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Peace is getting more costly everywhere

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The aftermath of an Israeli air strike that hit the medieval Citadel of Damascus on February 19, 2023. AFP

Peace is getting more costly everywhere

In the current global climate, the expense associated with maintaining peace is increasing at a rapid pace. Peace has become a valuable commodity in various regions across the globe, ranging from the simmering borders of Eastern Europe to the volatile pockets of the Middle East, and from the tumultuous corners of Sub-Saharan Africa to the rising tensions in the South China Sea.

The escalation of global conflicts is not necessarily a recent occurrence. Throughout history, humanity has experienced prolonged periods of conflict and strife. The evolving nature of these conflicts is characterised by an increasing level of intricacy and breadth. The nature of contemporary conflicts has become more transnational, characterised by the rise of non-state entities, cyber warfare, and the expansion of asymmetric warfare. These factors exacerbate the expenses linked with peace-building.

The protracted conflict in Syria will be used as an example. After 12 years, the situation in Syria serves as a poignant example of the high cost of achieving peace. The initial civil unrest against the regime of Bashar al-Assad has evolved into a complex crisis that involves multiple international stakeholders. The significant impact on both human life and infrastructure is profound; however, it represents only a single aspect of the actual expense. The subsequent refugee crisis has placed a significant burden on the resources of neighbouring nations and has caused political instability that extends well beyond the borders of Syria. The international community has allocated significant financial resources towards humanitarian aid, refugee resettlement, and military interventions, with no clear resolution in sight.

The dispute in the South China Sea presents a distinct but equally concerning example of the increasing cost of maintaining peace. Several nations assert their ownership over this crucial maritime area, resulting in a progressively growing military presence within the vicinity. In addition to the substantial defence expenditures, there exists an intangible expense associated with the escalating tension. The possibility of a significant conflict in one of the most heavily trafficked sea lanes worldwide presents a potential disturbance to international trade routes, which could result in far-reaching economic implications.

The ongoing conflict in the Sahel region of Africa presents a clear depiction of the increasing expenses associated with maintaining peace. The confluence of violent extremism, intercommunal conflicts, and food insecurity has resulted in a significant surge in displacement, with millions compelled to abandon their residences. The financial expense required to reestablish harmony and reconstruct these communities is significant. The allocation of resources towards the international community’s response, which includes peacekeeping missions, humanitarian aid, and development assistance, is perceived as a burden on the global economy.

What are the factors that contribute to the high cost of peace processes? The solution can be found in their inherent intricacy. Contemporary conflicts are no longer restricted to two clearly defined entities. Contemporary disputes frequently entail multiple stakeholders, each with distinct objectives, thereby rendering diplomatic resolution more intricate and expensive. Furthermore, the widespread incorporation of technology in military operations, ranging from cyber warfare to unmanned aerial vehicles, has escalated the economic costs linked with peacekeeping efforts.

Another factor that contributes to the situation is the ongoing and lasting impact of these conflicts. The process of rehabilitating trauma victims through physical reconstruction, societal rehabilitation, and mental health support necessitates substantial long-term investment. In addition to the economic productivity lost during periods of conflict, these factors contribute to an increased cost of peace.

In addition, there is the frequently disregarded expense associated with prevention. In a globally interconnected environment, conflicts have the potential to readily extend beyond national boundaries. Consequently, countries are progressively allocating resources towards preventative diplomacy, conflict resolution education, and the implementation of early warning systems.

Notwithstanding these sombre realities, it is imperative to acknowledge that peace, regardless of its cost, is not a commodity that can be bartered, but rather an essential entitlement. The cost incurred by conflicts in terms of human, societal, and economic aspects is significantly higher compared to the cost of maintaining peace. In the words of former US President John F Kennedy, it is imperative that we redirect our attention away from a “Pax Americana” that is maintained through military force, and instead prioritise a peaceful global order that is upheld by the principles of law, justice, and the innate human yearning for liberty.

In order to tackle the increasing cost of peace, it is imperative that we prioritise global collaboration. It is advisable for international diplomacy to adopt a proactive approach that prioritises the prevention of disputes rather than their resolution after they have escalated. Concurrently, allocating resources towards social development, education, and sustainable economic growth can effectively tackle the underlying factors of numerous conflicts, thereby reducing the potential expenses of future peace.

The escalating expenses associated with global peace is a concerning pattern. Acknowledging and comprehending the issue is the initial stage in finding a resolution. While the cost of achieving peace may be significant, the expense of engaging in war is inevitably greater. A collaborative worldwide endeavour to allocate resources towards promoting peace will result in invaluable benefits, including the creation of safer, fairer, and more prosperous societies.

Ki Manghout is a Master’s degree scholar in international relations at Griffith University, Australia.


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