for international donors to aggregate resources to provide the needed aid, or at least pledge specific amounts toward that end. The funds can come from sources including the UN, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, regional organizations (e.g., the Organization of American States, the African Union, the European Union, etc.), faith-based and other charity groups and foundations, specific countries, and other international organizations, NGOs, and even individuals. Allocation plans must be developed to ensure that the funding will be utilized for the specific intended purposes, according to a defined timetable, and fairly and proportionately benefit all peoples and factions of the recipient country. Not all intended purposes must benefit all factions, however, as what is needed in one part of the country or for one community might vary from what is needed elsewhere. But the allocation plans must be structured to ensure that each group will experience a meaningful and tangible benefit.
The third step is perhaps the most crucial component for success. The international donors must identify the groups within the recipient country who shall receive and manage the funds. The key to this step is that the money CANNOT be delivered to the prevailing government, dominant powers, ruling party, or most powerful faction. Instead, the funds would be transferred to appropriately established financial institutions or managers who are controlled by the country's minority populations, disparate factions, and parties who are not in power.
Appropriate financial structures and controls would have to be established to ensure that these groups do not use the money in ways that are contrary to the allocation and spending plans. In countries where there are numerous opposition forces that do not collaborate with each other, the delivery could be partitioned among them, with financial structures and controls in each. In the case of a minority or opposition group that does not have access to a sufficient financial infrastructure to receive the funds, an international organization could establish a trust fund to receive their share of the funds, and disburse it according to the directive of the group's leadership.
The fourth component of this system is to establish a timetable and disbursement schedule that releases funds to the minority factions in small, but regular increments. By doing so, the flow of funds could be halted at any time that there is a failure to conform to the allocation plans, or a perceived deficiency in the financial structure or controls of the recipient.
The fifth component is strict monitoring by the international organizations and funding sources of all the other elements of this system. Accountability is the key to this system's success, since the minority factions and groups will be receiving large sums of money that are not only intended for their use or benefit. Any perceived deficiency in the financial structure or controls, not to mention any activity that is contrary to the allocation plans, would result in an immediate suspension of the program. An egregious infringement, or repeated deficiencies could result in future allocations being transferred directly to the prevailing government or ruling party. This would be a strong incentive for conformance. The international organizations and funding sources could engage in regular audits, as well as oversight by in-country monitors.
Essentially, this system bifurcates the international aid process. By placing the responsibility for aid requests and allocation plan input with the government or leaders who are in power, yet placing the responsibility for financial management with the minority or opposition leaders, the two sides will be forced to cooperate and collaborate. The oversight by the international community, together with the small but regular incremental flow of funds, will ensure that the system is administered correctly and will enable it to be halted at any time.
Over time, ideally, a working relationship – and perhaps even a modicum of trust -- would be established between forces that do not naturally cooperate, and who might have resorted to armed conflict in absence of a good reason to maintain constructive relations. It may never instill genuine harmony between peoples, but if it causes them to shelve their animosities and work together for mutually beneficial results, then it will have met the litmus test of advancing the pathway to peace