The conflict picture of the last two years offers an unexpected element – the Arab Spring. Inspired by a street vendor in Tunisia, who set himself on fire, millions in the Middle East have thrown off the yoke of fear and got rid of one head of state after another.
Persistent mass demonstrations – sometimes brutally attempted to be crushed by incumbent regimes – have in places developed into civil wars with thousands killed. Thus, 2011 in particular has shown a more intense conflict picture than in a long time.
- Where do we find today’s wars and major armed conflicts?
- How has the Arab Spring affected the conflict picture?
- Where are international peace operations present?
- How can the conflict picture look in the near future?
2: Resource question – again a key question
Resource issues – resource scarcity and resource overdependence – have fully re-entered the international security scene . Resource dependence is when a country becomes overly dependent on the export of only one resource – such as oil, diamonds or other resources. This often creates fertile ground for state collapse, lawlessness and armed groups.
Resource issues arose when the Middle East experienced food riots in 2007 and 2008 after the price of important food and oil rose enormously. People experienced food shortages. It seldom guarantees the stability of a country. A new, strong price increase in 2010 helped to fuel what was to come in 2011. The desire for better living conditions was one important reason for the Arab Spring.
3: A key security dilemma
According to thedressexplorer, the Arab Spring has once again brought key dilemmas in international war-peace issues into focus. Both in the conflict in Libya and in Syria , proposals for international intervention have been put forward in the UN ( Security Council ). The questions have been, among other things: Can we be left out with reference to states’ right to non-interference (in the UN Charter), or should we intervene and go in with weapons where major abuses threaten a population and their human rights ?
In the case of Libya, the Security Council gave a mandate to step in, ie leave NATO in charge of the operations themselves . In the case of Syria, there was (as of 13.02.2012) no decision, despite the fact that the abuses are obvious and far more extensive in the time around the UN treatment than they were in Libya. At the turn of the year, more than 5,000 had been killed – since March 2011 alone – in Syria. Some would say that there will be no UN mandate in Syria because Western countries interpreted the UN mandate for the operation in Libya too broadly – that they erroneously stretched it to include regime change. These would thus mean that the international forces (mainly from NATO) almost became part of a civil war.
4: Civil War or Medieval War?
Both Libya and Syria illustrate what characterizes today’s wars – they are civil wars – war within a country. It is then common to distinguish between a struggle for government power or for territory , ie whether to separate an area as a separate state or not. The parties to the conflict have such incompatible goals – values and / or interests – that they do not see or do not want to see opportunities for cooperation and compromise. Usually one of the parties is then a state’s government forces facing one or more rebel forces – that is, disputes between organized parties.
Encouraged, among other things, by what is happening in the war on drugs in Mexico (more than 45,000 killed since 2006), we can register in research a tendency to also include more “private ” (non-state) violent conflicts in conflict overviews. In such cases, too, there is organized violence, which is perpetrated by narcotics forces fighting each other or government forces. Or we can see – as in Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and others. – non-state ethnic or religious forces fighting each other – sectarian war . However, the frontier of organized criminal violence is very unclear.
In some countries – among them Nigeria, Pakistan and India – we also see parallel conflicts. Ethnic groups can stand against each other – often with poor social conditions as a breeding ground – in one conflict. At the same time, the government is facing one or more rebel forces in another. In Pakistan, ethnic-religious groups clash in the southern Sindh province (Karachi +) with hundreds killed in 2011 alone. Further north, the government is fighting Taliban groups.
Intergovernmental wars between two or more states with regular soldiers and declarations of war, on the other hand, we hardly see any of today. A rare example in 2011 took place as border clashes between government soldiers from Thailand and Cambodia.
Almost all wars are civil wars now, but often they still have an international element or at least international effects . International elements in Libya were NATO forces in combat and the African Union in an attempt to bring the conflicting parties to the negotiating table. The Arab League has been involved in the Syrian conflict with observers. We see other forms of international elements when diasporas (refugees, exile residents and people with more permanent residence abroad) from a civil war send money home. Such money occasionally helps to “feed under the fire” in the home country and prolong conflicts.
