Even as the threat of international conflict between great powers re-emerges, violent civil conflict remains one of the greatest threats to human security and global stability. Persistent conflicts – those that have been active for twenty years or more – resulted in 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide at the end of 2017. This record high is an increase of 20 percent from the previous year. In Africa alone, more than 35 such conflicts continue to pose the utmost challenge for conflict resolution despite investments of over a trillion dollars in peacebuilding and foreign aid by the international community. The spread of extremist threats through conflicts across the Middle East and Africa—e.g., Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo–demonstrate that ignoring these conflicts is not an option. Creating the right balance and coordination among security assistance, military peace operations, humanitarian relief aid, and long-term peacebuilding remains an elusive goal.
Are these intervention failures due to unsuitable policies and practices, to the fundamental intractability of the conflicts, or some combination of both? This question is the subject of many academic and policy studies. However, most studies of when, where, and how to intervene are limited in perspective, and fail to assess the combined effects of different types of interventions on human security over time.
Practitioners and policy makers recognize that lifting social and political systems out of the “conflict trap” requires a systems approach. Such an approach holistically considers the nature and context of the conflict, in conjunction with the scope, timing, and dynamic interactions among different modes and types of interventions. Using twenty-five years of comparative data on persistent conflicts in Africa, supplemented by a case study of Somalia, this brief presents a scalable systems framework to (1) examine the relationship between conflict persistence and factors associated with conflict contexts, peacekeeping and aid interventions, and (2) identify the underlying principles and practices for those conflict interventions most likely to result in conflict transformation that increases human security, and those most likely to sustain conflict.