06 April 2017 - 08 April 2017

Non-state actors and the changing nature of conflict

Chair: Dr David Malone

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(In partnership with The United Nations University)

War in the long run is in retreat. The statistics show that over time humanity is winning against violence, as well as famine and disease. But across the world a series of intractable civil wars and amorphous informal cross-border conflicts continue. Although the long term trend is positive, a shorter term view is more troubling. Throughout the 1990s, the world witnessed a consistent reduction in the number and scale of conflicts, with a roughly 90 percent decline in battle-related deaths in the years between 1990 and 2003. That has now been reversed. A common factor in many of them is the involvement of non-state actors. Are we getting better or worse at handling them as an international community? Why aren’t our command of technology and much greater resources giving us a clear edge in corralling or eradicating violent non-state groups? What can we do to prevent or cut short violence and to improve stability, the prospects for development and people's lives? We examined these questions with reference to conflicts in the Middle East and in particular Syria and Iraq; the Sahel; and the Great Lakes. We looked too at global megatrends like the impact of technology; climate change; population growth; urbanisation; and massive population movements. We asked hard questions about the limits of force and the levels of violence necessary to achieve decisive victories against non-state groups, asking if morality and the rule of law helped or hindered the pursuit of stability.

David Malone, rector of the United Nations University, chaired a group made up of current and former soldiers; national security specialists; journalists; conflict resolution experts; and academics studying conflict.

There was a recurrent demand for a return to realism and for greater analytical depth in the diagnosis of the causes of conflict and the prescription of potential solutions. Too much was being demanded of conflict resolution and peace keeping on conflicts that in a previous age would have been judged as impossible to solve from outside. Results were expected in too short a time frame and very often resources did not match the mandate. Interventions had to be informed with real expertise and experience and communities and civil societies analysed and disaggregated to the point where there was deep understanding of the complexities of competing interest groups like tribes, social classes and regions. Political leaders, generals and electorates had to be confronted with the reality of the likely costs of victory, both material and moral. On the other hand, there was still a place for decisive force applied at the right moment. The right moment meant when force had the desired psychological effect on the enemy.

Technology may not have changed the fundamentals of human conflict but it had accelerated their interplay. It was argued that this had on the one hand increased the ever present psychological element of warfare and on the other made it harder for nation states to control the narrative that they broadcast to the enemy, whether another state or a non-state group. There was now a cacophony of communications through social media. So far, authoritarian states and non-state actors were proving better at manipulating this than democracies, which had to rely on their long-term resilience rather than their tactical agility. This was challenging in a period when the information operation had to precede the kinetic operation.

States were the squeezed middle layer in a layer cake of powerful multinational companies on top and international non-state actors and criminal networks on the bottom. The top and bottom layers were gaining ground because they were entrepreneurial and agile, even when criminal, and states were not.  States were struggling to keep up with the democratisation of power.

At the same time, in the multipolar world we now once again lived in, statecraft was back with a vengeance and we needed to relearn the moves. Russia was doing what it had done throughout history. History was back and we needed to get over the loss of that brief happy interlude in the 1990s when we thought it was all over and we, the West, could assert control.

Interventions and peacekeeping operations need more realistic objectives and there has to be greater tolerance for failure in order to allow a more entrepreneurial and experimental approach. It is unrealistic to expect all programmes to succeed. It would be much more realistic to expect 90 percent to fail.  When confronting the hardest of human problems, why should we expect better success rates than a venture capital investment in new technologies?

Interventions and peacekeeping operations also need a more realistic approach to the societies and countries in which they are intervening. Principles are important but cannot be imposed in short order in places where the illegal economy might the most legitimate operation in town. We need to decide what is most important to us: suppression of illegal trade; counter terrorism; or stability to enable development. It is rare that we can have all of these at once.  

There was surprising unanimity that there was very little evidence that programmes to counter violent extremism actually worked. Too often this was about being seen to do something. The counter view was that, in the long run, programmes could work but results were expected far too soon.

Significant non-state actors like global tech companies offered opportunities as well as challenges and we were not yet taking full advantage of these in partnership with the companies. States and the UN need to work together to deliver better analytical capabilities.

We should stop doing terrorists' and criminals’ work for them by talking up their importance. This was a dangerous problem to be managed not a victory to be won against an existential threat.  

Technology should offer us new tools in tackling the illicit flows of goods from non-state groups and money to them. As we reinvent the financial and trade world through technology, we should aim to enable data analysis of such flows and create the means to block them.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


CHAIR: Dr David M. Malone  
Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Rector, United Nations University, Tokyo (2013-). Formerly: President, International Development Research Centre (2008-13); High Commissioner of Canada to India and Ambassador to Bhutan and Nepal (2006-08); Canadian Ambassador to the UN (1990-94); author, books on the UN Security Council, economic factors in civil wars, international development and of 'Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy' (Oxford, 2011). With C. Raja Mohan and Srinath Raghavan, edited the 'Oxford Handbook of Indian Foreign Policy' (Oxford, 2015). A Member of the Program Advisory Committee, The Canadian Ditchley Foundation.

