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Military Conflicts Losing Steam

7/3/2005 - 6:30 AM PST

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New Report Gives Some Grounds for Optimism

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, JULY 3, 2005 (Zenit) - In spite of fears about global insecurity, the number of armed conflicts continues to decline. An overview of the world situation was published June 1 by the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management.

Authored by Monty Marshall and Ted Robert Gurr, the report, "Peace and Conflict 2005: A Global Survey of Armed Conflicts, Self-Determination Movements, and Democracy," notes a number of positive trends. Among them:

-- A decline in the global magnitude of armed conflict, following a peak in the early 1990s. Major wars are down from 12 at the end of 2002 to eight in early 2005. And, according to the report's calculations, the general magnitude of global warfare has decreased by more than 60% since peaking in the mid-1980s, falling by the end of 2004 to its lowest level since the late 1950s. In early 2005 there were 18 countries with ongoing major armed conflicts, and in two of these there were two ongoing wars, for a total of 20 major armed conflicts in the world.

-- Most democratic regimes established during the 1980s and 1990s have endured despite political and economic crises. Moreover, there has been an increase in action by popular forces, such as Bolivia, Georgia, the Philippines and Ukraine, to promote democratic principles and hold leaders accountable.

-- In the Middle East, democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq have gained support, and small steps have been taken toward political reform in other Arab autocracies.

-- Ethnic-based wars for independence, a significant threat to civil peace in the 1990s, have continued to decline to their lowest level since 1960. In the 2001-2004 period, 13 major self-determination conflicts were settled or contained, offset by a half-dozen new or renewed campaigns.

-- Repression and political discrimination against ethnic minorities have declined significantly, coinciding with the dramatic decline in autocratic regimes since the late 1980s. Since 1950, the number of minorities benefiting from policies aimed at remedying past political discrimination has increased fivefold.

The report warned: "These positive trends are no warrant for unqualified optimism about the future of world peace." For example, there is no guarantee that the strategies that have brought about the recent improvements will work in the future, the report said. Moreover, there are difficulties in achieving the level of international cooperation needed to overcome the challenges to peace.

Regional trends

The report uses a system of red and yellow flags to draw attention to areas of potential conflict. The 2005 edition gives a red flag to 31 out of 161 countries surveyed, down from 34 in the 2003 report. Seventeen African countries draw a red flag. Other danger spots are Armenia, Cambodia, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon and Pakistan.

Another 51 countries are yellow-flagged, of which 19 are in Africa south of the Sahara, 10 in North Africa and the Middle East, and 12 in the Asia-Pacific region. In short, the report observes, "half the world's countries have serious weaknesses that call for international scrutiny and engagement."

One region that is particularly worrying is Africa. "African countries have generally low capacity for conflict management and continue to face serious and complex challenges to peace and stability in 2005," the report said. Yet, it noted that progress has been made in increasing regional cooperation. As well, there are important differences within the region.

Moreover, the one thing distinguishing Africa from other regions of the world is the newness of its state system, the report said. All but four of the 50 African countries gained their independence in the latter half of the 20th century. "State building is no simple task," the report observed, "and the building of modern, viable states has everywhere, and in all times, been fraught with enormous difficulties."

Muslim countries, meanwhile, were seen as having a profile comparable to that of the African countries, with a large number marked out as sources of potential conflict. Unlike in Africa, however, armed conflict in Muslim regions has declined by more than 60% since 1991, a trend similar to the overall global reduction.

Asia is also a trouble spot. Along with Africa it accounts for most of the world's major armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War.

In South America, several countries have been rocked by economic and financial crises leading to mass demonstrations and the resignations of elected leaders. In a change with the past, this time the military forces have generally stood aside, the report noted.

Terrorism

The report noted that terrorism, though ...

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