War is an ugly, brutal and bloody business – as any soldier can testify. Despite the ugliness and destruction a war causes – along with the collateral damage - it does have a desirable outcome: it ultimately leads to the resolution of an armed conflict and thus, in due course, brings about peace.
But, war is simply a continuation of politics, albeit politics that have gone very wrong. However, when the situation deteriorates to the extent that a nation enters into a war, beit cross-border or localised, it ought to have one final aim: the complete and total destruction of the enemy. This defeat can be brought about either through total exhaustion of the opposing forces or their total destruction on the battlefield. To achieve this, the political leaders and the government need determination and courage to see the conflict through to its final conclusion.
By prematurely interrupting a war with a ceasefire (and the usual follow-on of UN peacekeepers) only gives the opposing force an opportunity to recover its losses, re-arm, re-strategise and then simply continue the war again. (Examples of such occurrences are Angola, Sierra Leone, DRC and such). Furthermore, an internationally imposed ceasefire does not allow the antagonised government to negotiate from a position of strength – a position that is vital to secure a lasting peace. It merely puts a lid on the pot and allows it to continue simmering, usually with tragic results.
The ceasefire also gives credibility to the opposing forces as they are formally recognised and given a sympathy they do not always deserve. Therefore, a ceasefire invariably prolongs the conflict instead of ending it. Peace, on the other hand, can only take root once a war has run its course and been finalised by one of the warring parties. (Hence the comment I made back in 1994 - there can be no peacekeeping if there is no peace).
For that simple reason, the foremost principle of war is “the selection and maintenance of the aim”. The primary aim of war is to achieve a decisive victory over the opposing force - militarily, economically and politically. The opposing force cannot be allowed to believe that they may just win the conflict and therefore its will to fight must be destroyed as well. But when the aim is poorly formulated or selected to be politically correct, disaster is inevitable. Without achieving the aim, the government is unable to negotiate a sustained peace. But, when politicians meddle with the plans of battle and dictate military strategy and tactics, the commanders are usually unable to achieve the aim.
For a government’s military machine to achieve the aim requires – apart from a well-trained, disciplined and well-led force - lightning-strikes on enemy rear-areas and logistical supply lines, destruction of enemy training bases, decisive battlefield confrontations on ground of its choosing, maximum use of the air weapon, skilful propaganda, good intelligence and more. For all of the criticisms levelled at governments engaged in armed conflict, the truth is that they do want to end it as soon as possible, for a host of reasons, but often don’t have skills or the resources. But, war is good for some corporations and organisations, especially some of those involved in resource exploitation and “humanitarian” work. In Africa, wars are often started due to international meddling and corporate greed.
When a ceasefire is imposed by outside parties such as the UN, EU, AU and so forth, it prevents the government that is protecting its territorial and political integrity from achieving its aim. A ceasefire, additionally, merely protects the opposing side from the consequences of its action of starting the conflict. It furthermore gives breathing space to the opposing force and thereby legitimises its actions. Taken a step further, it gives major corporations access to areas where profit maximisation can take place – as instability allows them to buy products/resources cheaply and sell those products/resources at grossly inflated profit margins with minimum input costs.
Africa is littered with examples where ceasefires have simply prolonged the conflicts and added to the misery of those caught up in the conflict. Along with the ceasefire usually comes a large, ineffective, money-eating UN peacekeeping force. Their book of success in especially Africa is very, very slim indeed.
The arrival of so-called peacekeepers simply compounds the problem as the local population develop a false sense of security – and instead of fleeing the combat zone, they actually remain there, believing the peacekeepers will protect them… a big mistake as witnessed in Rwanda, Bosnia, DRC and elsewhere. Furthermore, the ability of the UN’s peacekeepers to switch support from one side to another in order to refrain from having to take any decisive action leads to the local population’s distrust and dislike towards them. The frequent stoning of UN convoys by the locals in the DRC is illustrative of this statement.
A too early ceasefire not only creates uncertainty and it invariably leads to a rapid escalation in crime – usually violent in nature. With no effective policing in place, this leads to the brutalisation of the local population who are mainly innocent bystanders. But the ceasefire is also a source for fresh fighters. In Africa, this has resulted in the forced recruitment of children as young as 8-years old to take sides with the warring parties. The trauma of these child-soldiers is not something that will disappear within a year or two.
Trailing behind the peacekeepers are some (not all) NGOs whose sole aim is to perpetuate themselves by using the media to give their organisations credibility and visibility and thus attract donations and other forms of funding. (Despite the claims, I have yet to meet a member of an NGO who worked for no salary). The camps these NGOs establish for the refugees fleeing the area are very often strategically placed to ensure maximum media access and coverage to ensure that the world is kept abreast of their good work. But more than often these camps are a breeding ground for resentment and hatred – and thus become a ready source for more fighters, to say nothing of anger, disease and squalor.
Many NGOs have also been known to provide support to the warring factions on both sides, thus again simply prolonging the conflict. Their reason for serving both sides is often the claim that they cannot be singled out by one side as favouring another. Thus, all are welcome at their table. Whereas their support to the displaced persons is indeed noble to the uninitiated, their too-early insertion into a conflict zone serves no positive role and indeed becomes another cog in the logistical supply line of the warring parties.
But the truth is that some NGOs benefit from war and benefit even more from ceasefires. In fact, they call for ceasefires in order to fill their financial coffers – as does the UN and its peacekeepers. Without ceasefires, the UN’s peacekeepers would have no cause for existence. In fact, they won’t make money. The longer the ceasefire continues, the more money the peacekeepers make. Small wonder they want ceasefires to continue for years. The media “strategists” are of course keen to propagate the ceasefire and thus aid and abet the opposing force, sometimes unwittingly and so, invariably, the media reporting becomes subjective - even more so when the media becomes the mouthpiece of the rebel forces.
Ceasefires are good for business. If there were no ceasefires, there would be no need for the massive but ineffectual UN peacekeeping efforts and the billions of dollars required to sustain them. Nor would there be a requirement for some of the NGOs that trail in their wake. Likewise, several corporations would be denied access to “cheap” resources.
Whereas ceasefires may be good for business, they are bad for governments engaged in wars as the government is denied the opportunity to achieve the fundamental aim of war. Instead, the problem simply continues to simmer and boil below the surface until it eventually erupts into war again.