The independent resource on global security

1. Major armed conflicts



I. Introduction

II. Conflicts
Africa—Asia—Europe—The Middle East—South America

III. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


The only interstate major armed conflicts in 2000 were between Eritrea and Ethiopia and between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. All the other conflicts in 2000 were intra-state (internal). However, most intra-state conflicts do not remain confined within the borders of a single country. Of the 14 intra-state conflicts examined, 10 spilled over into neighbouring states. Three of the four remaining countries in conflict are island states, where spillover must overcome a natural barrier. Virtually all the conflicts studied elicited the direct political, economic or military involvement of other states and multinational organizations.


Transnational characteristics such as the outflow of refugees, the illicit trade in natural resources and weapons, and the transit across borders of rebel and government forces tended to sustain conflicts and destabilize neighbouring states. The illicit trade in natural resources coming from zones of conflict was a transnational phenomenon that received considerable political attention in 2000. ‘Conflict diamonds’ were the subject of three United Nations special investigations and at least two intergovernmental conferences. Oil, gold and other minerals, timber, coffee and illegal drugs provided groups and governments engaged in conflict with an impetus to continue to fight and with the financial means to do so in 7 of the 14 countries investigated.


The major armed conflicts of 2000 revealed a diverse set of antagonistic groups, variously driven by political ambitions, economic motives, ideology and fear. The ultimate objective of all the groups was to secure control over governmental power or territory. In addition, in several cases, individuals within the groups and their outside supporters were motivated by personal greed. Communal identity, in the form of ethnicity or religious belief, was a common enabling mechanism—a tool used by leaders to define and motivate a group. It did not appear to be a cause of violence by itself.


Most ongoing conflicts have proved difficult to end, with the majority having lasted for seven years or more. In contrast to the findings of historical studies, when major armed conflicts have subsided or ended in recent years this has been the result of negotiation, not victory. Three conflicts active in 1999 and one in 2000 resulted in negotiated settlement. No conflicts in this period ended through outright victory. It appears that the parties involved are not militarily strong enough to prevail by force.


Most of the conflicts reviewed are difficult to resolve. Contemporary rebel movements tend to break apart into factions, all sides have access to income and weapons, the fighting takes place in remote locations, and the belligerents perceive their vital interests to be at stake. Peace is difficult to achieve when combatants have the will and capacity to continue to fight.


The human costs of violent conflict, in terms of the number of people killed and driven from their homes, remained high in 2000.



Appendix 1A. Patterns of major armed conflicts, 1990-2000

Appendix 1B. Definitions, sources and methods for the conflict data


Full text, Appendices 1A and 1B [PDF].



In 2000, there were 25 major armed conflicts in 23 locations. Both the number of major armed conflicts and the number of conflict locations in 2000 were lower than in 1999, when there were 27 major armed conflicts in 25 locations. Africa and Asia continued to be the regions with the greatest number of conflicts. Worldwide, there were approximately equal numbers of contests for control of government and for territory.


In the 11-year post-cold war period 1990–2000 there were 56 different major armed conflicts in 44 different locations. The number of conflicts in 2000 was below the average of more than 27 per year since the end of the cold war. The highest number of conflicts for the period 1990–2000 was recorded in 1990–93, when the yearly number of major armed conflicts ranged between 30 and 33. The lowest number of conflicts was recorded in 1996 and 1997, when there were 23 and 19, respectively.
All but three of the major armed conflicts registered for 1990–2000 were internal; that is, the issue concerned control over the government or territory of one state. The three interstate conflicts in this period were Iraq versus Kuwait, India versus Pakistan and Eritrea versus Ethiopia. Other states contributed regular troops to one side or the other in 14 of the internal conflicts.