Gwynne Dyer: What is required for wars to end

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      More or less at opposite ends of the world, two very long wars are coming to a negotiated end, with no victors and no vanquished. In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino signed a peace agreement with the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on October 16 after more than 40 years of war. In Norway the next day, Colombia’s government began talks with the FARC rebels to end a war that has lasted for over 50 years.

      Neither deal is yet complete, and in both wars there have been several previous peace deals that failed. But the omens are better this time, mainly because there is a lot more realism about what is possible and what is not.

      “You can’t just ask the FARC to kneel down, surrender and give us the arms,” said the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, as the talks in Oslo began. “They will not do that, so there has to be some way out, and this way out has to be that you are able to participate in the political arena. This is the way any conflict is settled, not only the Colombian conflict.”

      The Colombian war has gone on so long that neither side remotely resembles the adversaries of 50 years ago. The left-wing revolutionaries who once set out to win power through a guerilla war have become hereditary rebels who finance their operations through kidnapping and cocaine production.

      At the same time, the repressive right-wing governments of the 1960s have given way to a more or less democratic system. The death squads are gone and the economy is growing fast. Time to stop, then. But how?

      There are two reasons why there is more hope for this peace initiative than for its predecessors. The first is that FARC can no longer hope for an eventual victory, although it will be a crippling nuisance for another generation if it is not brought back into the political system. The other is that the two sides are not trying to solve all the country’s problems in these talks; they are just trying to end the fighting.

      The talks, which will move to Cuba for the next round, deal with only five topics: rural development, FARC’s participation in democratic politics, an end to the fighting, an end to the drug trafficking, and justice for the many civilian victims of the war. Colombia has dozens of other issues that demand attention, but if you put them all on the table there will never be agreement.

      Those other issues can and should be settled by the normal political process, in which FARC will play a legitimate part once the war is over. There will have to be an amnesty even for grave violations of human rights. Nor will the fighting stop during the negotiations: that is what provides the pressure for a deal. But this time, in the end, there will probably be a deal.

      Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the long war between the central government and the Muslim minority on the big island of Mindanao is also heading for a peaceful resolution. It has been clear for some time that MILF could never achieve its goal of an independent Muslim state in western Mindanao—and it is also clear that MILF could go on fighting for another generation unless there is a deal.

      So you might as well make a deal, and the only plausible one is that the Moros (Filipino Muslims) get a broad degree of self-government in the areas where they are the majority. There will be a referendum in 2015 to settle the size and shape of the new “Bangsamoro” region, but it will remain part of the Philippines, and Manila will retain control of defence, foreign policy, and the broad outlines of economic policy.

      This is a bitter pill for MILF to swallow, especially as it was created by leaders who broke away from the old Moro National Liberation Front when it accepted exactly the same deal in the 1980s. But 30 years and tens of thousands more deaths did not change the fact that the Moros were too weak to win their independence, but too strong for Manila to crush or ignore. The current leaders are just recognizing that reality.

      So two wars down (probably), and how many more to go? No more than a dozen or so of comparable scale, most of them in Africa and the Middle East. And whether they are internal wars like Colombia and the Philippines or wars between local nationalists and foreign occupiers, they tend to end the same way.

      There are exceptions, of course, like the Sri Lankan government’s recent victory over the Tamil Tigers, but in most cases the wars get closed down when both sides recognize that a decisive victory is impossible. Or, rather, they get shut down when the participants finally recognize what has already been plain to most outsiders for decades.

      The extra time is required because the people directly involved have already paid such a price for that elusive victory that they just cannot bear to admit to themselves that their sacrifices were wasted. Does this have any relevance to the horrors that are now unfolding in Syria? A great deal, I’m sorry to say.


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      James G

      Oct 29, 2012 at 6:41pm

      Is this just an excuse to use the acronyms FARC and MILF in the same column?

      The two struggles have little in common other than their longevity and the growth of democratic institutions in the countries where they are taking place.

      To then suggest hope for these unknown outcomes can be gleaned and applied to the totalitarian regime in Syria is sadly but spectacularly silly.

      7 9Rating: -2

      Michael J

      Oct 29, 2012 at 9:39pm

      @James G


      I don't see that Gwynne Dyer claimed multiple commonalities in the two wars as his main point (although he could have: longevity, power and/or autonomy struggles, repeated peace deal failures, no clear winners and losers, growth of democratic civilian governments and (imminent) negotiated ends).

      And nowhere does he suggest that 'hope from these (two) unknown outcomes can be gleaned and applied to the totalitarian regime in Syria'. On the contrary, he argues that such wars inevitably end through negotiated settlement, but only after a long period of futile fighting on the basis of investments (or sacrifices) already made, and eventual stalemate and fatigue – and this is what is in store for Syria.

      Simply put: What is required for wars to end? (Extra) Time.

      You might pile disagreement on top of misunderstanding, but...'spectacularly silly'?? Gwynne Dyer?? Sourly you joust.

      4 7Rating: -3

      Just asking

      Oct 29, 2012 at 10:03pm

      Sorry James G. You made the mistake of expecting logic from Dyer!!

      Probably the only REAL item from him is the old and battered leather jacket. The rest is either fake or borrowed from someone else.

      Perhaps even the jacket!!

      4 8Rating: -4

      James G

      Oct 30, 2012 at 12:13am

      @ Michael J

      I still think he missed the fundamentals, not that there had to be a listing of contrasts but because these two specific differences were paramount;

      First, one is a nationalist/religious struggle decaying due to widespread corruption and bribery while the other began as a class struggle against an entire regime which deteriorated into a kidnapping and drug enterprise. Worthy or not, successful or not they had different goals.

      Moreover, I have nowhere near the confidence he has that the death squads are gone.

      Then to mention Syria seems an attempt to draw focus on the West's main target de jure. Why not Bahrain? That would be a far better comparison because Syria is totalitarian. The giveaway is in the first five letters of totalitarian. There is no autonomy possible, no integration into an electoral map possible.

      Dyer is an interesting writer and I may expect too much from him but this column reads to me like a comparison of apples and oranges being used in a recipe for concocting a pineapple.

      6 7Rating: -1

      faiz ahmad

      Oct 30, 2012 at 3:14am

      once again,complex problems explained with simplicity as only a genius like gwynne dyer can do..thank you sir.hope to see a similar article from gwynne in the kashmir conflict.

      7 5Rating: +2

      Issac Chandler

      Oct 31, 2012 at 2:29pm

      "What is required for wars to end"

      A better question is what is required for wars to start? The CIA can tell you the answer is, not much - see Syria,Libya...

      Operation 40 sought to incite civil war in Cuba. Failure led to an Invasion attempt (Operation Zapata ) and American terrorism:

      The elder Bush and Porter Goss (CIA director 2005) earned their stripes here.

      7 3Rating: +4

      DW Rivait

      Nov 3, 2012 at 9:27pm



      9 5Rating: +4