Number of conflicts worldwide up slightly

By 
  • October 10, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - War has been in decline since the end of the Cold War, but last year it had a slight rebound, according to Project Ploughshares’ annual Armed Conflicts Report.

In 2007 the world hosted 30 wars, up from the 29 Kitchener-based Project Ploughshares counted in 2006. The new total is the result of adding two new conflicts and removing one brief Middle Eastern clash.
Balanced against the end of a 34-day 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia, Ploughshares has added the civil war in Yemen and renewed fighting between Kurds and the Turkish government to its 21st annual survey of global warfare.

The slight uptick in worldwide war runs counter to a longer-term trend which had seen a decrease from 41 wars in 35 countries in 2000 to 29 armed conflicts in 25 countries in 2006.

Producing the annual report on war helps Christians understand the world they’re living in, said Project Ploughshares founder and senior researcher Ernie Regehr.

“From the point of view of churches and our sense of moral obligation, I think there is a sense that we have an obligation to bear witness to the nature of the world and the plights some of our fellow human beings are in,” he told The Catholic Register.

From the point of view of North Americans following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq it may seem that war has become a high-tech, expensive affair. But most of the world’s wars are waged without the computer-based weapons systems and night vision of Western armies.

“In Congo, Kenya, Somalia — all of these places — it’s war on the cheap,” said Regehr.

Increasingly the expensive, high-tech Western forces are being frustrated by low-tech guerillas, he said.

“You’ve got all of this stuff trying to counteract a few guys in flip-flops with AK47s.”

As Western powers grapple with the enormous cost of putting troops on the ground, they become less likely to commit forces to hot spots where peacekeepers might do some good, according to Regehr.

“That’s part of the reluctance in some areas like Darfur, to putting a credible peacekeeping force in Somalia, for example,” he said. “Once you get pulled in then it’s a big hole.”

The world spent $1.3 trillion equipping, maintaining, training and deploying troops in 2007. The biggest spender was the United States, with a $535.9-billion military budget. The rest of NATO combined spent $268.2 billion. China committed $121.9 billion to defence, Russia $70 billion, constitutionally pacifist Japan $41.1 billion and the rest of the world $260.7 billion.

The world community is doing a better job of making peace than it did during the Cold War, said Regehr. International diplomacy now takes seriously the idea of peace-building, creating the conditions for a lasting peace.

“You don’t create peace by winning the conflict,” said Regehr. “You create peace  by building the conditions that make it sustainable.”

It’s a basic insight that Pope Paul VI outlined in the 1960s, when he said that development was the new word for peace, Regehr said.

Evidence to back up the late pope’s analysis is the simple statistic that shows Africa, the world’s poorest region, hosts 40 per cent of the world’s conflicts. Europe has 3.3 per cent of the total.

Project Ploughshares, which is the peace arm of the Canadian Council of Churches, posts its statistically rich annual report on war on its web site, www.ploughshares.ca.

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