The number of countries experiencing armed conflict today is greater than at any time in the past 30 years. This comes at devastating human cost. In this decade alone, more than half a million civilians have been killed in Syria, the protracted conflict in Yemen has left more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and violence in Myanmar in 2017 drove more than 600,000 people into Bangladesh in just three months. The UN Secretary General has said that atrocity crimes are being committed ‘at a scale and ferocity not seen in years’.
Conflict also comes at enormous economic cost. For a medium-sized developing country, an internal armed conflict costs 30 years of GDP growth, and it takes 20 years for trade to return to pre-war levels. In 2017, violence and conflict cost 12.4 percent of the global economy.
Australia has demonstrated capacity to be a global leader in preventing and responding to conflict-related humanitarian crises. It has played a pivotal role in advancing the responsibility to protect, it consistently emphasises the importance of a rules-based global order and accountability for international crimes, and it has demonstrated success in – and commitment to – conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. These key strengths are reflected as recurring themes in Australia’s foreign policy and public statements (see Annex I).
Australia is also a leader in the Asia Pacific region. It consistently emphasises the importance of regional institutions in promoting regional peace and stability, has long-standing relationships with these institutions, and has supported the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop capacities for preventive diplomacy. Thus, in the Asia Pacific region in particular, Australia has a critical opportunity to bring its key strengths and foreign policy priorities together with its position of regional leadership, so as to more proactively and constructively prevent and respond to conflict-related humanitarian crises.