Is there a way to actually make armed conflict resolutions durable? After seeing the repetitiveness of conflicts in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq among other countries that have all been experiencing on and off internal violence for decades, improving conflict resolution and peacekeeping’s current approaches are becoming more than necessary for the sake of international security. Being Algerian, I first got introduced to the problematic of repetitive cycles of conflicts with the 10 year-long civil war that Algeria went through and, only a few years later, the emergence of the violent activities of AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), with its many kidnappings and bombings in Algeria, but that also spread in the rest of the Maghreb and Sahel region.
During the Algerian civil war that took place from 1991 to 2002, the population had demanded the democratization of the one-party regime, and after the army opposed to it, the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) and the GSPC (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat) quickly became the two main insurgents armed groups that initiated the internal decade-long conflict. A few years later in 2007, a new jihadi group named AQIM emerged and presented itself as a legacy of the GIA and GSPC, with at its reins fighters that were previously members of those groups. The fact that an armed conflict considered officially over would find some of its key fighters and insurgent groups at the root of a new major terrorist movement like AQIM raised worrying questions about the effectiveness of the conflict resolution strategy that was first used to conclude the 1990s Algerian civil war. What factors doomed this conflict resolution to only be a peace Band-Aid that lasted 5 years, or what factors could have made it more durable and could have helped to avoid the emergence of AQIM? Policy-makers should get to analyze and rethink the conflict resolution tools that were applied during past conflicts and develop new more effective practices.
Why Extremist Ideologies Need to Be Addressed by Conflict Resolution
In contexts like in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region where extremist ideologies like Salafi-jihadism often find themselves among the roots of armed groups’ activities, linking those ideologies to internal conflict resolution approaches can be a way to go. Because it would make peace accords more adapted to context specificities and to one of the conflict’s causes or support sources, it would make them much more durable. Since fighting extremist ideologies is a complex and time-consuming task, it is usually ignored. States tend to bury a conflict by simply militarily attacking the extremist fighters. By doing so, they don’t resolve the ideas behind the conflict. People who adhered to the ideology but hadn’t yet joined the armed movement remain present and active and might continue to radicalize with time passing. Seeing armies attack their fellow citizens might even motivate some new recruits to adhere to the problematic extremist ideology and therefore have a contrary effect and make emerge that second wave conflict a few years later. If the international community continues to botch conflict resolution by avoiding the hard work of fighting and transforming extremist ideologies that are among the causes of violence, States will remain at risk of facing reincarnations of past conflicts. Despite being a challenge, ideas that cause insurgencies and civil wars need to be addressed and fully integrated into resolution and peace strategies.
Lessons From Passed Failed Conflict Resolutions
According to researcher Peter Wallensteen (2019), conflict resolution is a “social situation where the armed conflicting parties in a (voluntarily) agreement resolve to live peacefully, and/or dissolve their basic incompatibilities and henceforth cease to use arms against one another”. It usually involves pivotal and recognized mechanisms like peace talks, agreements, diplomacy, and arbitration. A failed conflict resolution represents a situation where peace agreements are not reached despite the deployment of resolution efforts, but should also be considered as situations where peace agreements are met, but broken off later through the beginning of a new conflict, which is what happens in many countries that face repetitive episodes internal violence.
Going back to our Algerian civil war case study, it is interesting to notice that the Algerian government had chosen as its only resolution “mechanism” to offer amnesty to all insurgents if they surrendered, and simply considered the conflict over after that step despite no assurance that the GIA and the GSPC would abandon their purpose and activities. There was also no involvement from third parties or other States except from an invitation from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1997 to organize mediation, and Algeria rejected it. Many problems erupt from the approach Algerian military and government chose because it didn’t secure a dissolution of the terrorist groups, and also because the international community didn’t actively encourage Algeria to open up to mediation and peace talks. For those reasons, many researchers like Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl (2007) consider the Algerian civil war as a conflict that never experienced a concrete ending or resolution.
The main mistake that the Algerian military and many States previously committed was, however, to consider a conflict resolved if the armed combats stopped. Internal conflicts that result from a revolution against governments should only start to be considered resolved and over if the ideas and the ideologies that made the armed insurgency emerge are also resolved. Civil wars are not only about armed combats but also about a social call from citizens for being heard and considered and those oppression feelings never just disappear on their own. If Algeria had focused on fighting the ideas and ideologies that motivated the insurgency movement, then a second insurgency through AQIM might not have had the grounds to surface a few years later.
States should also consider that second-time insurgencies represent bigger security threats since its organizers and fighters then have the experience, tend to be even more radicalized because their feeling of injustice is even bigger, and because the State’s institutions are already fragile from enduring the first conflict. Conceiving conflict resolution mechanisms that are effective and durable should, therefore, be perceived as a more strategic, economic and safe choice for governments even if they require more efforts then the botched approaches traditionally used.
Fighting Extremist Ideologies
In many of the ongoing conflicts in MENA and in the rest of the world, a certain type of legacy from a past conflict or a passed unachieved political or social movement can be found. Reflecting on the place of ideologies in conflicts can help to understand the causes of violence, and therefore help find more effective strategies to build peace climates. Ideologies have traditionally been a mobilization tool, but they could become a demobilization, demilitarization, and peacebuilding one if approached well.
Political actors should consider the extremist ideologies that are linked to violent insurgencies, terrorism, and civil wars like a social-political phenomenon that results from psychological distress and that can be triggered by a feeling of injustice and oppression (Cecile Rousseau, Ghayda Hassan, Youssef Oulhote 2017). Fighting these ideologies could involve a transformation of the distress, oppression, and injustice ideas and feelings that are spread among recruits of insurgent armed groups. States should try to maintain a dialogue with extremist groups in an effort to prove that they are not necessarily enemies and that concessions and peace are possible. Strategies to prevent radicalization, especially in the MENA where jihadist ideologies are already highly present, should also start to be implemented, and many scholars and States have already developed some great and effective ones that could just be reused by others.
Transforming those extremist ideologies that are at the roots of an armed movement should become a tool that actors concerned about peacebuilding, peace durability, and security introduce during peace talks. Fighting the ideas that offer a starting ground to conflicts can help guarantee that the causes that were initially present to make the conflict erupt will not be reassembled anymore post-peace agreements and conflict resolution. Plus, as researchers Héctor Alcala, Mienah Zulfacar Sharif, and Goleen Samari said, “failure to do so only perpetuates approaches that have not been successful.”
About the author:
Aïcha Madi specializes in International Security issues and has had several field experiences in the MENA region where she worked with women victims of Human Rights violations as well as with victims of conflicts such as victims of enforced disappearances and victims of torture in Algeria. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a Peace and Security concentration from the University of Montreal (Canada) and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the same university in Public and International Affairs. She is a board member of International Connexion of Montreal and is working with a team of researchers on the prevention of radicalization leading to violence in Canada. She cultivates an approach that promotes peace-building and gender equality.