Wars Update: Ethnic Differences Are The Big Killer


: August 14, 2005

 The majority of the people dying in current wars, do so because of ethnic disputes. Religion is a distant second, although Islamic radicals manage to get most of the headlines because of their threat to Western nations (where most of the worlds headlines are written). An even more distant third is money, usually because of the illegal drug trade. 

 Sudan and Congo are the major killing fields, and have been for the last decade. Largely unnoticed and unreported, the deaths in each of these conflicts have reached into the millions. In both cases, the battles have been over tribal disputes. Lower level tribal strife continues in  Somalia, Burundi  and Chechnya, Many of these ethnic wars have slowed down to the point where they look like they're over, but they aren't. These include Ivory Coast,   Sri LankaPhilippines, Liberia, Algeria, the Balkans, Chad, Micronesia and others. 

Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel get most of the headlines. All of them are ethnic conflicts. Iraq is also partly a religious wars (Shia versus Sunni Arabs), although the ethnic component (the Kurds) remains a major factor. Afghanistan is a tribal war, always has been. Certain Pushtun trines insist on running the country, and continue to use assassination and terror to try and get their way. Israel is a religious and ethnic conflict. The Moslem Arabs want the Jewish Israelis (a mixed lot, but most of European origin, the rest being Arab and African). 

Kashmir, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are all South Asian nations with very different kinds of wars. Kashmir is a dispute over real estate, using religion as a cause.   Pakistan is a nation that never worked, and is split by vicious tribal, ethnic and religious differences. Nepal  is inflamed by class, ethnic and political differences. Sri Lanka is a purely ethnic conflict.  

 The number of wars has been declining sharply since the end of the Cold War. There were about fifty wars going on in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Ten years later, there were half as many. Even after the 911 attacks, and the invasion of Iraq, the number of wars continued to decline. Today, it is about twenty. We track sixteen as active (Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Sudan, Colombia, Kashmir, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Congo, Somalia, Nepal, Sri LankaPhilippines, ChechnyaBurundi and Thailand), plus about a dozen that are really low level, just ended (and still liable to restart) or just dormant for the moment.

There's been a lot less fighting, and people killed, every decade since the 1940s. A lot of this has to do with nuclear weapons. The major nations, those that can afford nuclear weapons, and a lot of non-nuclear ones, are more reluctant to get into a fight with each other. It's still likely that, some day, one of the growing number of nations with nukes, will use one against a neighbor. That will reinforce, for everyone, the need to be careful with nuclear weapons, and wars in general. 

Many of today's war are taking place in areas where no one is in charge, and no one wants to be in charge. Africa is a favorite spot for these kind of wars, but even here, the peacekeeping troops eventually show up. 

The War on Terror  has become the War Against Islamic Radicalism. This movement has been building for over half a century, and has been around since the early days of Islam. Historically, it has flared up periodically in response to corrupt governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution. The current flare up is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media. Only two countries, Sudan and Iran have established Islamic governments, and both are failures. Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to strike a blow for the cause. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular with their own people that they run out of new recruits and fade away.

The vast majority of the military related violence and deaths in the world comes from dozens of little wars. 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 are much more numerous (more than twenty times as much as terrorism). 

Military operations continue in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Sudan, Colombia, Pakistan and Nepal. In all these countries, civil war is the main cause of conflict. The usual cause is a dispute over scarce resources, or territory that has changed hands in the past.  There are no traditional "invasion" type wars going on at the moment. However, some of the conflicts involve the use of irregular troops to "invade" a neighbor and try to conquer disputed territory. This is the case in Kashmir, where Pakistani irregulars have been invading this disputed territory, trying to take it from India. The major threat of war these days is with China, which threatens to take Taiwan by force. 

The major cause war and disorder today is terrorism and private armies. Private armies are proving a major barrier to peace. Calling the leaders of these forces warlords is pretty accurate, as these guys live off war. Stealing, or extorting, what they need, these groups have flourished on the availability of cheap Cold War surplus weapons from Eastern European and Russian arsenals. Africa is awash in warlords, with armed groups controlling turf in Ivory Coast, Sudan, Congo, Somalia, and Liberia. Warlords also hold sway in places like Sri LankaPhilippines, Nepal, Chechnya Colombia, Rwanda,  Burundi and Afghanistan.  

