Conflict in 2012 by the Numbers

The Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) has released its annual by-the-numbers update on the state of conflict worldwide, through the end of 2012, in the latest issue of the Journal of Peace Research. The combination of statistics and violence makes for unusually dismal reading, but nevertheless the authors have good news: “Overall, the 2000s has been the least conflict-ridden decade since the 1970s.” Last year in particular saw 32 armed conflicts around the world, five fewer than in 2011, where the authors define an “armed conflict” as one that “concerns government or territory or both where the use of armed force between two parties results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in a year.” Syria was last year’s deadliest of these conflicts.

Another item in the data worthy of restrained celebration is that 2012 saw the conclusion of four peace agreements, compared with only one in 2011. As last year’s WPR feature on long-term postconflict reconciliation in El Salvador and Northern Ireland makes clear, however, peace accords are only a step in an extremely long, and by no means irreversible, process of national reconciliation that can take decades. Indeed, of the 2012 peace agreements UCDP identifies—in Central African Republic, in South Sudan, between North and South Sudan, and in the PhilippinesCAR’s had fallen apart by the end of the year, setting the stage for a coup this year. Meanwhile the agreement between Sudan and South Sudan has been complicated by oil disputes and mutual allegations of backing rebel groups on one another’s territorythough the two governments recommitted themselves to the peace process just this weekwhile South Sudan’s agreement with the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM), which appeared to stop the fighting between those two parties, left unabated the violence being waged by South Sudan’s other rebel groups.

The prognosis for the Philippines looks good, though. The country’s main insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), accepted a deal to disarm and renounce ties with al-Qaida-affiliated groups in exchange for political autonomy. As sometime WPR contributor David Axe details at fascinating length in his forthcoming book, the Philippines has had since 2002 more than a little help from its American friends in creating the conditions for this agreement, in the form of, per Axe, “U.S. Special Operations Forcessome 700 at their peak[which] trained and equipped Philippine forces, fed them intelligence from drones and satellites and accompanied them into battle,” while U.S. assistance of “no less than” $30 million a year at its height allowed the country to upgrade its air force.

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