“The world has become more peaceful,” some say. No, others say, it’s not so safe at all. We can explain some of the differences in views with different starting points for the assessment – in time and place, but also in definitions of what is war and serious conflict. Immediately after the end of the Cold War, the number of serious armed conflicts in the world increased, not least as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. A peak was reached in 1994–1995.
- What is war?
- How has the nature of war and the content of warriors changed in recent decades?
- Where do we find today’s warriors and most deadly unrest?
- Who is fighting?
For some, the world is easily understood as a western country. Seen against such a starting point, the world has undoubtedly become more peaceful. The people of these countries have hardly experienced war on their own soil in recent decades. If, on the other hand, we really look at the globe as a whole, we can hardly speak of a more peaceful world, especially if we take into account that the unrest has changed in the last couple of decades.
2: What is war and unrest?
In much of the research, an armed conflict is registered as a full-scale war if 1,000 people are killed in hostilities within a year. At the same time, at least one state party must be involved in what is considered one of the two main forms of war:
- intergovernmental war – war between two or more states
- civil war- war within a country, between a country’s government forces and rebel forces. Such conflicts are either about territorial secession or a struggle for state power in a country. When economic differences coincide with ethnic and religious differences, we often have the most intense conflicts.
The vast majority of wars – more than 9 out of 10 – are today civil wars. More and more, however, it is the case that civil wars are not always limited to one country. They often “spread” to neighboring countries and regional conflict clusters arise. In particular, we have seen this as “transnational civil wars” in parts of Africa over the last 10-20 years. Refugees and ethnic ties across national borders have meant that civil wars have been “transmitted” from one country to another. Between Rwanda and Congo, Sudan and Chad, Pakistan and Afghanistan, etc.
The German military strategist von Clausewitz once stated that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” In other words, war has to do with politics – with the promotion of interests and values. At the same time, war means collective violence – there is a scope for violence and a certain organization of forces. In other words, completely random and unorganized violence falls outside most definitions.
Degrees of war: Civil wars in particular can last for many years without having to be a full-scale war throughout the period. The intensity of the acts of war often goes in wave motions – in one period they can be violent with many fallen, in others the intensity can be low – low intensity conflicts. These are often limited both in terms of the number of casualties and to smaller areas within a country. But even though the intensity at times can be low, uncertainty and uncertainty still place a damp hand on initiative and societal development.
3: Who kills; who is killed?
Today , not many people are actually killed in direct combat between state forces or between a state (government army) and one or more rebel groups. In fact, the vast majority are not killed in what can be defined as war under international law, but under war-like conditions – in a kind of gray areas of war. In the ” new wars “, regular armies (uniformed soldiers in a command hierarchy) play a subordinate role in combat. Violence is perpetrated by more or less unruly semi-military groups, criminal gangs, feuds between clans or tribes, terrorists, civilian combat units, mercenaries, city gangs and local warlords.
Many civilians today are killed as a result of (often difficult to distinguish between the two)
- unilateral violence- premeditated attacks on and abuses of unarmed civilians who do not take part in hostilities. However, this violence most often takes place in the context of war and widespread human rights violations. The massacres of Rwanda in 1994 are one form of such violence; however, unilateral violence on a small scale is more common. At the same time, there must be some organization behind the violence. OR
- arbitrary violence- a consequence of warlords taking unnecessarily large chances or almost giving the bluff in taking into account the civilian population.
Yes, for some perpetrators, it is a goal in itself to affect the civilian population despite the fact that laws and regulations for war and warfare (international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions) explicitly prohibit this. For them, war has become a livelihood where they can make a living from looting, tolls, smuggling and other organized crime. Not least, this type of warfare contributes to the high number of refugees (crossing national borders) and internally displaced persons (in their own country), a total of 37 million in 2008 (SIPRI). The UN refugee agency UNHCR counted on even more, about 42 million refugees in total at the end of 2008. Of these, 26 million were refugees in their own country.
Given the new features of both war and war-like conditions that we find in the gray area of war against direct crime, many will say that the war has changed character in recent decades. However, much of what is new is not new; it has only moved from the periphery of the war and closer to the center of the war. Irregular behavior also existed in previous wars, but now this has become more of its core. And many of the challenges have become challenges for the police as well as for the military.
Although acts of violence are not war as defined in international law, they are often no less deadly for that reason. For an affected civilian population, it is of little value to know whether a rocket attack with consequent death and suffering is an act of violence within or outside international law.
In addition to state forces and government armies, we see that the actors in today’s armed conflicts are:
- Rebels – who often have overriding political goals either to take over a state apparatus or to form their own state.
- Terrorists, who are essentially non-state.
- Warlords – with rather limited local and regional goals of being centers of power in “their district”
- Criminal organizations and gangs fighting for territory and profit
- Private security companies that legally offer their services in conflict zones. The United States had 180,000 private security and support personnel for 160,000 troops in Iraq in 2009 (HHD 2008: 19).
The boundaries between the groups are unclear. The same player may have features from several of the groups above and also change over time. Terrorist groups can, for example, become more and more involved in criminal activities. In sum, we can say that organized violence in serious armed conflicts today appears to be more privatized than a few decades ago.
An expression of this we find in more asymmetrical warfare in today’s conflicts. The party that is considered the weakest in a conflict (based on resources, number of combatants, weapons, etc.), chooses its own time and place for fighting. They do not go out on the battlefield to a match they know they will lose. The forces are moving in and out of the war; they can be ordinary civilians during the day and fight with weapons in hand at night. The front lines are blurred; the same is the difference between military and civilian. Paradoxically, it seems to be a developmental feature that the weak party wins more and more of today’s conflicts.
