June 1, 2009:
You'd never know it from reading the headlines, but wars continue to decline worldwide. However, the conflicts that kill the most people (like Congo) get the least media coverage. Reporting tends to be distorted by the need to attract eyeballs, and revenue. For years, Iraq was portrayed as a disaster until, suddenly, the enemy was crushed. Even that was not considered exciting enough to warrant much attention, and that story is still poorly covered by the mass media. Same pattern is playing out in Afghanistan, where the defeats of the Taliban, and triumph of the drug gangs, go unreported and distorted.
Worldwide, violence continues to decline, as it has for the last few years. Violence has also greatly diminished, or disappeared completely, in places like Sri Lanka, Iraq, Nepal, Chechnya, Congo, Indonesia and Burundi. Even Afghanistan, touted as the new war zone, was not nearly as violent this past six months as the headlines would deceive you into believing.
All this continues a trend that began when the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union no longer subsidized terrorist and rebel groups everywhere. The current wars are basically uprisings against police states or feudal societies, which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. Many are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas (Islamic conservatism, Maoism), that still resonate among people who don't know about the dismal track records. Iran has not picked much of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. Hezbollah and Hamas, the Madhi Army and a few smaller groups, and that's it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right.
The War on Terror has morphed into the War Against Islamic Radicalism. This religious radicalism has always been around, for Islam was born as an aggressive movement, that used violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems. The current enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building for over half a century. Historically, periods of Islamic radicalism have flared up periodically in response to corrupt governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines), and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of new recruits and fade away. This is what is happening now. The American invasion of Iraq was a clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq, where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems.
Normally, the West does not get involved in these Islamic religious wars, unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made that more difficult. For example, fighting back is considered, by Moslems, as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam"), and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality. It gets worse, as, some historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continue to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.
While Islamic terrorism grabs most of the headlines, it is not the cause of many casualties, at least not compared to more traditional wars. The vast majority of the military related violence and deaths in the world comes from many little wars that get little media attention outside their region. Actually some of them are not so little. While causalities from terrorism are relatively few (usually 5,000-10,000 dead a year worldwide), the dead and wounded from all the other wars actually comprise about 95 percent of all the casualties. The Islamic terrorism looms larger because the terrorists threaten attacks everywhere, putting a much larger population in harms way, and unhappy with that prospect. But in the West, and most Moslem nations, Islamic terrorism remains more of a threat than reality.
Current wars are listed in alphabetical orders. Text underneath briefly describes current status. Click on country name for more details.
Last year's headlines of the "Taliban comeback" has become "can the Taliban survive" this year. U.S. and NATO forces are now concentrating on the key Taliban resource; heroin in Helmand province. The Taliban expected drug gang profits, al Qaeda assistance and Pakistani reinforcements to turn the tide. The drug money is threatened, al Qaeda has become a liability (these foreign terrorists kill mainly civilians) and the Pakistan Taliban are under major attack by the Pakistani army. Independent minded tribes, warlords and drug gangs remain a greater threat to peace, prosperity and true national unity, than the Taliban (on both sides of the Pakistan border). The Pakistani campaign against the pro-Taliban tribes and various Islamic terrorist organizations, who have turned most Pakistanis against Islamic radicalism. That reversed the flow of gunmen from Pakistan into Afghanistan. But violence inside Afghanistan is growing, largely because of the growth of the drug gangs, and their support for tribes (especially pro-Taliban ones) that oppose the corrupt national government. The foreign nations, fighting their war on terror in Afghanistan, have finally realized that there has never been an Afghan national government that was not corrupt, and changing that is going to be more difficult than fighting the Taliban or finding bin Laden.
There aren't many Islamic radicals left in Algeria, and many of those are fleeing to Europe, or south into the desert and across the southern borders into Black Africa. Despite the large amount of uninhabited mountains and forests along the eastern coast, the police and army have been operating there for so long that it's difficult to stay hidden. Too many civilians are hostile to Islamic radicalism, and will phone in a tip. Algeria has become a very dangerous place for Islamic terrorists. Some fight on, but at lower and lower violence levels. Peace has brought with it despair, as Algerians realize that their government is basically a corrupt military dictatorship that uses the national oil wealth to buy enough votes to get elected again and again. So more Algerians are fleeing, or vacillating between despair and a desire to fight.
