The independent resource on global security

2. Major armed conflicts



I. Introduction: changes in conflicts

II. Enduring conflicts

III. Non-state actors in conflict

IV. Iraq

V. Conclusions: dealing with non-state actors in conflict


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Notwithstanding the enduring nature of certain contemporary conflicts, the past decades have seen major changes in both the dynamics and understanding of conflicts. In particular, the increasing prominence of non-state actors has given rise to challenges in managing and responding to conflict, and the limited capacity of the international community to hold non-state actors accountable for their abuse of civilians continued to pose a grave threat to human security in 2005.


The Israeli–Palestinian and Kashmiri conflicts illustrate how shifting perceptions of conflict—from decolonization and superpower dominance to the current preoccupation with international terrorism—have influenced international attitudes and engagement with these conflicts. Despite continuity in the insurgent groups’ ultimate objectives, the two cases also illustrate a changing trajectory of conflict owing to the particularities of contemporary non-state actor activity. While the Palestinian Authority continued to have problems in reining in militant elements, Hamas’ ascent to power through municipal and later parliamentary elections in Palestine cast the international community’s method of engaging with the conflict in a new light. In Kashmir interstate relations between India and Pakistan told only part of the story in 2005; the emergence of new armed groups in the region and the purported links between Kashmiri extremist groups and international networks were testimony to the fluidity of the insurgency.


The frequent irregularity of non-state groups and fragmentation of violence were recurring themes in conflicts in 2005. Efforts to instigate a comprehensive peace process in Darfur, Sudan, during the year were compromised by factionalism and inter-group hostility on the part of the Darfurian rebels and the corresponding failure to identify adequate representation from the rebel side. The irregular violence in the region has continued to plague the peace process, despite the signing of a peace agreement in May 2006.


The fact that the opposition is from non-state actors may allow governments to deny the existence of ‘conflict’ (conventionally understood as physical confrontation between two parties with a clear political incompatibility). In this way the Russian Government continued to emphasize criminal and ‘terrorist’ elements in its hard-line policy towards Chechnya and the surrounding republics in 2005.


Continued unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo challenged conventional assumptions about distinct phases of ‘conflict’ or ‘post-conflict’ given the frequent continuation of non-state violence despite the existence of formal ‘peace’. Sustained militia violence and the faltering reintegration of former combatants created a volatile mix and continued to hamper effective peace-building in the region.


In Iraq violence continued virtually unabated during 2005. Landmark events included the installing of a transitional government and the adoption of a new constitution, paving the way for the general elections that were held in December 2005. However, formal political development could not stave off the formation of sectarian divides in the country. Persistent wrangling over the nature of political representation, combined with the extreme levels of violence, frustrated any real movement towards peace. The US-led Multinational Force was confronted with a paradoxical situation because its presence in the country continued to provide a key recruiting incentive for the insurgency, while the prospect of departure amid highly insecure conditions was widely regarded as an abdication of responsibility. Dealing with the activity of non-state actors was at the heart of the challenges faced in Iraq. The failure to understand either the motivations of belligerents or the composition of the insurgency, let alone identify reliable entry points for political dialogue, continued to cast a shadow over Iraq at the end of 2005.


Caroline Holmqvist (Sweden) is a Research Associate with the SIPRI Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme.