The 2002 Armed Conflicts Report

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2002 Volume 23 Issue 1

The year 2001 witnessed a significant decline in armed conflicts1 worldwide, dropping from 40 such conflicts in 35 countries in 2000, to 37 conflicts in 30 countries in 2001. While it is very difficult to measure the intensity of conflicts, a rough estimate of the number of war deaths in 2001, compared with 2000, suggests that in three-quarters of all remaining conflicts the intensity of the fighting was either unchanged or in slight decline.

Contemporary warfare is by nature sporadic, but while there are year-to-year changes in levels of fighting, the social, economic, and psychological impacts of ongoing civil war, nationally and personally, are unrelentingly devastating. Of the current 37 conflicts, 27 of them (or almost three-quarters) began more than a decade ago, meaning entire generations of children are being denied access to meaningful education, health care is minimal, and economic development remains on hold.

All of the 37 armed conflicts that were ongoing at the end of 2001 were intrastate conflicts (civil wars), and several countries continued to host multiple conflicts: Indonesia with five, India with three, and Philippines and Iraq with two each. The Israel-Palestine conflict is listed as a single armed conflict taking place on the territories of two states, Israel and Lebanon.

The Middle East region continues to be the most conflict-intensive area of the planet, with more than a third of the states in the region experiencing armed conflict. In Africa and Asia about one-quarter and one-fifth of the states respectively were at war, and together these two regions were the site of almost 80 percent of the world’s wars at the end of 2001 (see the Table below).

Two new armed conflicts was added to the conflicts list in 2001, both in Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sulawesi). Conflict between the indigenous Dayaks (now largely Christian) of Kalimantan and the largely Muslim Madures, who were settled there by the Dutch colonial administration beginning in the 1930s and by the Indonesian government in the 1960s, erupted into violence in 1996 and 1999 with hundreds and possibly more people killed in each outbreak. Renewed violence in 2001 again resulted in hundreds of deaths, bringing the cumulative death toll to more than 1000. Following the arrival of thousands of Muslim extremists on the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, renewed violence between rival Muslim and Christian communities in 2001 resulted in over 100 civilian deaths. The 2001 casualties contributed to a total of over 1000 deaths of mostly Muslim civilians since armed violence first erupted in 1998 out of post-Suharto intercommunal tensions.

Five conflicts were removed from the list in 2001, including three in Africa. The 2000 ceasefire in Congo-Brazzaville has held for two years. The 2000 peace agreement ending the Ethiopia-Eritrea war also held throughout 2001 and peacekeeping forces are at the border to monitor the end to hostilities. In South Africa, significant political violence was present throughout the 1990s, but in the past two years the number of reported political killings has declined sharply.

After a full quarter-century of fighting against Indonesian occupation, East Timor held its first election as an independent country in 2001 and, with support from the United Nations, has now entered the long-term challenge of recovering from war and rebuilding a viable national society and economy. Political violence in Peru has also been in sharp decline during the past two years. The Shining Path guerilla war against the government has largely ended, and while political instability continued around the arrest of the former president, political violence has been minimal.

The full Armed Conflicts Report will soon be available on the Ploughshares website and as a wall poster.

Geographic distributions of armed conflicts in 2001

Region # of
countries
in region
# of
conflicts
in region
# of
countries
hosting
conflicts
% of
countries
in region
hosting
conflicts
% of
world
conflicts
Africa 50 14 14 28 38
Asia 42 15 8 19 41
Europe 42 2 2 5 5
The Americas 44 1 1 2 3
Middle East 14 5 5 36 14
World Totals 192 37 30 16 100

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 ceasefire 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.

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