The Greater Albania Movement is driven by part time Albanian nationalists, full time gangsters, political opportunists, Kosovo separatists and some Islamic radicals. West Europeans got their way, and Kosovo became independent. Serbia disagrees with that, and Big Brother Russia offers all manner of support, and threats. But no one is willing to resume the war, yet. No one is willing to renounce war as an option, either. Bosnia continues to attract Islamic terrorists, despite the local government becoming increasingly hostile to these foreign troublemakers and alien Islamic conservatism.
Dictators brew rebellion by suppressing democrats and Islamic radicals. But not much violence so far, just a lot of potential. The dictators in the "Stans" (the former provinces of the Soviet Union that became five independent nations; Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan) have been rebuilding the Soviet era secret police. The new dictators noted that the Soviets never had any problems with Islamic terrorism, or any other kind of terrorism, and are going old school on this new problem.
Most of the rebel movements have united, aided by Sudanese support and bases. The Chad government returns the favor by giving refuge to Sudanese Darfur rebels. Neither of these gambits works, despite the Chad and Sudanese rebels crossing the border at least once a year and carrying out yet another failed invasion. Despite all that, the government made peace with Sudan, but not with their own rebels, who continue to resist. European peacekeepers arrived, but lacking sufficient manpower and helicopters, were unable to do much, and are now being replaced by UN peacekeepers. The unrest along the Sudan border is caused by refugees from tribal battles in Sudan, who bring their feuds with them. Prospects for peace are not good, although the UN says it will bring in peacekeepers that will have a license to kick ass and take names. It's uncertain if this will work either.
The confrontation with Taiwan was dialed down a notch as kind words and gracious lies were exchanged in the name of commerce. A new government in Taiwan plays down independence, and China responds with soothing words. But China speeds up modernization of its armed forces, but in ways Westerners have a difficult time understanding. China has developed a major Cyber War capability, and has been using it for several years. The targets of this, in Western Europe and the U.S., have figured this out, and a new crises is brewing. China has become major secret supplier of cheap weapons to bad guys everywhere. World class weapons are planned for the future, some 10-20 years from now.
After over three decades, leftist rebels more rapidly losing support, recruits and territory. Even leftist demagogue Hugo Chavez of Venezuela pretended to drop support for the Colombian rebels, while still providing sanctuary for them and their cocaine producing allies. The drug gangs and leftist rebels have merged in many parts of the country, and war in increasingly about money, not ideology. The leftist rebels are definitely losing, but all that drug money will keep them in the game for quite a while.
Multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the countryside, perpetuating the bloodiest (and least reported) war of the post Cold War era (over five million dead, and counting). Peacekeepers and army action have reduced the size of these violent groups, but not eliminated them. There are now fewer places that the bad guys can roam freely. Attempts to merge rebels into the army has not worked well. The last major problem, a Tutsi militia in the east that will not disarm until the government destroys Hutu militias built around Hutu mass murderers who fled neighboring Rwanda in the 1990s, is being disbanded. But the bandits and warlords are not going to disappear completely. The reason is money, the millions of dollars available each year to whoever has gunmen controlling the mines that extract valuable ores and allow the stuff out of the country. UN peacekeepers are criticized for not fighting more, but that??s not their job. Congolese army not up to it yet either, so there it simmers.
Border dispute with Eritrea festers, another invasion of Somalia is possible because of threats from Islamic radical groups. Ethiopia is accustomed to dealing with the Somalis, something the rest of the world should study more closely. Islamic radical groups in southern Somalia are a constant threat, especially because of active support from Eritrea. Ogaden province, right on the Somali border, and full of ethnic Somalis, rebelled again, was pacified again and continues to simmer. Not a big deal, but one more hot spot that burns up troops and scarce cash. These two border wars have been around for centuries, and not likely to go away now.
Technically at peace. Peacekeepers keep a lid on two century old violence between the rich and the poor, and the criminal and political gangs. Peacekeepers have busted up many of the gangs, and sharply lowered the crime rate. But the government is still corrupt and prone to breed lawbreakers and disorder. Same pattern of poverty and corruption that has sustained chaos for the past two centuries. No good prospects of breaking the cycle are in sight.
