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Latest African crisis shows weakness of post-Cold War policy, scholars say
STANFORD -- Humanitarian interventions such as the current security proposal for Zaire and Rwanda "usually feed and prolong civil wars," a scholar of civil wars told a gathering of world political and business leaders at Stanford on Nov. 18.
"There is only one way the conflict in Zaire and Rwanda will end, and that is for the bad guys to be defeated," said Stephen Stedman, a visiting professor at the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. He was speaking to a meeting of the advisory council to the Institute for International Studies, an international group that includes several former heads of state, ambassadors, business leaders and U.S. senators who joined Stanford faculty in two days of discussions on many international issues.
Humanitarian relief organizations increasingly pressure the United Nations and outside governments to intervene in civil wars to provide temporary security, Stedman said. The result is that "the most hopeless cases are getting the most attention and resources."
The United Nations spends half of its assistance for poor nations on human emergencies, up from 25 percent in 1988. Similar patterns exist within U.S. foreign aid programs. There will be more "fires to fight," Stedman said, if less foreign aid goes to sustainable development, which he defined as building infrastructure, including primary education.
Others present at the conference, including Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice, a political scientist, and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said they worried that the United States had not yet formulated an overarching post-Cold War policy to guide decisions about where and when to intervene. Germany's former chancellor Helmut Schmidt reflected European reluctance to intervene in the Balkans by asking, "Where is our legitimacy to intervene in sovereign states? Nobody suggested intervention in Chechnya because it is on the soil of the former Soviet Union. I'm very reluctant to intervene in all these cases."
Asked if he was sure who the "bad guys" were in Rwanda and Zaire, Stedman said, "We are as sure of who committed the genocide in Rwanda as we were of the Nazis [committing genocide] in Germany." At fault are the 10,000 Hutu rebels who took refuge in camps inside Zaire after killing 800,000 people, mostly rival Tutsis, in Rwanda in 1992, he said. But it would be risky for any foreign international force to try to root them out. Mediation is not likely to work either, he said: "They killed over 800,000 people because they didn't want to negotiate. They wanted total victory."
Deadliest civil war decade
An estimated 5.5 million people have been killed in 35 civil wars during the 1990s, making it the deadliest war decade since the 1940s, Stedman said.
Ninety percent of the casualties have been civilians, compared to 10 to 15 percent in World War I and one half to two-thirds of casualties in World War II, he said. The soldiers involved are also younger, with one-third of those fighting in Africa and the former Soviet Union under the age of 16. The primary weapons of mass destruction have turned out to be low-tech AK47s and anti-personnel land mines.
Other effects of civil wars include deferred economic development and spillovers to neighboring countries, and a greater market for arms, Stedman said. Refugees now number an estimated 17 to 18 million. "They can destabilize a [host] country or take their conflict overseas, as in the case of Algeria in France."
Mediation has had some success in ending civil wars in Bosnia, Namibia, Mozambique and El Salvador, he said. But only 15 percent of 20th century civil wars have ended through negotiations, compared to about half of interstate conflicts. "Even where you have had successful mediation, there has often been a failure of implementation," plunging countries back into war.
Stedman listed three "interactive" causes of civil war bad conditions, such as poverty and environmental degradation; bad leaders; and bad neighbors. A CIA report earlier this year listed high infant mortality rates as the best statistical predictor of where civil wars might occur next, he said.
Germany's Schmidt suggested two other causes overpopulation and enmity among ethnic, religious or other cultural subgroups within a state. Many ethnic conflicts were created by outsiders who imposed national boundaries that did not follow ethnic lines.
"Mediation in most cases will not provide lasting peace," he said. "On the other hand, ethnic cleansing may provide peace but creates enormous hardships for those who have to leave their homes behind."
Stedman argued that Schmidt's analysis put too much emphasis on overpopulation or ethnicity, making civil war sound "natural. "There are plenty of cases where a mix of ethnic groups hasn't turned to violence," he said. A major reason for different outcomes in poor, overpopulated countries has to do with the choices that leaders make.
George Shultz, former secretary of state, said that as a U.S. citizen, "I always feel we have some sort of special stake in figuring out how people of diverse backgrounds can live with each other. . . . We should worry about it, because that's where we in the United States are walking constantly. These intolerances are things we have to be against, and the problem starts here at home."
Deciding when to get involved in foreign crises is a major dilemma for the United States since the Cold War ended, Rice said. If the United States becomes embroiled in a series of small crises without first formulating a policy on when and why it will get involved, she predicted a "complete unraveling of American support" for interventions anywhere. The European Community also has been "more hindrance than help, " she said. In that body, "collective responsibility means no one is responsible."
The world needs the United States to behave as an international leader, Lugar said. "People have confidence in us because we don't have territorial ambitions." Yet Lugar said he was not confident people who agreed with him were winning the debate over foreign policy in Washington. Politicians' reluctance to get involved is partly based on public opinion. This year's election polls showed, for example, that "Americans find foreign policy boring," he said.
Rice agreed that U.S international leadership is "a question of will" rather than capability. Past great powers believed they were chosen to lead, she said, but "the United States is quite ambivalent about that role at even high levels of government." Some elements of the Republican Party in particular, she said, feel the United Nations is useless and that America should get involved in crises only unilaterally and when American interests are directly affected. The most dangerous potential outcome, she said, is not American isolationism but "selective unilateralism."