Professor Andrew Mack
Director, Human Security Report Project, Simon Fraser University; Fellow, One Earth Future Foundation, Denver, CO. Formerly: Director, Strategic Planning Unit, Executive Office of UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan; Head, Department of International Relations, Australian National University, Canberra.

Mr Sam Daws  

Director, Project on UN Governance and Reform, Centre for International Studies, Oxford University. Formerly: Deputy Director (UN), Prime Minister's Post-2015 team, UK Cabinet Office; Senior Principal Research Analyst, Multilateral Policy Directorate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; First Officer, Executive Office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Executive Director, United Nations Association UK; Senior Advisor and UK Representative, UN Foundation. Visiting Fellow, International Law, Cambridge University.

Ms Kate Davis
International Youth Fellowship Program Coordinator; lawyer and member of the Bar of Ontario; lecturer in international criminal law, Osgoode Hall Law School; senior fellow and Advisory Board member, Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Formerly: consultant to Canadian Civil Liberties Association and to Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect.
Mr Andrew Ellis  
President and co-Founder, ICEN Group Inc. Formerly: Canadian Security Intelligence Service: Assistant Director, Operations and Assistant Director, Policy and Strategic Partnerships.
Ms Heidi Hulan  
Director General, International Security Policy Bureau, Global Affairs Canada. Formerly: Director General, Non-Proliferation and Security Threat Reduction; Deputy Permanent Representative, Canadian Joint Delegation to NATO (2010-13).
Mr Patrick Quinton-Brown  
DPhil Candidate (International Relations), Oxford University; William and Nona Heaslip Trinity-St Antony's Scholar. Formerly: Global Grant Scholar, Rotary International (2015); Governor General's Medalist, University of Toronto (2014); The Chancellor's Gold Medalist, Trinity College, Toronto (2014); Chairperson, Canadian Centre for R2P (2012-14).

Mr Sebastian von Einsiedel 
Director, Center for Policy Research, UNU University, Tokyo (2014-). Formerly: Policy Planning Unit, UN Department of Political Affairs (2009-14); member, UN Secretary-General's Strategic Planning Unit (2008-09); Political Affairs Unit, United Nations Mission to Nepal; research staff, UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004).

Dr Richard Wilcox 
Senior Advisor, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Geneva. 

Ms Marika Theros 
Lead Researcher, 'State of the State', Institute for State Effectiveness, Washington, DC (2013-). 

Dr Massoumeh Torfeh  

Research Associate, London School of Economics.

Dr Amichai Magen  

Senior Lecturer (US Associate Professor) and Head of MA Program in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, Herzliya; Head, Governance and Political Violence Program, Institute for Counter-Terrorism; Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow (2016-); Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Board Member, Israel Council on Foreign Relations; Editorial Board, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, published quarterly by Taylor & Francis. Formerly: Executive Committee, World Jewish Congress; Yitzhak Rabin Fulbright Award (2003).

Dr Benedetta Berti  

Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies ; TED Senior Fellow; Robert A. Fox Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute; Non-Resident Fellow, Modern War Institute, West Point.

Dr Thomas Hegghammer  

Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment; adjunct professor of political science, University of Oslo.

Mrs Ahlam Akram  

Founder and Director, Basira (British Arabs Supporting Women's Rights); Member, Women Without Borders; Executive Committee Member, Women Against Fundamentalism and UK National Committee for UN Women.