In any case, the conflicts during the Arab Spring have also created international effects , including as refugees or as an economic downturn in neighboring countries. The Arab Spring is also an example of how internal unrest and conflict in one country can quickly spread to neighboring countries. It can be an inspiration for rebellion, such as when the Arab Spring spread from Tunisia to Egypt, to Libya, to Syria, etc. Many have therefore compared the Arab Spring to dominoes in free fall. Dispersal can also occur as from Somalia: From there, al-Shebab terrorists have entered neighboring Kenya and raided areas there. In addition, they have been behind a terrorist bomb in Uganda with more than 80 killed.
5: Sliding transitions on the violence scale
War is associated with organized , politically motivated use of violence. But far from all serious armed conflict is war; the wars are just the tip of the iceberg – often what the media focuses on most and “what we get on the radar”. Until the Arab Spring, the number of serious armed conflicts (> 25 killed) decreased somewhat, but unstable, over the last ten years – from around 20 at the turn of the millennium (SIPRI) to 15 in 2010. Conflict barometer (Heidelberg , hiik.de) embraces somewhat broader and expects 28 (decline) such conflicts in 2010.
An armed conflict is registered as war when more than 1,000 people are killed on the battlefield in the course of a year. Different sources operate with roughly the same numbers for full-scale wars in 2010: 4−6, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq as well as Sudan (Darfur) and Mexico (hiik.de).
The figures seem more or less the same for 2011. The serious non-war armed conflicts will mainly include between 100 and 1,000 killed in one year (see box on Dagestan in Russia).
In 2011, thousands were killed in both Libya and Syria, as well as more than 1,000 in both Egypt and Yemen and also with more killed in other Arab countries (Bahrain,…). Far from all of these were killed on any battlefield. We can then ask: Is it right to only count battlefield victims?
The Arab Spring also exemplifies another shift : there we have seen mass demonstrations against hated regimes via brutal attempts at repression by regime forces turn into civil war. But when does one end, and when does the other begin? Shooting unarmed, non-violent protesters is one-sided violence , while civil war is approaching when protesters take up arms and shoot back. When is international involvement only the protection of civilians? When will it become a regime change and a party to a civil war or civil war-like situation? During the civil war in Libya, this question was raised several times in connection with NATO operations and their understanding of the UN mandate.
Another smooth transition is when the same conflict for one year is intense with many killed, while it can almost “lie down” with only scattered skirmishes over the next couple of years. In other words, the intensity can go in wave motions. In the valleys of the waves we can talk about low-intensity conflicts . But even these can dampen the desire and ability to take action in affected local communities. And if the development wheel (such as business, health and education functions) does not start after a period with a lot of violence, it provides good growth conditions for the violence (see Fig. P. 5) to increase again. Note that low intensity in Figure Part 5 means conflict without violence.
6: Minor media-visible conflicts
Most armed conflicts go under the radar of the international media, partly because the use of violence there is less extensive and more sporadic. Nevertheless, there may be reason to question the world’s news flows and priorities in newsrooms. Is it only the extent of violence that causes some conflicts to take over the media picture, while others hardly do so or not at all? In 2010, the largest terrorist attack that year (148 killed) was “eaten away with a notice” in Norway’s largest newspaper, as the same newspaper itself admits. The long-standing conflict between Indian authorities and Naxalites (Maoists) with thousands killed over almost 15 years barely reaches our media picture.
It is smoldering in Bosnia (level: crisis, Conflict Barometer )
A conflict – over system and regional dominance – between the Bosnian government and militant Wahhabi Islamists escalated in 2010:
- In late 2009, radical Wahhabis damaged a police car in the process of driving into the remote village of Gornja Maoca in northern Bosnia.
