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Troops ride in a vehicle near central Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the site of an emerging conflict. Troops ride in a vehicle near central Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, March 2, 2018 (AP photo by Ludivine Laniepce). The country's emerging conflict is outpacing the government's response.

Who Will Intervene in the World’s Hot Spots?

Monday, March 9, 2020

As conflicts and crises persist around the world, there is growing uncertainty about how—or if—they will be resolved. The international order is fraying, generating uncertainty about who will intervene and how humanitarian responses might be funded.

There are interminable conflicts, like the situations in Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan, which have produced years of violence, countless thousands of deaths and even more refugees. Then there are the emerging hotspots, including Mali and Burkina Faso, and any number of potential flashpoints, including in the South China Sea, which is dogged by territorial disputes. Even situations where there was some tenuous hope of reconciliation—such as the Central African Republic, where 14 armed groups signed a peace deal early last year—are in danger of unraveling.

At the same time, the nature of terrorism is also changing. The Islamic State is in the midst of a tactical shift following the loss of its caliphate in western Iraq and Syria, and more recently the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group appears to be transitioning to guerilla-style tactics and dispersed terrorist attacks, while shifting its focus to new theaters of operation, like Southeast Asia. But it is unclear if Western powers have the appetite for mounting the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns needed to meet these new challenges.

Until recently in Syria, a broad range of players remained engaged in the fight against terrorism, but that is one of the few recent examples where the international community has shown a willingness to intervene. And even there the commitment of some actors, namely the United States, is now flagging. Syria is also a case study in how the traditional powers are undermining the ability of the United Nations to respond to crises, further weakening the post-World War II international order. The resulting vacuum has introduced opportunities for regional organizations, including the African Union, to fill the gaps, both in terms of stemming conflict and responding to disasters. But it is not yet clear if they will.

Meanwhile, emergencies due to conflict and natural disasters are proliferating at a rate that is outstripping the available resources to mount a response. Persistent conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo hampered the response to the Ebola outbreak in the region, even as that response has sown distrust and fueled new violence. South Sudan’s conflict, motivated in part by access to resources, has produced persistent food shortages that tipped over into famine last year. Refugee numbers are swelling, even as climate change is set to generate new crises.

WPR has covered the world’s conflicts and crises in detail and continues to examine key questions about how they will evolve. How will the conflict in Syria be resolved, and can more humanitarian crises be averted while the fighting lasts? Who will intervene to prevent emerging conflicts? As the effects of climate change accelerate, will famines become more frequent? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

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Persistent Conflict and Crises

Across the globe, there are a handful of years-long conflicts that show no signs of drawing to a close. In some situations, like Syria, Libya and Yemen, that is because the fighting on a local level is a proxy for battles between other countries. Places like South Sudan and the Central African Republic are torn by rivalries among key domestic actors amid global disinterest. And then there is Afghanistan, where the United States appears trapped in a forever war.

Terrorism

The United States and other Western nations have demonstrated a diminished appetite for continuing to fight transnational terrorist networks, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State, in distant lands. But the threat of violent extremism may actually be spreading, as the ISIS-claimed terror attacks in Sri Lanka illustrated. Meanwhile, future efforts to counter insurgencies will have to adapt to emerging technologies, which are lowering the bar to entry, as well as the evolving, flattening structure of terrorist networks.

Humanitarian Responses

The United States is leading a withdrawal from international cooperation efforts, which have been central to organizing and maintaining disaster and humanitarian responses. Washington is attempting to undercut U.N. agencies that help coordinate these efforts, leaving regional actors and international agencies scrambling for funding. This comes at a particularly dangerous time, as the effects of climate change—like the recent cyclones that struck Mozambique—are going to become more severe.

Emerging Conflicts

Alongside persistent conflicts, new hotspots are emerging, including across West Africa. For a variety of reasons, from Islamic extremism to crackdowns on separatist efforts, countries across the region have seen an escalation in armed violence. The result is massive displacement, which is stretching humanitarian resources. The same problem is happening on the other side of the globe, where the crisis in Venezuela is also fueling migration.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.

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