Ms Lesley Abdela 
Senior Partner, Shevolution Consultancy (1998-); Founder Member, Gender Action for Peace and Security (2001-). Formerly: Chief Executive, NGO Project Parity (1995-2010); Senior Gender Advisor, UN Agencies, Nepal (2006-07); Civil Society Advisor, Iraq Local Governance Programme (2003-04); Board Member, British Council (1995-2000); Political Editor, Cosmopolitan Magazine (1993-96); Vice President, Electoral Reform Society; Founder, all party 300 GROUP campaign for women in politics (1980-85).
Mr Richard Atwood  
New York Director, formerly Research Director, International Crisis Group.
General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE  
Colonel Commandant and President, Honourable Artillery Company; Senior Visiting Fellow, LSE IDEAS; Senior Visiting Fellow, RUSI. Formerly: British Army (1977-2016): Commander, Joint Forces Command (2013-16).
Major General James Chiswell CBE MC  
Operations Director, Ministry of Defence (MoD). Formerly: Commander 1st (UK) Armoured Division; Head, Overseas Operations, MoD; Commander, 16 Air Assault Brigade.
Dr Alexander Evans OBE  
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (2003-): Deputy High Commissioner to India (2015-); Acting High Commissioner (2015-16); Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King's College London (2010-). Formerly: Coordinator, Al Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team, United Nations (2013-15); Senior Fellow, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University (2011-13); Henry A. Kissinger Chair, Library of Congress (2011); Senior Advisor to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State (2009-11).
The Rt Hon. Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman KCMG CBE FBA FKC  
Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King's College London. Formerly: Vice-Principal, King's College London. Official Historian of Falklands Campaign and member of Chilcot Inquiry on Iraq War. A Governor of the Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Sam Jones  
Defence and Security Editor, The Financial Times.
Miss Manveen Rana  
Senior Broadcast Journalist, BBC News.
General The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux GCB, CBE, DSO, DL  
Senior Adviser, International Institute for Strategic Studies; Chairman, Equilibrium-Global. Formerly: Chief of the Defence Staff (2010-13); Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces (2008-09); Commander, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (2005-07); Commander, NATO International Security and Assistance Force, Afghanistan (2006-07); Assistant Chief of the General Staff, Ministry of Defence, London (2002-05); Commander Joint Task Force Sierra Leone (2000) and East Timor (1999). A Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Emile Simpson  
Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; author, 'War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First-Century Combat as Politics'; columnist, Foreign Policy. Formerly: British Army officer, Royal Gurkha Rifles.
Dr Chanaka Wickremasinghe  
Legal Counsellor, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2001-); UK Mission to the United Nations, New York (2006-09); UK Representation to the European Union, Brussels (2010); Lecturer, Bristol University; Research Officer, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, London.

Mr Adam Day
Senior Policy Adviser, Centre for Policy Research, UN University, Tokyo. Formerly: Senior Political Adviser, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Kinshasa; Political Officer: Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), Beirut; United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) (Khartoum); United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), El Fasher; Department of Political Affairs and Department of Peacekeeping Operations, New York; Member, New York Bar Association.

Ms Rosa Brooks
Associate Dean, Graduate Programs, and Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center (2007-); Senior Fellow, New America Foundation (2011-); weekly column on war, politics and the changing role of the military, Foreign Policy (2012-). Formerly: Counselor to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (2009-11); Special Counsel to the President, Open Society Institute (2006-07). Author, 'How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything' (Simon & Schuster, 2016).
Dr Robert J. Bunker  
2015 Futurist in Residence, Behavioral Research and Instruction Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; non-resident counterterrorism fellow, TRENDS Research & Advisory, Abu Dhabi. Formerly: Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Chief Executive Officer, Counter-OPFOR Corporation; Fellow, Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the U.S. Army.
Ms Vanita Datta  
Counter Terrorism/Countering Violent Extremism Advisor, Africa Bureau, USAID, Washington, DC (2009-). 
Ms Karen DeYoung  
Associate Editor and Senior National Security Correspondent, The Washington Post. Formerly: Bureau Chief, Latin America and London; correspondent covering the White House, U.S. foreign policy and the intelligence community; Assistant Managing Editor for national news; National Editor; Foreign Editor.
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry  
Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow and Director U.S.-Asia Security Initiative, Stanford University; Co-Director, American Academy of Arts and Sciences project, "Civil Wars, Violence and International Responses". Formerly: U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Deputy Chairman, NATO Military Committee; Commander, U.S-led Coalition in Afghanistan; Defense Attaché, U.S. Embassy, Beijing.
Dr Vanda Felbab-Brown  
Senior Fellow, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Co-Director, Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives on Counternarcotics Regimes and UNGASS 2016, Brookings Institution; co-Director, Reconstituting Local Orders Project, The Brookings Institution; Member, Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr Jason S. Ginsberg  
Fulbright Scholar/MPhil Candidate in International Relations and Politics, University of Cambridge. Formerly: recipient, Samuel C. Lamport Prize in International Understanding for senior honors thesis on the laws of war, Brown University.
Ambassador Cameron Munter  
Chief Executive Officer and President, EastWest Institute; Non-Resident Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Formerly: Professor of Practice in International Relations, Pomona College; Visiting Professor, Columbia University Law School, New York (2012); U.S. Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to Pakistan (2010-12); to Serbia (2007-09); Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Baghdad (2010); Provincial Reconstruction Team, Mosul (2006); Director for Central Europe, National Security Council; Chief of Staff, NATO Enlargement Ratification Office, Department of State.
Mr Jeremy Shapiro  
Director of Research, European Council on Foreign Relations (2015-). Formerly: Fellow, Project on International Order and Strategy, and Foreign Policy Program, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution; Senior Adviser, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Director of Research, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution; Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; Adjunct 
Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University; Policy Analyst, RAND, Washington, DC. A Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Rabbi Meir Wachs  
Pershing Square Scholar, Saïd Business School and Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford.