The 2003 Armed Conflicts Report – Preview

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2003 Volume 24 Issue 2

While the international community spent much of 2002 deciding whether or not to start a new war in Iraq, 37 other armed conflicts1 were already underway, directly affecting the lives of millions of men, women, and children in 29 countries. The total number of armed conflicts remained unchanged from the previous year (the 2001 total of 37 conflicts in 30 countries was a 10 per cent drop from the 2000 totals), and in the majority of the 2002 conflicts the intensity declined or was unchanged.

Although armed conflict is a worldwide phenomenon, some regions are more affected than others. In 2002 the Middle East and Africa were the most war-torn regions, with more than one-quarter of the countries in each region (29 and 28 per cent respectively) hosting armed conflicts on their territory (see the accompanying table). In Asia one in five countries hosted armed conflict, while in Europe and the Americas only 5 per cent and 2 per cent of countries respectively were the scene of war. The war between insurgent groups and the Colombian government was the Western Hemisphere’s single armed conflict, making the Americas, and especially North America, the region least affected by war.

In 2002 four states were the sites of more than one armed conflict. These were Indonesia (five), India (four), Philippines (two), and Iraq (two). The Israel-Palestine conflict is listed as a single conflict taking place on the territory of two states, Israel and Lebanon.

All 37 wars in 2002 were internal civil wars, although most internal wars are in some sense internationalized and often involve the armed forces of more than one country. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the military forces of several neighbouring countries have been heavily involved in the fighting, even though the conflict remains an internal civil war. The impact and consequences of fighting in one country are also internationalized. War refugees, as well as trade and other economic effects, ensure that war in one country inevitably produces consequences well beyond the sites of the fighting.

In 2002 two wars ended and were removed from the list of active armed conflict, while two new wars were added. In Sierra Leone a peace process initiated in 1999 led to an official declaration of the end of the civil war in January 2002 when the disarmament of over 45,000 combatants was confirmed. Elections held in May were generally peaceful and viewed to be free and fair. In Turkey two successive years of relative peace and dramatically reduced violence brought an end to the conflict; the government, in its bid to join the European Union, initiated a number of reforms to grant Turkish Kurds more rights and freedoms.

A new phase of armed conflict got underway in Liberia in 2002. Despite 1997 elections which marked the shaky end of a seven-year civil war that killed close to 200,000 people, opposition to President Charles Taylor took on a new insurgent form in 2000. By 2002 it had resulted in fighting for control of a number of key cities and more than 1,000 deaths. An additional armed conflict in India (the fourth in that country) began in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Thousands of people died in violent confrontations between Hindus and Muslims.

The full Armed Conflicts Report 2003 will soon be available on the Ploughshares website and as a wall poster.

Geographic distributions of armed conflicts in 2002

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 16 8 19 43
Europe 42 2 2 5 5
The Americas 44 1 1 2 3
Middle East 14 4 4 29 11
World Totals 192 37 29 15 100

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 resulting from state failure, the resulting violence or armed combat is 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 ceasefire, 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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