The broader picture / The world at war

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The Independent Culture
Despite the end of the Cold War and promises of a 'new world order', we are continually reminded that war remains a bad habit. Mankind's long record of bellicosity yields little to encourage belief that peace is just around the corner: in the past 2,500 years the world has enjoyed peace in only one year in twelve. Consequently, the concern expressed recently by Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, over '25 substantial conflicts' is, if anything, an understatement. The true figure is nearer 30, if one omits scaled-down terrorist wars such as those waged by Spanish Basques and French Corsicans. The map overleaf shows where the world is now fighting its wars.

For those with an interest in them, modern wars become either 'defensive' or 'preventive' - this obscures the fact that aggression is often prompted by geopolitical gangsterism or by religious sermons in which piety and sheer vindictiveness are blended in a diabolical mixture. And because war is communicated to us with satellite immediacy, we may find passions released by distant conflicts permeating our own social fabric. Their war can easily become our argument too. Sometimes we even take sides, and call for military intervention. As Freud pointed out in his quiet but logical manner, it is not that masses of people sink very low in time of war, but that they are never in times of peace so high as they believe.

In the 'new world disorder', as Hurd has called it, older conflicts, such as in Haiti, are likely to flare up again, while Cyprus remains divided and Kashmir smoulders on. New ones include Macedonia (threatening Serbian, Albanian, Bulgarian and Greek involvement) and Bhutan (ethnic conflict with Nepalese settlers). Egypt and Sudan are in dispute over a stretch of border at Halayeb.

Arithmetically, some comfort might be taken from the fact that the number of wars has actually decreased in the past decade. Ten years ago, with Cold War tensions holding the superpowers at arms-length, there were 43 serious conflicts: five of them wars between nations, more than 30 revolutionary and separatist insurgencies and a few disputes (such as that between North and South Korea) of a kind that flare occasionally. Most of these conflicts were, as now, in the Third World. Many, including those in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, were fuelled directly or indirectly by the superpowers.

Some have since been resolved, only to be replaced by fresh slaughter elsewhere, fuelled by the 'new nationalism'. Nations formed in the ruins of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have joined the carnage - along with Liberia, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, to mention a few. And the overall reduction, by a third, in the number of actual conflicts since the early 1980s, may in the end have limited significance, given the profusion of what, a decade ago, might have seemed unlikely flashpoints: the Kurile Islands, where right-wing groups say they will fight to prevent Russia selling the islands, captured in 1945, back to Japan; Malawi, where the president-for-life Hastings Banda is losing his grip; Algeria, where fundamentalists want to overthrow the military regime; Qatar, which has a border dispute with Saudi Arabia; the Spratly Islands, locked in a multinational territorial dispute involving China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan; Tibet, where separatists continue to campaign for freedom from Peking.

Humane people across the world are deeply affected by these spectacles (on or off their doorsteps). But with reason thrown overboard, emotionalism ruling the day, and the stupid sentimentalism of glory being paraded at every bloodletting, what significant impact can they make?


COLOMBIA: Terrorists from drug cartels and left-wing factions have driven the country into a state of emergency. Despite the government's new unified command of anti-drug groups, there is little sign of stability. Escaped drug baron Pablo Escobar has announced his support for one of the left-wing guerrilla groups.

PERU: A vicious terrorist war by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a Maoist group, continues. The arrest of the group's leader last year was a government victory. But violence still threatens to spill over into Bolivia.

GUATEMALA: After the military regime handed over power to civilians in 1985, violence subsided. But since 1990-91 it has flared up again, as the security forces pick off members of the insurgents' umbrella group, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity.


ANGOLA: Unita rebels under Jonas Savimbi restarted their war with the MPLA government after losing elections last September. In the latest military phase, up to 10,000 people have been killed.

ZAIRE: Fierce ethnic fighting has shaken Shaba province, and a battle rages between President Mobutu and the former prime minister, Etienne Tshisekedi. Anarchy and corruption rule hand-in-hand.

SUDAN: The war continues between the Muslim north and the largely Christian south.

SOMALIA: The violent conflict started in 1991 with the departure of President Siad Barre. The presence of American troops will have little long-term impact. There is evidence that the factions which have surrendered arms to the Americans will become the targets of gangs which remain armed to the teeth.

DJIBOUTI: Ethnic fighting started a year ago after a lull. France has sent a peacekeeping force, a measure seen merely as a temporary lid which soon will blow off.

