Who Will Intervene in the World’s Hot Spots?

Who Will Intervene in the World’s Hot Spots?
Congolese soldiers escorting a convoy of Kenyan troops deployed as part of the East African Community Regional Force, in Goma, in eastern Congo, Nov. 16, 2022 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

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 these interventions might be funded.

There are interminable conflicts, like the situations in Syria, Yemen and the Sahel, which have produced years of violence, countless thousands of deaths and even more refugees. Then there are the emerging hot spots, including Sudan and Myanmar, and any number of potential flashpoints, like the China-India frontier and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has now brought high-intensity, interstate warfare to the heart of Europe for the first time since the end of World War II. And the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas has once again reminded global leaders that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be ignored at great peril.

At the same time, the nature of terrorism is also changing. After a period of recalibration following the loss of its caliphate in western Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has once again become more active in the two countries, even as it shifts its attention to new theaters of operation, like the Sahel, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. In so doing, the group and its affiliates are taking advantage of dwindling international interest in mounting the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns needed to meet these new challenges. More recently, the killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul raised questions about the group’s relations with Afghanistan’s new Taliban government.

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These developments come at a time when Western powers have shown a flagging interest in conflict intervention, more broadly, as evidenced by the general disinterest in the civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region for the two years it lasted. And after a decade-long effort to counter Islamist groups in West Africa’s Sahel region, France and its European partners are now making plans to wind down their involvement, which has failed to accomplish any of its stated goals.

U.N. peacekeeping operations, which might traditionally have played a role in mitigating these conflicts, are also suffering from flagging enthusiasm. Difficult, unwieldy missions in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have curbed the global appetite for peacekeepers. Now the fallout from the West’s geopolitical standoff with Russia threatens to paralyze the Security Council, which could further jeopardize the U.N.’s peacekeeping capabilities. The resulting vacuum has opened up opportunities for regional organizations, including the African Union, to fill the gaps. But it is not yet clear if they will.

All of this is happening against a backdrop of proliferating humanitarian emergencies due to conflict and natural disasters. Persistent fighting in eastern Congo hampered the response to the Ebola outbreak in the region and continues to slow humanitarian efforts. Meanwhile, refugee numbers are swelling, even as climate change is generating new crises, while further stretching the scant resources available for addressing the existing ones.

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 war in Ukraine affect efforts to intervene in existing conflicts and prevent emerging ones? How will persistent conflicts in Syria, Yemen and the Sahel be resolved, and can more humanitarian crises be averted while the fighting lasts? As the effects of climate change accelerate, will the world address the humanitarian crises it causes? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Our Most Recent Coverage

Ukraine Needs to Hype-Proof Its Strategy for a Long War

In an information landscape where social media-driven news cycles often burn out in a day, engaging with the public responsibly over months and years has become one of the most difficult challenges that governments face. Yet this is what Kyiv must do as it becomes clear that the war in Ukraine will continue for the foreseeable future.

The War in Ukraine

After months of tensions and alarm, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 came as a shock, but not a surprise. In the weeks thereafter, the Russian attack bogged down in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, but also tactical, strategic and logistical blunders. In place of the lightning victory Moscow—and many Western military analysts—expected, the conflict has now become a war of attrition, featuring brutal and indiscriminate Russian attacks on civilian population centers as well as credible accusations of war crimes. Meanwhile, the fallout from the conflict, as well as Western sanctions on Russia, has spread globally in the form of skyrocketing food and energy costs, but also a diplomatic battle for allegiance that echoes the Cold War standoff between Washington and Moscow.

Persistent Conflicts, Crises and Proxy Wars

Across the globe, though some long-standing conflicts, like Afghanistan, have ended, others show no signs of drawing to a close. In some situations, like Libya, Syria and South Sudan, though fighting is no longer in an active phase, conditions remain too tentative to be called peace. And in West Africa, a decade-long effort to counter Islamist insurgencies has reached an impasse, with little to show for it. Meanwhile, the Israel-Hamas war underscores the danger of assuming conflicts that have gone dormant will never flare up again.

Emerging Conflicts

Alongside persistent conflicts, new ones are emerging, whether in Sudan, where fighting between rival military factions that erupted in April continues unabated, or in Myanmar, where opposition to the military junta has slowly but surely crystallized into an armed insurgency. Even as Ethiopia’s brutal civil war in Tigray has now ended, other conflicts in Oromia and Amhara rage on. And with the U.S. having backed away from its role as “global policeman,” the vacuum left behind, combined with the increasingly competitive geopolitical arena, has increased the potential for tensions in other hot spots to spark into conflict.


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 be spreading, even as it evolves to become more independent of these transnational networks. Meanwhile, recent events in the U.S. demonstrate that the threat from domestic right-wing extremists has become more urgent.


After several high-profile failures of its peacekeeping missions in the 1990s, the U.N. set out to rethink and improve blue-helmet operations at the turn of the millennium. But they continue to be dogged by a number of critical problems, including the intransigence of local leaders and missions that are simultaneously bloated and underfunded. The U.N. launched the Action for Peacekeeping initiative in March 2018, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of its missions. But ongoing discussions as well as follow-through on the initiative’s proposals have been hampered by great-power tensions, particularly between the U.S. and Russia.

Humanitarian Disasters and International Responses

Under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. undermined international institutions that have been central to organizing and maintaining disaster and humanitarian responses, leaving regional actors and international agencies scrambling for funding. The administration of President Joe Biden has reaffirmed America’s traditional leadership role in these multilateral institutions. The move comes not a moment too soon, as the effects of climate change are only becoming more severe.

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