The independent resource on global security

1. Major armed conflicts



I. Introduction

II. Conflicts in Africa

III. Conflicts in Asia

IV. Conflicts in Europe

V. Conflicts in the Middle East

VI. Conflicts in South America

VII. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


All of the 15 most deadly conflicts in 2001—those that caused 100 or more deaths—were intra-state conflicts. The central point of contention in all of the conflicts was control over either government or territory. However, the diversity of state and non-state actors reveals multiple and overlapping objectives related to political power, economic gain and ideological belief.


Despite their intra-state nature, none of the conflicts existed in isolation. All of them were directly influenced by external actors. In most cases, the supply of military matériel by state and sub-state actors and overt military intervention by states served to prolong and intensify the conflicts. Just as commonly, other states and intergovernmental organizations attempted to counteract this type of external influence through mediation and the promotion of peaceful settlement of disputes.


The intra-state conflicts were not only influenced by external actors but also influenced their external environments. Of the 15 conflicts, 11 spilled over international borders in 2001. Most commonly, they threatened to destabilize neighbouring states through the burden of refugees, cross-border movement of rebels (and occasionally national military forces), and the undermining of legitimate economic and political structures by the illicit trade in resources and arms. However, the regional impact of conflict spillover varied. In some cases, the cross-border movement of rebels and arms caused conflicts in neighbouring states to intensify. In other cases, neighbouring states were not significantly affected by conflict spillover.


Eleven of the 15 conflicts have lasted for 8 or more years. One of the reasons for their endurance is the inability of either side to prevail by force. In the vast majority of these conflicts, rebels used a guerrilla military strategy. They supported their military effort through the sale of minerals, timber and narcotics and through remittances from supporters abroad. However, very few groups tried to win the loyalty of the population through political, economic or social programmes. Historically, such programmes have been important elements of successful insurgencies. From the perspective of the government, it is very difficult to win a guerrilla war militarily. It is difficult to use the military’s full strength against small and mobile opponents, and even a military victory does not solve the problem that led to the insurgency. Long conflicts, where weak antagonists often attack even weaker targets, cause a large number of civilian casualties and destroy economic and social infrastructure.


Although the general pattern of conflict worldwide in 2001 was consistent with previous years, the priorities and perceptions of many states changed as a result of the terrorist attacks in the USA on 11 September. The campaign against terrorism by the USA and its allies in the latter part of the year directly influenced a small number of conflicts and had a much wider indirect impact, the full effects of which remain to be seen.



Dr Taylor B. Seybolt (United States) was the Leader of the SIPRI Conflicts and Peace Enforcement Project in 2000–2002. He is now a program officer at the United States Institute of Peace. Prior to joining SIPRI he was a research fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. He has written articles and chapters on conflicts worldwide, humanitarian military intervention and the regional spread of intra-state conflicts. He contributed to the SIPRI Yearbooks in 2000 and 2001.