The most used data on violent conflicts was released last week by the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme for the year 2022. While the number of armed conflicts in which the state is a party had increased from 54 in 2021 to 55 in 2022, the number of deaths in these armed conflicts has almost doubled. In 2021, 120,000 people had died in armed conflicts, and in 2022, the number has reached 238,000.
The Russia-Ukraine war and the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are primarily responsible for this massive increase in fatalities in the last year. 2022 also witnessed a rise in non-state conflicts, one-sided violence, and the number of actors carrying out such violence.
The world had not witnessed such deadliest conflicts it is witnessing now since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A relatively peaceful lull prevailed in the world for the rest of the 1990s and the first decade of this century. That even prompted some to conclude only about a decade ago that the violence has declined and the world is becoming peaceful.
The so-called Arab Spring destroyed those highly optimistic assertions, and the number of armed conflicts has risen since 2010. The world also witnessed a significant increase in the number of non-state armed actors, including rebels, militias, armed traffickers, and violent extremists.
The global security situation has continued to worsen for over a decade now. The Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022 has started a major interstate war after a gap of almost two decades since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Though the world is more focused on the war in Ukraine, the most deaths occurred last year in Tigray due to Ethiopia’s armed actions against Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Failing to manage conflicts
Though a ceasefire agreement has brought an uneasy cessation of violence in Tigray since November 2022, another violent conflict has exploded in nearby Sudan since April 2023.
Conflicts and displacements have spread to Africa, Europe, Central America, and parts of Asia. Conflicts in the 21st century are not taking place only in poor and underdeveloped countries. Many middle-income countries, like Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, are witnessing extreme violence.
Regional organisations, which were only a decade ago praised for having the needed institutional capacity for conflict management in their parts of the world, have failed to perform.
African Union has coined a catchy slogan, ‘African Solutions to African Problems’; on the other hand, it struggles with its limited capacity and capability to overcome a history of conflicts in the continent and find answers to newly emerging violent episodes.
The so-called ASEAN Way has also failed to resolve the raging conflicts in Myanmar. Even the member-states of the European Union fail to get an agreement about their approach toward the war in Ukraine.
The UN peacekeeping operations, which were relatively successful in keeping and building peace in war-affected countries in the post-Cold War period, have become almost ineffective in carrying out their mandates in the last decade.
While the regional organisations have primarily failed in managing conflicts, the increasingly bipolar world has also impacted the UN Security Council.
While the divided international community is failing to manage the conflicts becoming violent, several conflicts are also becoming intractable and dangerous due to the involvement of international actors supporting their proxies.
As the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme shows, out of 55 active armed conflicts in 2022, 22 were internationalised, meaning one or both parties in these conflicts had received troop support from a foreign country.
Old conflicts are lapsing
Proxy wars were common during the Cold War years. That syndrome is back again as big and emerging powers directly engage in conflicts to pursue their strategic and regional interests. The conflicts are becoming more complex and resistant to resolution due to money, ideology, arms, and troops flowing from external sources. In many cases, old conflicts are also lapsing.
Three broad and interrelated factors have increased the number of violent conflicts worldwide and resulted in more fatalities: 1. Big power rivalry and divided Security Council, 2. Active transnational involvement, and 3. The spread of violent extremism and the rise of populism.
More violent conflicts have also contributed to causing more famines and displacement on the planet as they are intricately interrelated. In many cases, established norms of not targeting civilian facilities and infrastructures are not being adhered to during a conflict. Those actions are resulting in more civilian deaths and suffering.
The threat of using nuclear weapons in war had disappeared for several decades, but that threat is being used often these days. The costs of these conflicts, human, health, and economic, are reaching a staggering proportion.
The increasing insecurity has also made the countries spend more on their military. World’s military expenditure went up 3.7 per cent in 2022, reaching a record high of $2.24 trillion.
In the aftermath of the World War II, a collective desire had created an international system to prevent violent conflicts by establishing laws, norms, values, and peace mechanisms. After almost eight decades, that international system looks very fragile and highly divided.