Types of Armed Conflict

The following is a simple typology of modern intrastate armed conflict based on three overlapping types:

STATE CONTROL WARS centre on struggles for control of the governing apparatus of the state. State control struggles have typically been driven by ideologically defined revolutionary movements, decolonization campaigns or simply as a mechanism for the transfer of power from one set of elites to another. In some instances, communal or ethnic interests are significant to the fight to transfer power, and in other instances religion becomes a defining feature of the conflict.

STATE FORMATION CONFLICTS centre on the form or shape of the state itself and generally involve particular regions of a country fighting for a greater measure of autonomy or for outright secession — or for the right to decide in a fair and binding referendum whether or not to secede. Communal or ethnic interests are usually central to struggles for regional autonomy or secession, and in some instances religion also becomes a defining feature of the conflict.

For the purposes of this annual report we regard spreading domestic chaos and armed violence, sometimes brought on by persistent and debilitating state control and/or state formation wars, as FAILED STATE WARS: wars in which the armed conflict is neither about state control nor state formation, but about more local issues and disputes involving violence in the absence of effective government control. The primary failure is incapacity to provide minimal human security for individual citizens.

In some instances it is possible for a state to be experiencing all three types at once.

Sudan’s decades long civil war involved, all at the same time, armed struggle to overthrow the ruling regime (elements of the Northern opposition), armed struggle for greater autonomy (Nuba) or outright secession (elements of the South), as well as failed state conflict (the internecine wars among the Nuer).