Regional conflicts are a bitter legacy from previous decades that continue to affect our national security interests today. Regional conflicts do not stay isolated for long and often spread or devolve into humanitarian tragedy or anarchy. Outside parties can exploit them to further other ends, much as al-Qaida exploited the civil war in Afghanistan. This means that even if the United States does not have a direct stake in a particular conflict, our interests are likely to be affected over time. Outsiders generally cannot impose solutions on parties that are not ready to embrace them, but outsiders can sometimes help create the conditions under which the parties themselves can take effective action.
The world has seen remarkable progress on a number of the most difficult regional conflicts that destroyed millions of lives over decades.
Numerous remaining regional challenges demand the world’s attention:
Regional conflicts can arise from a wide variety of causes, including poor governance, external aggression, competing claims, internal revolt, tribal rivalries, and ethnic or religious hatreds. If left unaddressed, however, these different causes lead to the same ends: failed states, humanitarian disasters, and ungoverned areas that can become safe havens for terrorists.
The Administration’s strategy for addressing regional conflicts includes three levels of engagement: conflict prevention and resolution; conflict intervention; and post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction.
Effective international cooperation on these efforts is dependent on capable partners. To this end, Congress has enacted new authorities that will permit the United States to train and equip our foreign partners in a more timely and effective manner. Working with Congress, we will continue to pursue foreign assistance reforms that allow the President to draw on the skills of agencies across the United States Government.
The most effective long-term measure for conflict prevention and resolution is the promotion of democracy. Effective democracies may still have disputes, but they are equipped to resolve their differences peacefully, either bilaterally or by working with other regional states or international institutions. In the short term, however, a timely offer by free nations of “good offices” or outside assistance can sometimes prevent conflict or help resolve conflict once started. Such early measures can prevent problems from becoming crises and crises from becoming wars. The United States is ready to play this role when appropriate. Even with outside help, however, there is no substitute for bold and effective local leadership.
Progress in the short term may also depend upon the stances of key regional actors. The most effective way to address a problem within one country may be by addressing the wider regional context. This regional approach has particular application to Israeli-Palestinian issues, the conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and the conflict within Nepal.
Some conflicts pose such a grave threat to our broader interests and values that conflict intervention may be needed to restore peace and stability. Recent experience has underscored that the international community does not have enough high-quality military forces trained and capable of performing these peace operations. The Administration has recognized this need and is working with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to improve the capacity of states to intervene in conflict situations. We launched the Global Peace Operations Initiative at the 2004 G-8 Summit to train peacekeepers for duty in Africa. We are also supporting United Nations (U.N.) reform to improve its ability to carry out peacekeeping missions with enhanced accountability, oversight, and results-based management practices.
Once peace has been restored, the hard work of post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction must begin. Military involvement may be necessary to stop a bloody conflict, but peace and stability will last only if follow-on efforts to restore order and rebuild are successful. The world has found through bitter experience that success often depends on the early establishment of strong local institutions such as effective police forces and a functioning justice and penal system. This governance capacity is critical to establishing the rule of law and a free market economy, which provide long-term stability and prosperity.
To develop these capabilities, the Administration established a new office in the Department of State, the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, to plan and execute civilian stabilization and reconstruction efforts. The office draws on all agencies of the government and integrates its activities with our military’s efforts. The office will also coordinate United States Government efforts with other governments building similar capabilities (such as the United Kingdom, Canada, the EU, and others), as well as with new international efforts such as the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission.
Patient efforts to end conflicts should not be mistaken for tolerance of the intolerable. Genocide is the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The world needs to start honoring a principle that many believe has lost its force in parts of the international community in recent years: genocide must not be tolerated.
It is a moral imperative that states take action to prevent and punish genocide. History teaches that sometimes other states will not act unless America does its part. We must refine United States Government efforts – economic, diplomatic, and law-enforcement – so that they target those individuals responsible for genocide and not the innocent citizens they rule. Where perpetrators of mass killing defy all attempts at peaceful intervention, armed intervention may be required, preferably by the forces of several nations working together under appropriate regional or international auspices.
We must not allow the legal debate over the technical definition of “genocide” to excuse inaction. The world must act in cases of mass atrocities and mass killing that will eventually lead to genocide even if the local parties are not prepared for peace.