Pakistan has acknowledged that negotiating with Islamic radicals, especially the Taliban, does not work. For the first time in its history, Pakistan is mounting a major invasion of the tribal territories. While the Taliban issue brave press releases, the army rolls over the fanatic tribesmen. Meanwhile, India has pacified the Islamic radical rebellion in Kashmir, but still has to cope with tribal rebels in the northeast, and Maoist (communist) ones in between. Pakistan has more problems with its Islamic radicals in the north, and rebellious Pushtun and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border. The Taliban had become stronger in Pakistan, where it originated, than in Afghanistan. The new Pakistani government tried to make peace with the Taliban and when that failed last year, they went to war with the Taliban last Summer. The Taliban have been beat up pretty bad, and the number of terrorist attacks increased in response. Most of these were in the tribal areas, but the Pakistanis are being forced to confront the Islamic demons they have created. India and Pakistan both have nukes, making escalation a potential catastrophe. As a result, recent peace talks have lowered the possibility of war, but both sides continue an arms race. Pakistan has always been a mess, and does not appear to be getting better. But at least it's becoming less hospitable to Islamic radicals. India is turning away from Pakistan, and viewing China as a more dangerous regional rival.
Basically at peace, but separatism, pirates, Islamic terrorists and government corruption create a volatile situation that could get hot real fast. Islamic terrorists have been greatly diminished, as Islamic moderates flex their traditional popularity. Aceh still has a few diehard separatist rebels. Newly independent East Timor has been unable to govern itself.
The basic problem is that an Islamic conservative minority has veto power over the reformist majority. The supply of peaceful solutions is drying up. After that comes another revolution. Half the population consists of ethnic minorities (mainly Turks and Arabs), and these groups are getting more restive and violent. Meanwhile, the Islamic conservatives are determined to support terrorism overseas and build nuclear weapons at home, rather than improving the economy and living standards. Unrest and terrorist violence becoming more common, and government seeks foreign adventures to distract an unhappy population. That is not working, and the recent slump in oil prices is creating more poverty, and young men desperate for a solution.
Islamic terrorists are now a police problem. Even U.S. troops have to get arrest warrants from a judge. Violence continues to be down over 80 percent from the bad old days of two years ago. More areas of the country are now at peace (as some have been since 2003.) The Sunni Arab minority has worked out peace deals with the majority Kurds and Shia Arabs. But some Sunni Arab Islamic radicals are still active, and still determined start a civil war based on religion. Some Sunni Arabs, who had fled the country, are returning, but nearly half the Sunni Arabs are still gone. The Shia militias have been defeated as well, mainly by Iraqi police and troops. Corruption and inept government are now the major problems, with potential Iranian meddling (or even invasion) a permanent threat. The major U.S. TV news operations are pulling out. The war is really over.
Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah cannot make peace, which prevents the Palestinians from making peace with Israel. More Palestinians are eager to make any kind of peace, in order to reverse the economic disaster they brought on themselves because of their nine year terror campaign against Israel. Polls show that Palestinians are tired of terrorism, even though they still support it (in order to destroy Israel, which remains an article of faith in the Palestinian community). The Palestinian economy has collapsed, as foreign charity was reduced because the people elected the Hamas (Islamic terrorists) party to power. Civil war between radical Hamas and corrupt Palestinian old guard (Fatah) has split Palestinians, but Fatah may end up back in control of Gaza by default. Even Egypt has turned on Hamas, because of Hamas support for Islamic terrorists operating in Egypt. Iran backed Islamic radicals (Hezbollah) in Lebanon have revived fears of civil war up there. Hezbollah threatens to drag Lebanon into another civil war, or another war with Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli economy booms as Israel continues its effective counter-terrorism campaign. This annoys Arabs most of all, and more Arab nations, particularly in the Persian Gulf, see Israel as a potential ally in a united opposition to Iranian expansion.
An uneasy truce continues. The north and the south made a deal over money, religion and power, but cannot agree on how, or when, to carry it out. All this is watched over by peacekeepers set up between the factions. A case of peacekeeping creating a situation where there is no war, but no solution to the conflict either.
