The global overview of conflict trends since 1989

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This article is a brief presentation of PRIO Paper showing the global overview of conflict trends.

The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) paper, authored by Julia Palik, Siri Aas Rustad and Fredrik Methi, provides an overview of various aspects of conflict trends on a global scale, since 1989. The paper focuses on providing information on the scale of violence and includes data and analysis on recurrence of conflicts as well as ceasefires and peace agreements. The data utilised in the paper comes from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), PRIO and ETH Zurich. This overview is accompanied by three regional papers on Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

According to the PRIO paper, the “State-based conflict” is defined as a contested incompatibility over government and/or territory, where at least one party is a state, and the use of armed force results in at least 25 battle-related deaths within a calendar year. 2019 recorded 54 state-based conflicts globally. Two deadliest conflicts took place in Afghanistan and Syria. Despite the fact that the Islamic State (IS) was allegedly defeated in Syria in 2019, the number of IS conflicts increased from 12 in 2018 to 16 in 2019. According to the paper, the state-based conflicts are concentrated in a set of conflict hotspots revolving around Syria, Iraq, and Yemen in the Middle East; in the border between Mali and Burkina Faso; Eastern DRC and Somalia, as well as Afghanistan and the Philippines in Asia. Globally, the most common types of conflicts are state-based conflicts and civil wars.

According to the global state-based conflict trends between 1946 and 2019, the predominant form of conflict at the global level is a civil conflict, with the number of civil conflicts having increased particularly since the 1970s. With regard to battle-related deaths, Afghanistan accounted for the highest number, which has risen  from 25,679 to almost 30,000 between 2018 to 2019. Although Syria was the second deadliest conflict in 2019, the battle-related deaths decreased to 7,304 from 11,824. The third place was taken  by Yemen which suffered 4,515  battle-related deaths. 

The trend of conflict recurrence can be seen from two levels, on the dyadic level and conflict level. At the dyadic level, Africa experienced the highest number of non-recurring conflicts that is 127, followed by Asia (55), Europe (31), the Middle East (25), and the Americas (19). Conflict episodes recur four or more times on 14 counts in Asia, followed by Africa (9), the Middle East (5), Europe and America (1). For example, the conflict in Myanmar between the government and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) which started in 1990 recurred both in 1994 and 1999. Whereas, at the conflict level, Africa experienced the highest number of non-recurrent conflicts that is 30, but also it is in the same region together with Asia witnessed the highest number of four or more recurrent conflict episodes namely 12. Asia experienced the second highest number of one-episode or non-recurrent conflicts that is 19, followed by the Middle East and the Americas (15), and Europe (11). Africa experienced the highest number of two-time recurring conflict episodes while Asia experienced the highest number in three-time recurring conflict.

Since 2010, reportedly the number of humanitarian ceasefires has considerably increased. Most ceasefires between 1989 and 2018 were concluded in Asia followed by Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the America. The number of Peace Agreements between 2015 and 2018 declined, while the number of conflicts rose. The ceasefires are differentiated into several types, namely humanitarian, peace processes, holiday, election or other-related purposes. The number of ceasefires reached its peak in 1993 when 132 ceasefires were recorded, 96 of them being peace process related during the Yugoslav wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile, related to peace agreement 18.4% of all intra-state conflicts (27 out of 147) ended with a peace agreement.

In 2019, there were a total 67 non-state conflicts in the world. This is a slight decrease from 2017 and 2018, with respectively 85 and 80 non-state conflicts. Africa and the Middle East are both features of high levels of non-state conflict, with almost 19,600 people killed in non-state conflict in 2019. While it is a decrease from 2018, this number is still amongst the top three highest since 1989. The main increase in battle-related deaths is related to formally organised groups. According to the share of battle-related deaths in non-state conflicts across regions in 2018 and 2019, Latin America is the deadliest violent non-state conflict although the number of its conflicts was less than in Africa and in the Middle East. 

Compared to the mid-2000s, the one-sided violence remained low. According to research, Africa is the highest amongst others; with the highest incidents of one-sided violence followed by Asia and the Middle East. However, to detect a trend in the number of people being killed in one-sided violence remains difficult but it seems the total number often lies between 4,000 and 8,000 people each year. Yet there are occasional spikes related to specific groups such as the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, Afghanistan under Taliban rule in 1998, various non-state actors in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002, and IS in 2014 and 2015. 

In conclusion, by learning the trends we may know how the global picture changes and give some indicators of what we can expect in the future. It also points to where we need to dig more into mechanisms to better understand the trends or conflict patterns and give several important policy implications for a long-term peace in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 – peaceful and inclusive societies and to significantly reduce all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere. 


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Author: Mery Ana Farida; Editor: Aleksandra Krol

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