LIBERIA: The Economic Community of West African States sent in troops to separate the factions in this civil war, but they are alleged to have become a party to the conflict by backing the rivals of Charles Taylor's Patriotic Front. The war threatens to involve Libya, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Guinea.

WESTERN SAHARA: The conflict between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas is escalating after a failure to reach agreement in December.

RWANDA: Observers detect no sign of reconciliation in a tribal conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives. Several mediation attempts have failed.


IRAQ: Official army operations against rebel groups, particularly the Kurds in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south, continue on the ground, despite Allied attacks on government installations.

TURKEY: Conflict with Kurdish Marxists have caused about 5,000 deaths. Last year, 2,000 were killed in attacks and counter-attacks. Whole communities have been evacuated because of air raids.

LEBANON: Three main terrorist groups, Hizbollah, Amal and Hamas, ensure that southern Lebanon remains unstable, inviting retaliatory attacks by Israel.

ISRAEL / WEST BANK: The Palestinian intifada has resulted in 1,200 Palestinian and more than a hundred Israeli deaths. Terrorist actions by a Palestinian group, Hamas, and Israel's deportation of more than 400 Palestinians to a Lebanese no man's land have halted peace talks.


BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Between 40,000 and 50,000 have perished since Bosnia's ethnic Serbs and Muslims escalated their conflict last spring. Cease- fires have come and gone in the midst of rape, pillage, 'ethnic cleansing' and hordes of refugees. American procrastination threatens the most recent plan to solve the dispute with redrawn borders.

CROATIA: The war that broke out between ethnic Serbs and Croatians in the autumn of 1991 appeared to have been settled a year ago after 6,000 had been killed. But the conflict started up again recently when Croats invaded the Serb- held district of Krajina.

MOLDOVA: Up to 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in a secessionist war between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians and pro-Romanian Moldovans. Both Moscow and Kiev have been accused of supporting the secessionist movement. Meanwhile, ethnic Turks have also declared their independence from Moldova.

NORTHERN IRELAND: After nearly a quarter of a century, the terrorist war shows no sign of abating, as the IRA and the wilder fringes of the republican movement demand a united Ireland and continue to challenge 20,000 British troops as well as the Royal Ulster Constabulary.


GEORGIA: The Georgian leader Eduard Shevarnadze has called for UN intervention to break the military stalemate in this conflict between the breakaway state of Abkhazia and Georgia. Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers are in Georgia's southern region, Ossetia, where a civil war between ethnic factions is about to escalate.

ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN: After more than three years of fighting between Muslims and Christians in Nakhichevan and Nagorny Karabakh, conflict is likely to continue despite mediation by Russia and Turkey.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Fighting continues between Chechens and Ingushetian forces over the former's decision to secede from Russia. This seems likely to become the first full-scale war within the the Russian Federation.

TAJIKISTAN: There is no prospect of peace in the sporadic war between communist and Islamic factions. Russian peacekeepers produced a standoff after savage fighting last summer, but battles continue.

AFGHANISTAN: More than a million have died in fighting that has defied last year's formation of a new government in Kabul. The conflict has complicated alliances, but the main trial of strength is between the government and Herzi-i- Islami which holds the north and west and is threatening full-scale war.

BURMA: A guerrilla war, which followed the ruling junta's quelling of pro- democracy demonstrations in 1988, shows no sign of ending. Four insurgent groups are involved. In the 1988 demonstrations about 3,000 died. At least that many again have been killed since.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Ethnic conflict against the Indonesian authorities has calmed down following a 1990 peace agreement. But the PNG insurgents are unwilling to call an end to a struggle which began with an independence movement in the 1960s.

SRI LANKA: The long-running and vicious civil war between government forces and Tamil terrorists flared savagely in 1983, and still produces dramatic annual death tolls.

THE PHILIPPINES: Reforms by the new president Fidel Ramos have reduced urban tensions, but in rural areas Muslim extremists and communists continue their military campaigns against the government.

CAMBODIA: Despite a peace agreement in Paris in 1991, fighting has continued, with the Khmer Rouge refusing to participate in further talks until satisfied that all Vietnamese influence has gone from the country. Since 1979, when Vietnam drove the Khmer Rouge from power, about 25,000 people have died in skirmishes and in minefields laid by the Khmer Rouge.

Sources: Africa Watch; Institute for Strategic Studies; ANFS Information Group; Middle East Watch; The Sri Lankan High Commission; The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute