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Ceasefires Lead Only to Bloodshed Without End

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23 December 2023, The Australian, by Henry Ergas

Shakespeare hardly put much store in truces. The Duke of Alecon is presented in Henry VI, Part I as an admirable character; but when he is convincing the future King Charles VII of France to accept the truce proposed by Richard, Duke of York, Alecon doesn’t hesitate to remind him that he can “break it when your pleasure serves”.

The problem, however, is not merely that truces and ceasefires are inherently fragile; it is that they so often prolong and deepen conflicts, making wars more, rather than less, destructive.

That much was apparent in Rwanda, where the 1993 Arusha accord, brokered by a vast array of African and Western countries, was intended to stop the escalating violence and open the road to a durable peace.

By freezing the area under each party’s control, the accord prevented the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front from defeating its Hutu opponents. The Tutsi population was therefore left highly vulnerable to Hutu paramilitaries, who were intent on their extermination; and when the RPF, in an effort to reduce that vulnerability, moved to expand its foothold, intense international pressure forced it to withdraw.

While that was happening, the Hutu militias exploited the lull in the fighting to rearm their supporters and position them near areas of Tutsi concentration. As a result, when Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aircraft was shot down (almost certainly by the Hutu extremists themselves) on April 6, 1994, the militias were ready to unleash a genocidal “reprisal” attack, causing more than 500,000 deaths.

Once the scale of the slaughter became apparent, the RPF resumed the offensive it had been forced to pause, capturing Kigali in July 1994 and pushing on into the rest of the country.

Thanks to that offensive, a conflict years of international mediation had failed to solve was decisively resolved in less than three months through military force. But by then, a horrific massacre had taken place in a tragedy that would have been avoided had the RPF’s 1992 offensive been allowed to proceed.

“The ‘peacemaking’ process,” the eminent Africanist, Christopher Clapham, concluded in his study of Rwanda, “did not merely produce an attempted settlement that proved unworkable; it made possible the genocide that followed”.

Unfortunately, the international community acted as if that experience was no more than an aberration. The Rwandan genocide had barely ended when a ceasefire was imposed on the warring parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But it was obvious that the Serbs had no intention of disarming; on the contrary, intelligence reports showed that the truce was simply allowing them to bolster their destructive capabilities.

As General Sir Michael Rose, who commanded the UN Protection Force tasked with the ceasefire’s implementation, later wrote, “clear evidence soon emerged that this period was being used not to advance the peace process but to prepare for a return to ­offensive war” – and it was also obvious that UNPROFOR, which was a peacekeeping rather than war-fighting force, would be utterly unable to hold the Serbs back.

“The appalling massacre that (subsequently) took place in Srebrenica,” Rose concluded, “could never have happened without that terrible international misunderstanding as to what distinguishes war from peace”.

Yet again, however, the international community refused to see what it saw. The errors that had been made in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina were therefore repeated in instances that range from Liberia, the Sahel and Congo-Kinshasa to Ukraine, Georgia, and Nagorno Karabakh; but their consequences were ­perhaps nowhere starker than in Sri Lanka.

In May 2009, when the armed conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam finally ended, some 90,000 people had lost their lives and hundreds of thousands had been displaced. That the human toll proved so devastating was at least partly due to the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, which international pressure did a great deal to impose on the Sri Lankan authorities.

In theory, the LTTE was firmly committed to the agreement; but as well as a steady stream of terrorist attacks, the Nordic monitoring mission noted that the ceasefire led to a surge in human rights violations, as the LTTE strengthened its grip over its territory (including by executing political opponents), reinforced its offensive capabilities and sent fighters to government-controlled areas to capture hostages and “impose its rule on the local population”.

That gutted the agreement of any meaning and convinced the government (which had committed violations of its own) that a peaceful settlement was impossible. By April 2009, after a new round of hostilities, the LTTE once again demanded a ceasefire; it was instead finally defeated but – given the far-reaching preparations the lull in hostilities had allowed it to make – at an appalling and unnecessarily high cost to innocent civilians.

It is, in short, an illusion to believe that ceasefires invariably, or even usually, save lives. Rather, ever since the newly established UN issued its first demand for a ceasefire on August 1, 1947, calls for ceasefires have become an ­essential part of combatants’ armoury, to be deployed as strategically as any other weapon – not for the purpose of making peace but of better pursuing a war they would otherwise lose.

As Clapham argues in reviewing their role in Africa, Western governments, who regularly seek to impose those agreements, act as if the participants in every conflict “share a common value framework, within which differences are ultimately negotiable”.

Additionally, vocal domestic constituencies and “external human rights monitoring organisations, led by the long-established Amnesty International”, fuel the demands for a ceasefire while aggressively tilting “the balance of moral advantage” from governments to insurgents who pose as victims worthy of being protected.

But as these insurgents’ “willingness to resort to systematic murder on a large scale in order to maintain their own power” shows, they “are fundamentally irreconcilable to any resolution of the conflict through a negotiated settlement”.

Blissfully ignoring that fact, Western governments hold to the “tragically mistaken” assumption that a pause in hostilities “can only have a positive or neutral impact”: “if it succeeds, it does good; if it fails, it does no harm”. The grim reality, however, is that the pauses have repeatedly acted as little more than a way of preventing a definitive military solution, condemning conflict zones to “forever wars” and bloodshed without end.

The ancients would not have been surprised. Diodorus, in one of the earliest compendiums of the laws of war, included the ­precept that a “truce may not be broken”; but precisely because respect for that precept required a degree of civilisation, and the trustworthiness that accompanies it, the Greeks thought there was no point in entering into truces with barbarians, who understood nothing but brute force.

And when Plato suggested, in The Laws, that the rules of warfare should apply equally to Greeks and barbarians, his contention was ridiculed as absurdly naive.

Now, the same Western governments that helped engineer one disastrous ceasefire after the other are placing mounting pressure on Israel to commit to a pause which would allow Hamas to regroup. They have, it seems, forgotten absolutely everything and learned absolutely nothing.

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Article source: The Australian | Henry Ergas | 23.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000