The independent resource on global security

2. Trends in armed conflict


I. Introduction

II. The fragmentation and diversification of armed violence

III. Iraq 

IV. Darfur, Sudan 

V. Pakistan

VI. Conclusions 


Read the full chapter [PDF].


In 2007 the fragmentation of armed violence, the diversification of armed actors and the blurring of boundaries between categories of violence and between their actors were among the predominant trends in armed conflicts. These patterns were evident in some of the world’s deadliest armed conflicts and conflict-prone zones, including Darfur (Sudan), Iraq and Pakistan.


While changes in the US-led military surge and counterinsurgency strategy had some stabilizing effect in parts of Iraq from mid-2007, the overall security situation remained uneven. The modest decline in inter-sectarian violence in some mixed areas can also be attributed to increased population displacement. At the local level, the rise of militant power brokers ranging from neighbourhood security groups to street gangs and smuggling networks contributed to the further fragmentation of violence.


Decline in state-based fighting in Darfur did not lead to improved security conditions. The main patterns of violence continued to shift from state-based armed confrontation to a complex mix of less intensive but numerous mini conflicts. Rebel, defecting and state-affiliated armed groups switched alliances depending on circumstances and engaged in predatory violence, local power-brokering and cross-border incursions. Violence against civilians continued unabated, and the number of people killed by tribal and factional violence was greater than the number killed in battles between the government and the rebels.


In Pakistan, following the breakdown of a ceasefire between the government and pro-Taliban militants, the tribal areas saw some of the fiercest violence for several years, including an increase of incursions into Afghanistan, attacks on government forces and suicide terrorism. Growing ‘Talibanization’ of the tribal areas was paralleled by Islamist radicalization across Pakistan that culminated in the Red Mosque siege in July 2007. The overlapping of local, national, regional and transnational political and religious violence in Pakistan was demonstrated by the dynamics of terrorist activity, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.


In all three locations, state weakness was one of the critical factors stimulating the fragmentation and the growing intractability of armed violence in 2007. In order to reduce violence in weak, conflict-torn states, efforts to support state building that combine functionality with local legitimacy should be seen as a priority. Domestically generated movements that enjoy considerable popular support and pursue broad social, political and security agendas may be most capable of achieving this combination—even if their ideologies and agendas are significantly different from those promoted by the leading international actors.


Dr Ekaterina Stepanova (Russia) is Leader of the SIPRI Armed Conflicts and Conflict Management Project.