This Year's Changes
New Countries on the 2001 List
The criteria for inclusion on the conflict list is the level of political, social, economic and military disruption caused by the relevant conflict. This is inherently a subjective measure, thus, standardized criteria such as 1,000 deaths per conflict are not applied. Simply put, 1,000 deaths signify a lot more conflict in Nepal than in China. Understanding that political, social, economic and military problems interact and feed off of each other is critical to addressing conflict. For example, in 1992 the Center for Defense Information issued a report entitled "World at War 1992 - Fewer Wars, No Danger to the United States." In it, CDI claimed that wars were on the decline around the world, and that as a result U.S. defense spending was "tragically high." This short-sighted prediction was based on a uni-dimensional reading of the situation. The National Defense Council Foundation (NDCF) World Conflict Report is intended to do better.
It is essential to understand the difference between counting wars and measuring conflict. For instance, the Correlates of War (COW) project at the University of Michigan is widely respected in the political science community, but addresses only inter-state war (with strict definitions.) Consequently, the destabilizing fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban and other terrorist activity in Afghanistan before September 11th would not even have shown up on COW's radar screen. But it did on ours. Last year NDCF named Afghanistan as the most dangerous conflict for 2000. A number of the conflicts listed here may not be big enough to be called "wars," but many of them have the potential to burgeon into wars.
of Conflict and Analysis
This is still well above the Cold War average of approximately 35. The stability of the bi-polar Cold War system has been replaced by a series of warm wars being fought at the low-intensity level by non-state actors. With the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia successfully concluded at the end of last year, there were no high-intensity state vs. state conflicts this year. The majority of conflicts were low-medium intensity and were normally fought between the state and one or more sub-state actors (such as a rebel force or a terrorist organization.) Unfortunately, the American military is still equipped to fight major interstate wars. Our sophisticated fighter-bombers and heavy tanks and artillery are less conducive to the smaller, low-intensity conflicts raging around the globe.
One recurrent theme this year was separatist movements, often along religious lines. Islamic groups want to form their own state in such countries as Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, and China. This hardly constitutes the "clash of civilizations" that Harvard's Samuel Huntington predicts, but it does seem to indicate that there are a lot of disgruntled Muslim groups in the world, frequently using Islam as an excuse for violence.
Another pattern observed in 2001 was a great deal of political violence surrounding elections. As fledging democracies continue to develop their institutions following the Cold War election violence is an inevitable growing pain. However, it is often a simple problem that can and should be limited through impartial international election observers. NDCF has served as an election observer in Guatemala and urges other non-profit organizations to get involved in ensuring democracy, as well.
Traditionally, NDCF names a "stupidest conflict" and a "most dangerous" conflict. This year's winner of the first dubious distinction is Ghana, where what should have been a quarrel between two young men over and act of vandalism escalated into a renewed fight between two ethnic groups.
The most dangerous conflict for 2001 is the possibility of further terrorist attacks against the United States. There are multiple terrorist groups out there beyond Osama bin Laden. There are also vulnerabilities in the United States, which terrorists will take advantage of. For example, the possibility of a catastrophic attack against one of our nation's ports is conceivable, despite the US Coast Guard's stepped up protection. The best ways to prevent further terrorist attacks are to increase resources for the long-under-funded Coast Guard, rebuild our human intelligence networks, and strengthen our Special Forces to prepare them to eliminate other terrorist cells.
research for this report was compiled over the course of 2001. Primary
research was done by NDCF interns; the report was drafted by Senior
Research Assistant Graham Lanz. Final editing and revisions were done
by Major F. Andy Messing, Jr USAR (Ret.), Special Forces, executive
director of NDCF. Major Messing has been to 27 conflicts world-wide
and is considered a leading expert on Special Operations and Low-Intensity
Conflict. This material is ©2001 National Defense Council
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