Diplomacy Now – Edition 9, January 2024 – ‘A Year of Upheaval’ – Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, the Sahel, Syria’

The world was at war in 2023, with two major conflicts erupting in Sudan and Gaza, the situation in the Sahel worsening, the chaos in Syria rolling on, and the Russia-Ukraine war showing no signs of abating. Throughout Diplomacy Now’s first year, our contributors, who are specialists in their regions, have largely underlined the failures of Western and international actors like the United Nations, to bring an end to any of these conflicts. There have been no serious diplomatic breakthroughs and there has been a paralysis in both the UN and regional organizations such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. All mediation efforts have so far failed such as those in Sudan, the Sahel, Yemen, Syria and Libya.

The so-called ‘world order’ has been toppled, or at least destabilized, with the United States and European Union losing credibility with the Global South because of their double standards in their approach to the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. The UN is now seen as more toothless than ever before for failing to call for a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities in Gaza. The world is watching the horrors of this conflict unfolding live.  Unlike in previous cases of mass atrocities committed in other countries, the UN, the US, European countries, and the public at large, cannot plead ignorance. But this is not the only conflict in which the UN has failed, or simply deferred to other actors to play mediating roles in wars that they are often parties to.

While ICDI supports local and regional actors being at the helm of mediation efforts, it does so with the caveat that they have moral and political credibility. We also believe that the UN could play a more proactive role in creating the space for a mediating role instead of playing second fiddle to some of the powerful Permanent 5 members. As the turmoil in Gaza continues there needs to be a rethinking of the role the UN can and should play in conflict mediation more generally.

War and conflict have become the new norm, but as pro-peace demonstrations over the war on Gaza all over the world illustrate there is an appetite for change. Could a more effective peace and security architecture be created from the rubble of the devastating conflicts currently  unfolding?

In this edition five analysts explore the state of play and outlook for five major conflicts in 2024: the War on Gaza, Sudan, the Sahel, Syria and Ukraine.

As with every edition the views expressed by these authors are not all necessarily our own. However, ICDI remains committed to the ethos and philosophy that open debate, dialogue, diplomacy and mediation, rather than armed conflict and war, offer the way forward to resolving any conflict.

Thank you for following Diplomacy Now. We hope you will continue to follow our leading analysis on mediation in 2024 and welcome your feedback at diplomacynow@dialogueinitiatives.org.

Jamal Benomar
Chair of ICDI

Ukraine and Russia Play the Long Game

As the Russia-Ukraine war enters its third year, and with both sides still believing they can win, the conflict is unlikely to end soon, argues international legal scholar Marc Weller. With Ukraine now upping its long-range capabilities and being considered for EU membership, and Russia continuing to annex territory, and no credible peace deal on the table the war will continue well into 2024. “For now, any prospect of a peace deal sounds like treachery to Ukrainian ears. It would mean caving into aggression and a betrayal of those who have lost their lives in the struggle thus far,” writes Weller. “Experts and politicians on both sides are quite reluctant even to start thinking about creative options which depart from the maximalist expectations of their constituencies. This, they fear, could be taken by the other side as a sign of weakness,” he writes. “Even the mere development and discussion of options by outsiders, and the process of sharing them with the sides, require a great deal of sensitivity, explanation and reassurance.”

The War on Gaza Could Become a Regional Crisis

Mouin Rabbani outlines a grim scenario for the year ahead in Gaza, with possibilities that the war could become a regional one.  “Israeli leaders have indicated their intention to prosecute a prolonged campaign that could last for the remainder of the year and will include the physical occupation of a buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip,” he writes. “This is a recipe for a war of attrition, with the added complication that those elsewhere in the region, who initiated hostilities against Israel in support of the Palestinians, are likely to continue doing so.” 

The conflict has also illustrated Israel’s dependence on the West, and given rise to regional hostility, particularly against the US, for failing to intervene in the devastating conflict. “Israel’s bravado about being solely responsible for its own security notwithstanding, the current crisis has revealed the extraordinary level of Israeli military, political, and diplomatic dependency on the West, and the US in particular. This gives Washington sufficient leverage to dictate Israeli policy, and its consistent refusal to do so and instead support Israel’s war has led many in the region to exhibit even greater anger at the West than at Israel,” he writes. 

Sudan’s Interminable War

With fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continuing and no diplomatic breakthroughs, Sudan is on the path to state failure Dr. Suliman Baldo argues. But the waning resources of the warring parties could bring them to the negotiating table.  “The conflict is depleting the vast financial resources that the belligerents have accumulated over decades, weakening their ability to continue funding their war efforts,” writes Baldo. However, with the UAE backing on the RSF and Egypt’s suspected support of the SAF, the war that has displaced millions could continue.  “The international community should actively support the peaceful struggle for democracy and a state of justice and rule of law that civic forces are leading and ensure that it is allowed to prevail,” he concludes.

Uncertainty in the Sahel

With a series of coups, the most recent of which was in Niger, the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers in Mali and rising jihadist violence the Sahel looks set for more turmoil in 2024, according to analysts Constantin Gouvy and Grace Ellis. “Despite disparities across the region, a pervasive decline in security, socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions looms large over the Sahel, as juntas continue to cement military rule,” they write. “Deep-rooted issues, exacerbated by ineffective governance, continue to foster the proliferation of armed groups and alienation of local communities, highlighting the enormous challenges in fostering peace.” With Sahelian states moving away from traditional diplomatic and military partners, and Russia on the rise, the diplomatic and political landscape is quickly changing. 

The renewed conflict between Tuareg groups and the central government could create further instability for Mali, and the  new Alliance of the Sahel States signals the major Sahel states are not only distancing themselves from France and Europe, but also the Economic Community of West African States. Gouvy and Ellis anticipate escalating violence in the region, that is showing signs of heading south. 

Syria’s Enduring Turmoil

Jusaima Moaid-azm Peregrina writes about the devastating conflict in Syria, which rarely makes headlines these days. “As the conflict enters its 13th year, the need for international attention and concerted efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and political stalemate has never been more urgent,” writes Moaid-azm Peregrina.  However, the Arab League’s decision to allow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad readmission, has only emboldened Assad’s government.
There have also been few developments in peacemaking with the UN being sidelined, and  Russia, a backer of Assad’s regime, at war in Ukraine and the increased polarization of the international system making bringing negotiators to the table more difficult. “As the geopolitical landscape points towards a potential escalation, the spillover effects of events in Gaza and Ukraine are therefore expected to play a significant role in the Syrian conflict, interconnected through the Security Council and geopolitical alliances,” she writes. “In addition, internally, scrutiny of the Turkish-Russian relationship is warranted, as its unfolding dynamics may influence rebel-held territories in the Northwest and the future of Kurdish-held areas in the northeast.”

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If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Nelson Mandela

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