ONGOING CONFLICT IN THE WORLD WHAT TO WATCH IN 2021 & BEYOND
By Vincent Lyn
The 174 countries — almost every nation in conflict so far this year 2021
THE SECOND World War concluded 76 years ago, but conflicts between different countries did not come to an end at that time. Nations around the world are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, economic downturns and destructive wars which have been thus far unresolved by diplomacy. Recent conflict analysis has revealed just 23 countries and territories have had no reported battles, violence against civilians, explosions or remote violence, riots, protests or strategic developments in 2021 so far — meaning the remaining 174 countries have been at war in some form or another in 2021.
Countries around the globe have been battling a common enemy since 2019 — coronavirus. The pandemic has killed more than 5 million people worldwide and infected an estimated 230 million. In March 2020, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire asking nations to focus all their efforts instead of tackling COVID-19. He said: “Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly.”
Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world.
Despite calls for peace, the ongoing crisis situation in Afghanistan has prompted fears of all-out violence. The U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. All its service members have now departed, bringing an end to a 20-year campaign which saw more than 2,400 Americans die as well as tens of thousands of Afghans. The Taliban called Afghanistan a “free and sovereign” state in the wake of the departure of U.S. troops — describing the move as a “historic moment”. Taliban fighters took charge of Kabul’s airport with celebratory gunfire and fireworks lighting up skies in the nation’s capital. Speaking during a news conference, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “I pledge before you that we will spare no effort to restore our national unity and to regain our social harmony, steering away from any form of hypocrisy or those who are trying to drive a wedge among our people.”
But recent research from Statista and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reveals the ongoing threat posed by the Taliban is not the only country at war right now. In fact, a shocking infographic reveals most of the world is involved in warring to some degree. The map reveals all countries where there have been reports of armed clashes involving state forces and/or rebel groups in 2021. Using this simplified definition, the presence of war across the world has been extensive during 2021.
If there were a contest for a current event with the most far-reaching implications for global peace and security, the field would be crowded. From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijan-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, it has been an eventful year so far.
Starting with COVID-19 and its long tail. When the pandemic first broke out, many — myself included — feared that it would have immediate, potentially devastating consequences in developing countries, especially those facing deadly conflict. Although several low-income countries were hit badly, many were not; diplomatic activity, international mediation, peacekeeping missions, and financial support to vulnerable populations suffered, but it’s questionable whether COVID-19 dramatically affected the trajectory of major wars, be they in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere.
Longer-term ramifications are a different matter. The pandemic has precipitated a global economic crisis without precedent since World War II, with an additional 150 million people being driven below the extreme poverty line. Although income levels do not directly correlate with conflict, violence is more likely during periods of economic volatility. Currently About 9.5% of the world, or 700 million people, live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. In the United States, 10.5% of the population — 34 million people — live in poverty.
In Sudan, Lebanon, and Venezuela, to mention but a few examples, one can expect the number of unemployed to grow, real incomes to collapse, governments to face mounting difficulties paying security forces, and the general population to increasingly rely on state support at a time when states are least equipped to provide it. The lines separating economic dissatisfaction from social unrest, and social unrest from outbreaks of violence, are thin. Nor are the U.S., Europe, or other donors likely to devote the requisite amount of high-level, continuous attention or resources on regional conflicts far away as they confront economic, social, and political havoc at home.
Next is climate change — hardly a novel phenomenon but an accelerating one with an increasingly discernible impact on conflict. It’s true that the causal chain is circuitous, with political responses to extreme weather patterns often playing a greater part than the patterns themselves. Still, with more frequent heat waves and extreme precipitation, many governments are harder-pressed to deal with food insecurity, water scarcity, migration, and competition for resources. This is the first year that a transnational risk has made it onto our top conflicts list, as climate-related violence stretches from the Sahel to Nigeria and Central America.
Meanwhile, the U.S. — polarized, distrustful of its institutions, heavily armed, riven by deep social and racial rifts, and previously led by a recklessly divisive president — came closer to an unmanageable political crisis than at any time in its modern history.
The last of 2020’s legacies may be the most ominous. The final months of the year grievously injured that favorite adage of diplomats and peacemakers — that there is no military solution to political conflict. Tell that to Armenians, forced in the face of superior Azerbaijan firepower to relinquish land they had held for a quarter-century; to Ethiopia’s Tigrayans, whose leadership promised prolonged resistance against advancing federal troops only to see those forces ensconced in the regional capital of Mekelle within days. Tell that, for that matter, to the Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar in 2017; to Palestinians, who have remained refugees or under occupation since the 1967 Arab defeat; or to the Sahrawi people whose aspirations to self-determination have been snuffed out by Moroccan troops or to the people of Kashmir and their right to self-determination since 1947.
It has long been a core belief among peacemakers that, absent more equitable political solutions, military gains tend to prove brittle. Just as Azerbaijanis never forgot the humiliation of the early 1990s, so too will Armenians strive to erase the indignity of 2020. If their grievances are unaddressed, many Tigrayans will resist what they might perceive as alien rule. Israel will not know genuine safety so long as Palestinians live under its occupation. But that core belief is under assault and getting harder to cling to.
Many around the globe experienced the past year as an annus horribilis, awaiting its conclusion. But as the list of conflicts to watch that follows suggests, its long shadow will endure. 2020 may be a year to forget, but 2021 unhappily keeps reminding us of it.
The relationship between war and climate change is neither simple nor linear. The same weather patterns will increase violence in one area and not in another. While some countries manage climate-induced competition well, others don’t manage it at all. Much depends on whether states are governed inclusively, are well equipped to mediate conflicts over resources, or can provide for citizens when their lives or livelihoods are upended. How much climate-related violence 2021 will see is uncertain, but the broader trend is clear enough: without urgent action, the danger of climate-related conflict will rise in the years ahead. Without urgent action, the danger of climate-related conflict will rise in the years ahead.
In northern Nigeria, droughts have intensified fighting between herders and farmers over dwindling resources, which in 2019 killed twice as many people as the Boko Haram conflict. On the Nile, Egypt and Ethiopia have traded threats of military action over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, partly due to Cairo’s fears the dam will exacerbate already serious water scarcity. For now, Africa arguably sees the worst climate-related conflict risks, but parts of Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East face similar dangers.
In fragile countries worldwide, millions of people already experience record heat waves, extreme and irregular precipitation, and rising sea levels. All this could fuel instability: for example, by exacerbating food insecurity, water scarcity, and resource competition are leading more people to flee their homes. Some studies suggest that a rise in local temperature of 0.5 degrees Celsius is associated, on average, with a 10 to 20 per cent heightened risk of deadly conflict. If that estimate is accurate, the future is worrying. U.N. scientists believe that man-made emissions have warmed the Earth by 1 degree since pre-industrial times and, with the pace accelerating, predict another half-degree as soon as 2030. In many of the world’s most unstable areas, it might happen faster still.
Governments in at-risk countries need to peacefully regulate access to resources, whether scarce or abundant, within or among states. But developing nations at risk of conflict should not face the pressures of a changing climate alone.
There is some cause for optimism. The new U.S. administration has put the climate crisis atop its agenda, and Biden has called for faster action to mitigate associated risks of instability. Western governments and companies have pledged to provide poorer countries $100 billion annually for climate adaptation starting in 2020. They should live up to these commitments: developing nations deserve increased support from those whose fossil fuel intemperance has caused the crisis in the first place.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts