What would a good war-stopping team look like?

What would a good war-stopping team look like?


First, it would have someone in charge.  May seem a simple point, but it is amazing how often this isn’t so.  A war-stopping team needs a strong and capable leader.

For example: who was in charge of the UK’s entire effort in Afghanistan, in the 12+ years following 2001 when the UK was heavily involved?  In the sense of an individual accountable for, and with authority over, all aspects of the UK’s work in Afghanistan.  Answer: no-one below the Prime Minister.  So there was no fully delegated and empowered Minister or official.  Some of the UK's serious problems in Afghanistan will have stemmed from that failure to put someone in charge.

Second, the team would have enough capable, experienced people (and other resources) for the work.  This would vary from war to war, but would include people who could:

  • Understand and analyse the problems
  • Identify a clear aim and objectives
  • Plan
  • Persuade
  • Negotiate
  • Provide incentives, carrots and sticks, to the parties involved
  • Build political and other alliances
  • Coordinate with other involved nations and organisations
  • Report and inform
  • Use all appropriate levers including diplomatic, economic, military, media
  • Persevere, sometimes for many years
Most teams tackling conflict are not resourced with enough capable and experienced people.  This applies both to nations and to international organisations like the UN.  Teams are often ad-hoc, with major gaps or weaknesses, with frequent changes of personnel many of whom are not experienced in conflict.

Third, a good team would have a clear mandate.  Who gives it the mandate, and what the mandate is, would vary according to the circumstances.
Fourth, the team would have clear and strong reporting lines.  To whom does the team leader report?  Again this will vary with the circumstances.  An international team could report to the UN Special Envoy to the affected country or region.  A national team could report to the Foreign Minister.  At all costs avoid vagueness.
In one sense, that’s all.  It’s not complicated: it’s just what you would expect in any team tackling a challenge.  But usually we don’t do it.
And yet it’s not easy.  If it was, it would be happening routinely already.  It’s difficult because of the number of countries, organisations and people involved in any war, and because the reasons for conflict can be deep-rooted and hard to understand.
It's also difficult for another reason: as modern societies we haven't yet understood how big an effort we should be making to stop wars.  Stopping disease - now, there we've clocked how much resource we need to throw at it, and that has led to the modern medical profession.  But war...
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