Thinking Aloud: The Drawbacks of Looking for a Regional Solution

Nov. 23, 2014 by Darius 

What’s the best way to go about intervening in a conflict zone?

One of George Washington University professor Bill Lawrence’s observations at the Middle East Institute’s annual conference on Thursday, was that the US tends to prefer regionalism when dealing with the world’s problems.  Regionalism means looking to neighboring countries to be part of the solution.  It sounds good in principle: Africa should solve Africa’s problems, the Middle East should solve the Middle East’s problems, etc.  The drawback, though, as Lawrence suggested, is that often, neighboring countries are very much a part of the problem.  They all have their own interests and agendas, and they push these agendas even while under the aegis of being the “solution.”

The United Nations often pursues a different alternative.  Because the UN is a worldwide organization, its peacekeepers are drawn from across the globe.  Peacekeepers intervening in a conflict are very often not from the same neighborhood at all.  To be sure, UN peacekeepers often face language difficulties—not many UN peacekeepers from Nepal, for example, speak the local language in an intervention in central Africa.  But the benefits are equally obvious: the Nepalese don’t have a horse in the local race, so to speak.  They can focus on solving the problem, not shaping the conflict to the benefit of their country.

Each conflict is different, so each solution should be, too.  Often, though, the UN’s approach of internationalism seems to get better results than the US’s approach of regionalism.  Every intervention faces challenges but impartiality is helpful in crafting an enduring resolution in a conflict zone.

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