The nature of violent conflict is changing in the Asia-Pacific region. More than a dozen countries are affected by sub-national conflicts, which are now more prevalent than violence between states. Many of these internal conflicts have lasted for more than 25 years, with no resolution in sight. There have been some success stories in recent years, most notably the peace agreements in Aceh and Nepal—but these cases are the exception. Why are sub-national conflicts so entrenched in Asia, and what will it take to break the cycle of conflict?
Peacebuilding is much more than negotiation. The Foundation's studies of conflict in the region indicate that the challenges to peacebuilding are usually political in nature. Long-running conflicts are often the result of policies and governance problems that create tensions between governments and minority groups. Common grievances include overly centralized, unaccountable governance; limitations on local identity and culture; a lack of accounting for past abuses; and a lack of access to justice and security.
The key to breaking the cycle of conflict is to address grievances by changing the nature of governance, security, and justice in these regions. The challenge is that these reforms may be controversial with the rest of the population in the country, and may be opposed by powerful interests. The path to peace must involve a shift toward moderate politics that will allow for key compromises and reforms to take place, or pave the way for a peace agreement.
In Asia, the most violent, long-running conflicts are usually a result of center-periphery political dynamics. Conflict-affected areas are usually found along international borders, far from national capitals, and are often home to ethnic minority groups that have long been frustrated or alienated from the national government. In these regions, the central government's authority is often challenged by local leaders, leading to tensions between the local population and state actors (including security forces). In some cases, the government has little or no capacity to guarantee security or deliver critical services. These conditions create an environment that is conducive for armed non-state groups to form and violently challenge the state.