The warlords have become a worldwide problem, with gunmen openly organizing and operating as private governments. The real governments prove helpless in dealing with the warlords, who openly play to the mass media and local political parties. While warlords have not exactly become respectable, they have  become accepted as a "cannot ignore" part of the political landscape in much of the world. Western nations, with their superior armed forces, are reluctant to take on the warlords. Doing so generates complaints at home that, "it's not worth the cost, " "it's not our business" and is generally viewed with hostility by the international community as an unwanted resurgence of "colonial imperialism". Part of this has to do with the clever way the warlords play the media game. It's a new generation of warlords, and eventually the world is going to have to deal with them. The warlords are often hospitable to Islamic terrorists, and this directly threatens Western nations.

Current wars are listed in alphabetical orders. Text underneath briefly describes current status. Click on country name for more details. 


Taliban losing ground as new government slowly extends control. But independent minded tribes, warlords and drug gangs still stand in the way of peace, prosperity and true national unity.


Islamic rebels on the run, but a general uprising looms because of dissatisfaction with the old revolutionaries that refuse to honor election results or share power.


Main rebel group (UNITA) defeated, but smaller ones have appeared to fight over oil wealth.


The Greater Albania Movement is driven by part time Albanian nationalists, full time gangsters and a growing number of Islamic radicals. 


Dictators brew rebellion by suppressing democrats and Islamic radicals.


Peace has broken out, for the moment.


The confrontation with Taiwan continues, as do hostilities with neighbors, separatists, dissenters and ancient enemies. China speeds up modernization of its armed forces.


After over three decades, leftist rebels losing support, recruits and territory. 


Multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the countryside.


Kashmir is but one of many rebellions that beset the region. But India and Pakistan have nukes, making escalation a potential catastrophe. Recent peace talks have lowered the possibility of war, but both sides continue an arms race. 


Separatism, pirates, Islamic terrorists and government corruption create an increasingly volatile situation.


Minority of Islamic conservatives have veto power over the majority of reformers. The supply of peaceful solutions is drying up. After that comes another revolution. Meanwhile, the Islamic conservatives are determined to build nuclear weapons.


Sunni Arab minority makes peace with the majority Kurds and Shia Arabs. But Sunni Arab Islamic radicals still back terrorism attacks against government and Shia Arabs (who are considered heretics).


Jewish and Palestinian radicals continue to confront peacemakers. The Palestinian people got tired of terrorism and are trying to work out a peace deal with Israel.


The north and the south fight over money, religion and power.


After half a century, North Korea continues to destroy its economy to maintain armed forces capable of invading South Korea.


Kurds continue 5,000 year struggle to form their own country.


Chaos, collapse and tired of fighting.


Several "failed states" (countries with populations that cannot govern themselves) are found here.


Radical communist rebels battle to overthrow a popular monarchy. 


Too many tribes, too much oil money and too much corruption creates too much violence.


Various places where the local situation is warming up and might turn into a war.


Islamic minority in the south wants it's own country, and expulsion of non-Moslems. Communist rebels in the north fight for social justice and a dictatorship.


Rebuilding and reforming the Soviet era armed forces and fighting gangsters and Islamic radicals in Chechnya. 


War between better organized and more aggressive Tutsis and more numerous Hutu tribes. It's been going on for centuries.


A failed state. It was never a country, but a collection of clans and tribes that fight each other constantly over land and other economic issues. Attempting to establish a new government.


Tamil minority (19th century economic migrants from southern India) battle to partition the island.  


Moslems in the north try to suppress separatist tendencies among Christians in the south. Complicated by oil fields in the south, and Moslem government attempts to drive Christians from 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.


Moslems in the south have a different religion than most Thais, and are different ethnically as well (they are Malays). Islamic radicalism has arrived, along with an armed effort to create a separate Islamic state among the few million people in the area.


Religion and tribalism combine to create a persistent rebellion in the north, which is aided by Sudan.


International terrorism has created a international backlash and a war unlike any other.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close