Last year's illness (a stroke) of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has just created more uncertainty. A recent nuclear weapon test made North Korea more of an international pariah. But the rulers of the north don't seem to care. Growing unrest, corruption and privation threaten the iron control that has long kept the north peaceful. North Korea continues to destroy its economy, in order to maintain armed forces capable of invading South Korea and keep its own population in bondage. Continued famine in the north has prompted China to send more and more troops to the border to keep hungry North Koreas out. North Korean military declines in power, as lack of money for maintenance or training cause continuing rot. Government split into reform and conservative factions, making change difficult to achieve. South Koreans are growing tired of the madness that still reigns in the north, but cannot do much. Near universal condemnation of the North Korea nuclear test, but no one can really do anything about it.
Turkish aircraft and troops now operating on the Iraqi side of the border, seeking to either destroy Kurdish separatists, or push their bases further into Iraq. Iraqi Kurds have agreed to crack down on the PKK separatists the Turks have been fighting for over a decade. Kurds continue 5,000 year struggle to form their own country. Iran is cracking down on its Kurds, in cooperation with Turkey. This includes the first Iranian raids across the border. Iraqi Kurds allow all this because they believe they will get control of some Iraqi oil fields, providing cash for all manner of opportunities. But that is opposed by Iraqi Arabs and other minorities in northern Iraq.
The U.S. border is like a war zone. The passing of one-party rule, the growth of drug gangs, and increasing corruption in the security forces, has triggered unprecedented levels of violence and unrest. The government has gone to war with the drug gangs, and the outcome is still in doubt. The government should win, but this is an unprecedented situation that just seems to drag on.
Radical communist rebels succeed in eliminating the monarchy, via an alliance with political parties. Maoists then won control of the government, but refuse to completely disarm their private army. All this has triggered more violence by other unhappy groups (more radical Maoists, hill tribes, ethnic Indians). Maoists have quit the government, because of failed attempts to take over the army. The civil war could resume.
Too many tribes, not enough oil money and too much corruption creates growing violence. The tribes and gangs (both criminal and political) in the oil producing region (the Niger Delta) are getting organized, and a lot more violent. The northern Moslems want more control over the federal government (and the oil money). Local rebels threaten loss of most oil revenue, which is getting the governments attention. The situation is sliding towards regional civil wars, over money and political power. The military has been more active in the oil region (the Niger river delta), and the gangs are not as much of a threat as the gang leaders thought they were. But the violence has cut oil production by over a third.
POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS
Various places where the local situation is warming up and might turn into a war. Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Central African Republic are hot right now.
Islamic minority in the south wants its own country, and the expulsion of non-Moslems. Communist rebels in the north fight for social justice and a dictatorship. Both of these movements are losing and the Moslems are negotiating a peace deal that inches closer to a done deal. The communists are taking a beating, and playing hard to get. Rogue Moslem rebels have been attacking Christian villages in the south, which has triggered an army offensive. The rogue Moslem gunmen could not withstand the troops, which reminds everyone of the basic balance of power in the country.
Rebuilding and reforming the decrepit Soviet era armed forces continues. The war against gangsters and Islamic radicals in Chechnya has been won, but the Islamic radicals continue to operate in other parts of the Caucasus. Russia returns to police state ways, and traditional threatening attitude towards neighbors. Recent drop in oil (and other raw materials) prices seriously slows Russian rearmament efforts, but the government is determined to rebuild the military, and keep the military industries viable.
RWANDA & BURUNDI
All about the violent competition between better organized and more aggressive Tutsis and more numerous Hutu tribes. It's been going on for centuries, but the latest installment has finally ended, with the last Hutu group in Burundi giving up, then changing its mind, but not making nearly as much trouble as in the past. Rwanda blamed for continuing violence in eastern Congo, as they attempt to destroy Hutu terrorists based there. But now Rwanda is cooperating with Congo and the UN peacekeepers to shut down Tutsi militia in eastern Congo.