- The local community had refused to accept the state’s curricula and put up Arab streetThe village was reported to be governed by sharia law with the Bosnian authorities without control of the local community.
- The radicals in Gornja Maoca were alleged to have contacts with like-minded Wahhabis in Serbia (Sandzak area).
- On February 2, 600 police officers arrived at Gornja Maoca in 240 vehicles – including light tanks. They seized a large number of weapons, explosives and money. Seven Islamists , including the local village leader Nusret Imamovic, were arrested and charged with undermining state authorities and the constitution, as well as attempting to incite ethnic, racist and religious hatred and intolerance.
- On June 27, Wahhabi Islamists carried out a bomb attack on a police station in Bugojno, 70 kilometers southwest of Sarajevo. One police officer was killed and one was injured. When police later tried to arrest Haris Causevic – who later confessed to the attack, he wounded five police officers.
It is burning in Dagestan, Russia (level: serious crisis, Conflict Barometer )
Conflict over system and territory between militant Islamists and the authorities – both central and regional – escalated. In addition to the largest Islamist group, Shariat Jamaat, five other rebel groups operated in the republic. The Russian security authorities (FSB) claim that the groups are funded by supporters in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At least 272 people were killed in violence between militants and security forces between Dec. 2009 and aug. 2010: bombings, suicide bombings, skirmishes, and ambush. The authorities mainly blamed Shariat Jamaat and other Islamists. “Events” in 2010:
- 01: Makhachkala: suicide bombing at police station: six policemen killed and 14 wounded.
- 01: Bomb attack on gas pipeline – more than 200,000 without energy supply in the Derbent area.
- 03: Two female suicide bombers from Dagestan strike the Moscow metro: 38 killed. Militant Islamist leader takes the blame.
- 03: Another suicide attack, now against the security forces and their building in Kizlyar – at least 12 killed (most policemen) and 23 wounded.
- 09: Car suicide bomber enters military camp near Buinaksk. 4 killed and at least 35 wounded.
- 10: A similar suicide attack in Khasavyurt – 1 policeman killed.
- 11: Major attacks in Makhachkala by the Islamist group Yarmuk Jamaat – 7 policemen killed and 7 wounded.
- In many shootings– some of them in connection with police actions:
- 02: Security forces kill Islamist leader and alleged al-Qaeda member Seyf Islam.
- 02: In assassination attempt, the local police chief Ahmed Magomedov and three other police officers were killed.
- 06: In the village Kostek: 5 Islamists and 4 security people killed.
- 08: Attack on police post in Leninaul – 6 wounded.
- 08: In police action, Islamist leader is killed.
- 09: In the village of Gereikhanovo, 6 suspected Islamists are killed in a clash with security forces.
- 09: At least 15 Islamists killed.
- 11: In Makhachkala, 7 policemen and 4 Islamists were killed.
7: How will the conflict picture be in the near future?
Our time is marked by major upheavals. Both the upheavals in the Middle East, the financial and real economic crisis in western countries as well as major elements of private actors in the security scene have important effects on the security picture. On top of this comes the general global shift of power from west to east, and from north to south with greater economic weight for some developing countries. But the conflict map on the front page (part 1) has a core area that is likely to be strongly conflict-ridden in the near future: from Kenya in the south to Turkey in the north, from Pakistan in the east to Algeria in the west. And within this area we find 2/3 of the known petroleum resources (oil and gas) in the world.
We can also ask: Will economic austerity reduce Western countries’ willingness and ability to respond to international security measures, including UN or NATO peacekeeping operations? How will economic problems in most rich countries affect cash flows from north to south – whether it is aid or migrant income sent home (preferably three times greater than aid)? Can this in turn turn out to be negative in many countries in the south when there is no money? How will it affect the conflict picture that the Arab Spring seems to have taken on winter elements – that the security forces in Egypt are hitting harder than they did and that rebel forces in Libya have fought among themselves? And how will further deteriorating economies in the Middle East turn out?