The 1998 Armed Conflicts Report

Tasneem Jamal

Author
Ernie Regehr

The Ploughshares Monitor March 1999 Volume 20 Issue 1

The number of conflicts declined in 1998, but war continues to plague almost one out of every six countries.

For the third year in a row there has been a reduction in the number of armed conflicts1 worldwide. While that still leaves almost one in six countries subjected to the trauma and devastation of war, 1998 marked a continuation of the latter 1990s’ modest decline in warfare, with 36 armed conflicts taking place on the territories of 31 countries (compared to 37 in 32 countries in 1997, 40 in 34 countries in 1996, and 44 armed conflicts in 39 countries in 1995).

Proportionately, the Middle East continues to be the most warring region2 (see accompanying Table) with just over two-fifths of the region’s 14 states experiencing warfare on their territory in 1998. In Africa and Asia about one-quarter and one-fifth of states respectively had war on their territory.

Africa hosted just over a third of all the world’s wars in 1998, with Asia the scene of one-quarter of all wars and the Middle East one-fifth.

Geographic Distribution of Armed Conflicts, 1998

Region # of
countries
in region
# of
conflicts
in region
# of
countries
hosting
conflicts
% of
countries
in region
hosting
conflicts
% of
world
conflicts
Africa 50 13 13 26 36
Asia 42 13 9 21 36
Europe 42 1 1 2 3
The Americas 44 2 2 5 6
Middle East 14 7 6 43 19
World Totals 192 36 31 16 100

Only one new armed conflict is added to the 1998 list. In Yugoslavia, fighting between the central government and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province, which had begun already in 1997, escalated to pass the threshold level of 1,000 combat deaths.

Two conflicts are removed, for the net decline of one. In Albania, the conflict that began in early 1997 was under control by year’s end, when a peace accord was reached and a new government of national reconciliation put in place. There were no deaths related to the conflict reported in 1998. The war in Papua New Guinea was also removed from the list following a 1997 truce which led to a formal ceasefire agreement in 1998, monitored by the UN and regional military forces.

As reported in earlier years, several countries continue to host multiple conflicts. India has three separate armed conflicts within its borders (reported clashes in Andhra Pradesh have claimed some 800 deaths, a trend that could see it soon added to the list as India’s fourth armed conflict). Philippines, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq were each the site of two armed conflicts. The Israel/Palestine conflict continues to be defined as a single armed conflict, but takes place in the territory of two states – Israel and Lebanon.

All 36 current armed conflicts must be regarded as intrastate or civil wars (the fighting is internal to a single state, although often with significant international involvement and regional implications).

1 Defining Armed Conflict: For the purposes of the annual Armed Conflicts Report an armed conflict is defined as a political conflict in which armed combat involves the armed forces of at least one state (or one or more armed factions seeking to gain control of all or part of the state), and in which at least 1,000 people have been killed by the fighting during the course of the conflict. An armed conflict is added to the annual list of current armed conflicts in the year in which the death toll reaches the threshold of 1,000, but the starting date of the armed conflict is shown as the year in which the first combat deaths included in the count of 1,000 or more occurred.

The definition of “political conflict” becomes more difficult as the trend in current intrastate armed conflicts increasingly obscures the distinction between political and criminal violence. In a growing number of armed conflicts, armed bands, militia or factions engage in criminal activity (e.g., theft, looting, extortion) in order to fund their political/military campaigns, but frequently also for the personal enrichment of the leadership and the general livelihood of the fighting forces. Thus, in some circumstances, while the disintegrating order reflects the social chaos borne of state failure, the resulting violence or armed combat are not necessarily guided by a political program or a set of politically-motivated or -defined military objectives. However, these trends are part of the changing character of war, and conflicts characterized more by social chaos than political/military competition are thus included in the tabulation of current armed conflicts.

In many contemporary armed conflicts the fighting is intermittent and involves a very wide range of levels of intensity. An armed conflict is deemed to have ended if there has been a formal cease-fire or peace agreement and, following which, there are no longer combat deaths (or at least less than 25 per year); or, in the absence of a formal cease-fire, a conflict is deemed to have ended after two years of dormancy (in which fewer than 25 combat deaths per year have occurred).

The above definition builds upon, but differs in some aspects from, the definitions of other groups producing annual conflict tabulations, notably reports by Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University (Sweden), published annually in the yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

2 Defining the regions: For purposes of the annual Armed Conflicts Report, the world is divided into five broad regions. Africa includes the entire continent, plus Madagascar but excludes Egypt, which is included in the Middle East. The region of Asia includes the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, as well as the Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand and Micronesia. Europe includes all the states of Europe and the former Soviet Union (except for the Asian republics). The Americas include all of North, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean.

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