The 2005 Armed Conflicts Report — Preview

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2005 Volume 26 Issue 2

Although the world endured 32 armed conflicts1 during 2004, the total was the lowest since Project Ploughshares began monitoring armed conflicts in 1987. At 26, the number of states hosting conflict violence in 2004 was also the lowest of the 18-year period (see Figure 1). There were four fewer armed conflicts and two fewer states involved in war than in 2003.

The latest drop in both the number of armed conflicts and the number of states at war is the fifth successive decline in annual conflict totals and follows a turbulent post-Cold War period that saw the total number of armed conflicts peak at 44 in 1995. Although extrapolation remains speculative, the general downward trend in armed conflicts since 1987 supports the value of increased multilateral efforts at peacemaking, peacekeeping, and especially peacebuilding to prevent the reemergence of violent conflict. Despite the persistence of political, communal, and criminal violence across the globe, there is evidence that international efforts to reduce, end, and prevent armed conflicts are bearing fruit.

Four armed conflicts ended or became dormant during 2004. In Liberia, the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement held through 2004 as UN peacekeeping troops were able to extend their control and 100,000 former combatants turned in their weapons. Two conflicts in Indonesia completed a two-year period of dormancy and are now considered ended. In the first, after more than 30 years of violence in West Papua (Irian Jaya) between the Indonesian government and pro-independence groups, fewer than 50 deaths can be attributed to the conflict since 2002. Similarly, the communal fighting on the island of Sulawesi that killed at least 1,000 people between 1998 and 2001 abated dramatically in the past two years. Finally, the long-standing war between Kurdish separatists and the Iraqi government was overtaken by the US-led war of occupation and the removal of the government of Saddam Hussein in early 2003.

For 2004, Liberia and Lebanon have been removed from the list of states affected by armed conflict. Fighting has ended in Liberia and the level of violence in Lebanon has been much reduced in the past two years. Lebanon was the last external state affected by the persistent armed conflict between Israel and Palestine. Meanwhile, despite the cessation of three conflicts, Indonesia and Iraq remain on the list of states at war.

Although the number of wars and states affected by war dropped across the world, Africa and Asia continued to bear disproportionate burdens (see Table 1). More than five out of every six armed conflicts raged in Africa or Asia during 2004, with more than one quarter of African, and almost one-fifth of Asian, states affected by one or more wars. In contrast, the regions of Europe and the Americas faced proportionately far fewer armed conflicts, at 6 per cent and 2 per cent of the global total respectively. Despite constant political and media attention, the Middle East experienced only 6 per cent of the world’s total armed conflicts, and the two wars in the region — Israel/Palestine and Iraq – were the fewest the region has suffered in at least two decades.

Table 1: Geographic distributions of armed conflicts in 2004

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
13
26
44
Asia
42
13
8
19
41
Europe
42
2
2
5
6.5
The Americas
44
1
1
2
2
Middle East
14
2
2
14
6.5
World Totals
192
32
26
14
100

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).

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