We mainly find today’s wars and war-like conditions in poor countries – in the global south. Many of them in parts of Asia, especially South and West Asia, and in sub-Saharan Africa. Seen from the global north – especially the rich Western Europe – it therefore seems correct to say that the world has become more peaceful in recent decades. Here we no longer find war on our own soil.
On the other hand, we find many Western countries involved in “stabilization wars” or peace operations in the south – often based on the idea that in a globalized world where “everything is connected to everything”, the effects of what is happening “far away” will also reach us. Both for self-interest and other reasons, it then becomes important to contribute to stable governance, security and welfare development in these countries. More than 70,000 Norwegians have participated in foreign operations since they began in the 1960s. As of December 2009, Norway had 864 military and police officers abroad. Norwegian soldiers and civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, among other places. The same has happened with 245 British soldiers and 29 Danes (as of 01.01.10) and soldiers from a number of other countries.
4: Where are the wars fought?
Many of today’s wars and armed conflicts – in which civilians are affected relatively far more than in previous wars – are fought in what some refer to as state-free spaces. This means areas where a state has no control, or countries where the state has almost disintegrated. Large quantities of weapons – often light handguns – have then fallen into the hands of various non-state groups, each of which in its own way challenges those who are to enforce the state’s coercive power – military and police.
According to Sunglasseswill.com, Somalia is one of several examples of such a “failed” or failed state. A state may have gone into internal disintegration partly due to lack of resources and poor governance (including widespread corruption), partly due to political rivalry, partly due to rebels, local warlords and / or criminals who have challenged the state apparatus and taken over , partly as a result of the loss of support from foreign supporters. State-free spaces can in turn act as bridgeheads for the proliferation of weapons, warriors and illegal goods to states that may themselves have a fragile foundation.
In contrast to the intergovernmental wars of the last hundred years, there are less clear front lines between the combatants in today’s wars. In fact, warriors can operate in the midst of civilians as terrorists, and they barely wear uniforms. Military and civilian are intertwined – rockets are fired from residential areas, residential areas are bombed, etc. And for the most part, these wars take place without a declaration of war or peace agreements.
A conflict often has a local origin , a local start, before it is escalated and refugees begin to flow out of the conflict area. A feature of many serious conflicts in the last couple of decades is that they take place in local arenas, but that they have also become globalized in various ways:
- Participants come from outside – from neighboring countries or more distant countries. Some of them have religious motives, others political or economic. Islamists from a number of countries have fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Some participate in international criminal networks, others in the financing of conflicts. Some profit from continued war and lawless conditions, cf. drug trafficking.
- An ethnic group in conflict in a country may have refugees and other migrants abroad. This diaspora often sends money home to “its party to the conflict” and helps to keep wars going far longer than the local resource base would suggest.
At the same time, the growing connections between a conflict and the world around it illustrate a world where home and abroad slide more into each other – where it is no longer as easy to distinguish between home and abroad. We see an expression of this trend when Tamils in Norway demonstrate to influence the Norwegian government to “do something” with the desperate situation for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
5: The years 2008−2009
In the SIPRI yearbook 2009 ( with conflict data from 2008), the Swedish Peace Research Institute still adheres to the state-oriented international law definition of war. Warring parties must be either two or more states as in an intergovernmental war, or a state’s government army against one or more non-state opponents within the same country. Measured in this way, SIPRI registered 16 serious, armed conflicts in 2008. This year, a total of about 25,600 combatants fell in combat defined as part of a war. In 5 of the 16 serious conflicts in 2008, more than 1,000 were killed in hostilities (full-scale war): Afghanistan (4500), Iraq (approx. 4000), Pakistan (approx. 3000), Sri Lanka (about 8400 and Somalia (approx. In other words, more than two-thirds fell in three of the conflicts.
In the same year, close to half a million people were killed in criminal acts of violence, and more than 1 million were killed in traffic accidents. And we can add: close to 9 million children died in 2008 – more than 24,000 per day – before the age of 5 (down from 12.5 million in 1990).
For the first time, SIPRI published in the 2009 edition an overview and figures for unilateral acts of violence. On the whole, SIPRI has registered a trend towards more use of unilateral violence in the last couple of decades, and the violence has become more and more perpetrated by non-governmental groups, which occasionally operate under the auspices of state authorities.
As the graph of the number of conflicts shows, the number of serious conflicts has fallen from around 20 to around 15 in the period 1999−2008. Measured in this way, the world seems to have become somewhat more peaceful over the last ten years. Another feature is that in recent years Asia seems to have taken over Africa’s role as the world’s foremost war arena. For the ten-year period as a whole, it is still Africa that has experienced the most wars, a total of 13, while Asia stands with 11.
Another conflict meter : As of October 2009, the Department of Conflict Research at the University of Heidelberg (Germany, see hiik.de ) (graph Conflict Intensity ) has registered 7 wars – major armed conflicts (9 in 2008), ie conflicts that score 5 on a scale from 1 to 5. 2 of them concern Pakistan and are conflicts that are difficult to distinguish between: the Pakistani government vs the Taliban / tribes and against Islamists). The others are Afghanistan, Israel − Hamas, Yemen, Somalia, Sri Lanka.
With a slightly broader definition of serious conflict (serious crisis and war), hiik.de registered 39 serious people in 2008 and 31 in 2009 (a little before the end of the year). Among other things, they have registered as a serious crisis the gang wars between drug groups and between government forces and drug gangs in Mexico. In the last couple of years, more than 10,000 people have been killed in these clashes, and entire cities have become illegal arenas for criminals – a form of “state-free space”. In all, more than 1,000 police officers have been killed in fighting or assassination. This is not war in the ordinary sense, but deadly enough for those who fall victim.