The Ploughshares Monitor March 2000 Volume 21 Issue 1
After three years of steady decline, the number of wars fought worldwide increased significantly in 1999.
By year’s end there were 40 armed conflicts being fought on the territories of 36 countries, up from 36 armed conflicts in 31 countries in 1998 (and compared to 37 in 32 countries in 1997, 40 in 34 countries in 1996, and 44 armed conflicts in 39 countries in 1995).
The Armed Conflicts Report 2000 includes 6 new conflicts (Eritrea/Ethiopia, Andhra Pradesh state in India, Molucca Islands in Indonesia, Nigeria, Chechnian Republic in Russia, and Senegal). Two conflicts that were included in earlier reports have been removed (Punjab state of India and the Kurdish conflict in Iran), for a net increase of four, or roughly 10 percent. In almost all of the cases of new conflicts, the fighting had begun earlier, but it was in 1999 that they reached the threshold of 1,000 combat deaths (the report’s definition of an armed conflict1 includes a minimum cumulative total of combat deaths of 1,000).
Perhaps the most significant change occurred in the Horn of Africa with the Eritrea/Ethiopia war, the first international war to be included in the annual report since the 1991 Gulf War. Fighting between the two countries began in February 1998 but the most intense fighting occurred in 1999, resulting in deaths estimated to be in the tens of thousands. With two mechanized armies in direct combat, supported by air strikes, the Eritrea/Ethiopia war is unlike all other current armed conflicts in the extent to which it follows the model of classic international wars.
The only other two current wars with prominent international dimensions are the war in Kashmir involving India and Pakistan, and Israel’s incursions into Lebanon. Although the annual Armed Conflicts Report has regarded the Kashmir conflict as an Indian civil war fought over the status of a region of India, there have been prominent border clashes between Indian and Pakistani forces. The Armed Conflicts Report has consistently described Israel as a state in civil conflict over the Palestine question, but the civil war is fought on the territories of two countries, Israel and Lebanon. While the war in the People’s Democratic Republic of Congo also involves armed forces from neighbouring countries, it remains unambiguously an internal civil conflict of the Congo.
Low-level conflict has been the reality in Andhra Pradesh for most of the past decade with police and paramilitary units seeking to control the activities of the People’s War Group, also known as the Naxalites after the town of Naxalbari where the outlawed movement began some 25 years ago. During the past two years the fighting has escalated and resulted in several hundred deaths each year, pushing the total over the 1,000 mark in 1999. While fighting escalated in Andhra Pradesh, for the second year in a row the Punjab was stable and thus has been removed from the current armed conflicts list – meaning that, as in previous years, India continues to be the location of three separate armed conflicts (Kashmir and the Northeast Region being the other two Indian war zones).
The Molucca Islands of Indonesia saw the unexpected outbreak of violent clashes between Christian and Muslims in 1999. The Molucca islands had long been thought of as a model of Christian/Muslim harmony in the region, but changing economic conditions and increased religious tensions in other parts of Indonesia are credited with fomenting repeated clashes following an incident related to a traffic accident in early 1999. By virtue of the Molucca death toll going well beyond 1,500, Indonesia now becomes the site of three separate conflicts as well (the other two war zones being Irian Jaya and East Timor, over which Indonesia relinquished its control in late 1999). There has also been a recent renewal of fighting in Aceh. It was removed as an active conflict in 1998 following a period of relative stability. The renewed fighting is still under the threshold of 1,000 combat deaths.
Unrest has been widespread in Nigeria in recent years, and in 1999 clashes in several settings, including communal conflicts, Christian/Muslim attacks, and clashes in the oil region, resulted in the cumulative deaths going beyond 1,000. In Senegal, rebel groups have been agitating for the separation of southern Casamance since 1982, and clashes in 1999 there too have pushed the cumulative death toll beyond 1,000.
Russia’s war on Chechnya was renewed with particular energy in 1999, following a period of relative stability initiated by the 1996 truce agreement. Russia’s sustained assault on Chechnya, launched with new attacks in August of 1999, is said to be a response to Chechnian attacks on neighbouring Dagestan and to continued Chechnian rebel activity. Reports on casualties vary, but most sources estimate that there have been several thousand deaths since August 1999 (compared with an estimated 80,000 deaths in the fighting during 1994-1996).
The accompanying table indicates that 40 per cent of all current wars are being fought in Africa. Asia follows with 35 per cent, while the Middle East is the site of 15 per cent of the world’s armed conflicts (in another sense the Middle East remains the most war-torn region of the world, since 43 per cent of states in the region are experiencing warfare, compared with 34 per cent in Africa and 21 per cent in Asia).
The full Armed Conflicts Report will shortly be available on the Ploughshares website and as a wall poster.
Geographic Distributions of Armed Conflicts in 1999
40 armed conflicts in 36 countries:
India and Indonesia each host 3 conflicts;
Philippines and Iraq each host 2 conflicts;
Israel and Lebanon together host the Israeli/Palestinian conflict;
Eritrea and Ethiopia together host the Eritrea/Ethiopia war.
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 fewer 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.