Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The world is at war, but most conflicts are not between nations

Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan and Ukraine — the globe is scarred by violence

By Jason Burke  /  The Observer

Illustration: Mountain People

We live in a world of trouble.

Conflicts today might be much less lethal than those that scarred the last century, but this brings little comfort. We remain deeply anxious.

We can blame terrorism and the fear it inspires, despite the statistically unimportant number of casualties it inflicts, or the contemporary media and the breathless cycle of “breaking news,” but the truth remains that the wars that seem to inspire the fanatics or have produced so many headlines in recent years prompt deep anxiety.

One reason is that these wars appear to have no end in sight.

To explain these conflicts we reach for easy binary schema — Islam versus the West; haves against have-nots; nations that “play by the rules” of the international system against “rogues.”

We also look to grand geopolitical theories — the end of the Westphalian system, the West faced by “the rise of the rest” — or even just attribute the violence to “geography.”

None of these explanations seems to adequately allay our concerns.

This week, Mohammad bin Salman, the young Saudi Arabian crown prince, is visiting London.

One topic he is to discuss with British policymakers is the war raging since 2015 in Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Yemen, where Saudi Arabian forces lead an alliance of regional powers against Houthi rebels.

The war, part of a Saudi Arabian policy of adopting a more aggressive external posture, is not going well.

It is a stalemate which has left thousands of civilians dead.

Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a bold plan to draw the Taliban into a binding peace process.

Commentators spoke of a last desperate gamble to bring an end to conflict that has gone on so long that there are Western troops soon to be deployed to the nation who were in diapers when it started in 2001.

In Syria, where the civil war is now in its seventh year, there is no respite either.

Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, is under daily bombardment after years of siege. Militia maneuver for advantage across the nation.

If anyone thought the fall of Raqqa, the headquarters of the Islamic State group, would bring an end to hostilities, they were sadly mistaken.

Nor are these “long wars” — which could include Somalia (at war since 1991) or Libya (since 2011) or Mali (since 2012) — restricted to the Islamic world.

There is South Sudan, where a vicious four-year civil war is intensifying, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), where more protests ended in bloodshed last week.

The east of the DR Congo was the crucible of a huge conflict that killed 5 million people between 1997 and 2003, and has remained unstable ever since.

Thousands have died and millions have been displaced by conflict there in the past 18 months as anarchy overcomes swaths of the vast nation.

It is more than four years since Russia annexed Crimea and helped to foment a rebellion in Ukraine’s industrial east.

Since then about 10,000 people have died, including 3,000 civilians, and more than 1.7 million have been displaced.

Despite a ceasefire deal, a low-intensity conflict has become the grinding everyday backdrop for a region that no longer sees a way out of its misery.

To understand the duration of these conflicts we need to understand their nature.

Most analysis focuses on states. This is inevitable.

Our maps show the world divided into nations. These are the building blocks of our political, legal, social and economic systems and, as has become so obvious in recent years, key to our identity.

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