The independent resource on global security

Introduction. International security, armaments and disarmament in 2008


I. Overview

II. Highlights and findings of SIPRI Yearbook 2009

III. Conclusions


Read the full introduction [PDF].


The year 2008 saw increasing threats to security, stability and peace in nearly every corner of the globe. The effects of the global financial crisis will be likely to exacerbate these challenges as governments and non-governmental organizations struggle to respond effectively. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, with moderate improvements to the security situation in the latter and worsening conditions in the former. A total of 16 major armed conflicts raged on, with many gathering intensity over the course of 2008. Deliberate violence against civilians by warring parties was increasingly and appallingly common.


The year also saw some promising developments. High expectations—probably overly so—generated by the election of Barack Obama as US President carried with them hopes for a sound exit strategy from Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan and changes in the way that the USA engages with the international community. Expectations are also high that President Obama will seek to rebuild transatlantic relations, establish more productive relations with Russia, reach out to the Muslim world and devote more time and energy to improving the security situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Pakistan, and relations with Iran.


Looking ahead, SIPRI Yearbook 2009 underscores just what a difficult task that will be. The fragmentation of violence in weak states of the developing world appears set to continue and carry with it protracted suffering for civilians and further regional instabilities. The security situation in Afghanistan is likely to worsen before long-hoped-for stability and development can be achieved, with the security situation in neighbouring Pakistan—arguably a more important long-term concern for regional and global security—also taking a turn for the worse.


Russia and the USA may be able to improve relations quickly in the coming year, including cooperation on arms control and non-proliferation.


Nonetheless, a successful Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010—and progress on disarmament and tightened controls against would-be proliferators—seems far from certain, even as high-profile efforts are mobilized to assure such progress. Attacks by non-state actors with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons remain an ominous prospect.


These and other challenges may be exacerbated by the effects of the world financial crisis as key countries find it difficult to muster the necessary political and economic will to collectively address global and regional security problems.


Dr Bates Gill (United States) is Director of SIPRI.