A failed state that defies every attempt at nation building. It was never a country, but a collection of clans and tribes that fight each other constantly over economic issues (land and water). The new "transitional" government, was nearly wiped out by an "Islamic Courts" movement (which attempted to put the entire country under the rule of Islamic clergy and Islamic law). When Islamic Courts threatened to expand into Ethiopia, Ethiopia invaded and smashed the Islamic Courts. The Islamic radicals have turned to terrorism, which Eritrea continues to provide support for. A new peace deal gives control of the weak government to moderate religious groups, who are now fighting Islamic radical militias. The country remains an economic and political mess, a black hole on the map. Not much hope in sight, until the pirates (which have been around for a decade) became a major problem. Now the major trading nations have to decide whether to occupy and administer (stamp out piracy) Somalia, or pay several billion dollars a year in ransom, insurance and security costs. At this point, moderate religious groups receiving foreign subsidies from the West, while Islamic radical groups are funded by Iran. Pirates are being chased around, but not stopped from operating.
Tamil minority (19th century economic migrants from southern India) battle to partition the island has ended in failure. Tamils (the LTTE) were crushed, as radicals threaten a to return to terrorism and banditry in support of separatism.
Moslems in the north try to suppress separatist tendencies among Christians in the south, and Moslem rebels in the east and west (non-Arab Darfur). All this is complicated by development of oil fields in the south, and Moslem government attempts to drive Christians from the oil region. Battles over land in the west pit Arab herders against black Sudanese farmers. Both sides are Moslem, but the government is backing the Arabs. The government uses Arab nationalism and economic ties with Russia and China to defy the world and get away with driving non-Arab tribes from Darfur. The government believes time is on its side, and that the West will never try anything bold and effective to halt the violence. So far, the government has been proven right.
Malay Moslems in the south are three percent of the population, and different. Most Thais are ethnic Thais and Buddhist. In the south, however, Islamic radicalism has arrived, along with an armed effort to create a separate Islamic state in the three southern provinces. Islamic terrorists grew more powerful month by month for several years, and refuse to negotiate. Security forces persisted and are making progress in identifying and rounding up the terrorists. Meanwhile, civil war brews between urban and rural segments of the population, under the leadership of political parties that differ on how the nation should be run. The minority are elitist urbanite royalists, and they just overthrew an elected government via massive urban demonstrations. Now populist mobs roam the capital. This struggle isn't over.
Religion and tribalism combine to create a persistent rebellion in the north, which was aided by Sudan. But now the northern rebels have been worn down, and the unrest is just about done with. Final peace deal with LRA rebels proved impossible to negotiate. Ugandan army got permission to enter Congo to try and finish the rebels off. The chase continues.
WAR ON TERROR
International terrorism has created a international backlash and a war unlike any other. These days, most terrorist victories are in the media. On the ground, the terrorists are losing ground everywhere. Their last refuges are chaotic, or cynical, places like Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Gaza, the Sahel, a few of the Philippine islands, and especially tribal regions of Pakistan (where al Qaeda is staging a well publicized last stand). They are being chased out of Iraq, Indonesia and the Philippines. Iran continues to support terrorism in the face of much local disapproval. Syria and Lebanon are in chaos because of Iranian subsidized factions. Gaza went the same way. Islamic radicals are a traditional reaction to tyranny in their region, and the inability of local despots to rule effectively. Economic and diplomatic ties with the West are interpreted as support, leading to attacks on Western targets that created a devastating counterattack. The result of this in the Moslem world has been dramatic, finally forcing leaders and people to confront their self-inflicted problems. Al Qaeda is as self-destructive as its many predecessors. Al Qaeda suicide bomb attacks that continue to kill civilians, continues to turn Moslems against al Qaeda in a big way. But the terrorists justify such dumb attacks because their doctrine holds that Moslems who don??t agree with them, are not really Moslems. You can imagine how well that goes over with the survivors, and the many potential victims. You can, but al Qaeda can??t, and that is what guarantees their demise. That will be well covered by the media, because the Islamic terror groups have learned how to play the media. Many "Islamic terrorists" help out, while safely on the sidelines, with media manipulation and producing propaganda. The Internet has made these efforts possible, and quite popular. Since all this is religion based, and Islam is a faith that calls for world conquest and violent intolerance of other faiths, you have a large pool of ambitious and murderous new recruits. Many Moslems insist they do not support the "world conquest" crowd, but few are willing to confront the maniacs head-on and denounce the killing on religious grounds. Islam has some internal problems that Moslems will have to deal with before all this unpleasantness goes away.