We need to get organised about war

We need to get organised about war


We get organised about anything that matters to us: our money, our health, our home.  To look at the world, you’d think that preventing war isn’t something that matters all that much.

We have the UN, we have armed forces, we have diplomats.  But for something as big as war we need to be seriously well-organised to prevent it.
Just compare:
  • Number of people engaged in developing a new model of car for a big car firm: I don’t know but it’s safe to say it’s in the hundreds when you think of all that goes into designing a car.  They’ll be in a well-organised team, with someone clearly in charge and with well defined roles and responsibilities.
  • Number of people engaged in preventing war in, say, Yemen: for the UK, being generous, probably up to about 30 including admin staff.  That’s made up of an embassy-in-exile (since Yemen is too dangerous for our embassy to be open); the Foreign Office Yemen team in London; a few people in the Ministry of Defence; and some intelligence agents whose numbers are of course not public.  These various groups will meet regularly but will not be in a single team.  Their roles and responsibilities will shift on an ad-hoc basis and will often not be clearly defined.
Now compare:
  • Potential benefit of a new model of car: slightly nicer / cheaper / different driving for those who buy it; employment for those who make it; profits for the firm’s owners if all goes well; leading to more investment, and so on.
  • Potential benefit of preventing war in Yemen:
    • Thousands of lives saved and injuries prevented.  Hospitals report about 2,800 deaths and 13,000 injuries linked to the violence between March and June 2015.
    • 1 million displaced people able to return home
    • Food crisis averted for what the UN estimates will be 13 million people.  (Yes, 13 million people.)
    • Acute malnutrition among children reduced – currently (mid 2015) forecast to rise to 1.3 million including 400,000 severe cases.
    • International community could save $1.6 billion in emergency aid (the UN’s estimated requirement for 2015 alone)
    • One set of causes of further instability in the Middle East would be removed or reduced.  A regional war, potentially, could be averted.
There you have it: a knock-down argument for a bigger, well-resourced and well-organised team working on war in general, and the Yemen conflict in particular.
The human costs are by far the most powerful argument.  But in case it’s a helpful added incentive, quite apart from anything else it would save a vast amount of money.
Of course the UK is but one small part of a wider effort.  So in the case of Yemen:
  • Some other countries and organisations will have similar teams working on Yemen, for example France, Germany, the EU.  The USA’s team will be larger.  These countries liaise ad-hoc, and co-operate in supporting the UN, but will usually not combine to form anything resembling a coherent team.
  • Countries most affected by the conflict, especially Yemen’s neighbours, have much bigger teams working on it – but sometimes to help one or other side to fight.  They need help if they are to reach a peaceful settlement.
  • The UN has a Special Envoy for Yemen, with a small staff, and the UN has part of its central secretariat working on Yemen.  The UN Security Council is watching Yemen and passes Resolutions on it, imposes sanctions and takes other measures.
This does not inspire confidence or look anything like the kind of well-oiled machine that will be needed to stop a complex war. We need to put one in place, for each war.
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