The “Conflict Barometer” published by Heidelberg University’s Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK) identified only nine former conflicts as being settled or becoming inactive last year. Worldwide, 372 conflicts had seethed at varying levels of intensity, the HIIK said, with 213, or 57 percent, fought out violently.
Among the 16 classified as all-out wars were three once-limited wars in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA): the conflicts in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Syria’s Afrin region, and between Turkey and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) militia. Other wars that retained their intensity included the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic (pictured above), where a peace deal was signed in early February, the eighth in six years.
Surge in sub-Saharan Africa
The 2018 surge in the number of limited wars — from 16 to 24 — involved the Philippines, Myanmar, Ukraine, Colombia, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Mali, said the HIIK, submitting its 27th study since 1992. In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, eight limited wars were counted, “twice as much as the year before.”
‘Heavy fights’ in Mexico
Mexico’s drug war, which the HIIK also defined as an all-out war, affected its states of Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Guanajuato, with its government ”kingpin” strategy of targeting cartel bosses leading to “heavy fights over local predominance.”
The HIIK also listed a number of medium intensity “interstate conflicts,” including between India and Pakistan and Russia versus the European Union and the United States. As an example of de-escalation, the HIIK cited South Sudan, saying “several international conferences and agreements” had almost halved the [year-on-year] death toll.”
The 193-page study, compiling input from 220 experts worldwide and overseen by an advisory panel as far afield as Japan, Oslo and Cape Town, looked beyond raw casualty figures. The HIIK said it regards conflict as a “process” where protagonists or actors perceive incompatible intentions and try to “communicate” with violent means instead of using civil regulatory procedures and court proceedings.
It ranked conflict intensity on a one-to-five scale from “dispute” to all-out war. Weapons are ranked light to heavy; casualties and refugee flows are classified from low to heavy. Researchers also correlated conflict with other issues, identifying linkages between territory, resources, ideologies, secession and “international power.”
Social media impact in Indonesia
In a special note on “online Islamism” and widespread social media usage in Indonesia, the HIIK said local Islamists now “greatly influenced public discourse in political and religious matters.” Their ideas and rejection of democracy had “gained ground not only with isolated, fundamentalist groups, but have also found popularity with a large part of Indonesia’s overall population,” notably young people.
Potential members were being redirected, said the HIIK, to “closed, private groups” linked by end-to-end encryption where radical ideas circulated, creating a “common identity.” That had prompted President Joko Widodo to launch counter-measures in 2017, including the creation of the Indonesian National Cyber and Encryption Agency (BSSN).