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[Future Report] Peace and Conflict

Global Challenge 10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?

(c) 2021 The Millennium Project

Brief Overview

The vast majority of the world is living in peace. No major power wars have occurred for over 70 years; however, eight wars were recorded during 2020 and the nature of warfare and security has morphed today into transnational and local terrorism, international intervention into civil wars, and publicly denied cyber and information warfare. Conditions that can lead to instability exist in half the world, and the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes increased for the last four years to 82.4 million people by the end of 2020 (including 26.4 million refugees up from 22.5 million the previous year). This is expected to increase mostly due to the effects of global warming and political malpractice. Although conflicts fell dramatically from 1990 to 2010, they have increased since then, even though causalities have decreased. Causalities dropped below 50,000 worldwide during 2020 (lowest since 2012).

The nuclear arsenals have fallen from nearly 70,000 warheads in the mid-1980s to 13,080 today among nine countries. The majority of these warheads (9,600) are scheduled disarming. The recent concern is North Korea’s ICBM and thermonuclear bomb tests which are condemned by the UN Security Council.

World military spending was relatively flat from 1998 to 2011, with minor decreases from 2011 to 2014, but since then it has increased each year, reaching $1.98 trillion in 2020. According to the 2021 Global Peace Index, the global level of peace has deteriorated only 0.07% in 2020 compared to 0.27% the previous year: 87 countries improved in 2020 up from 71 last year and 73 deteriorated compared to 92 last year. However, the 2020 Global Terrorism Index worsened by 6%, even though 76 countries improved while 53 deteriorated, and there was a slight reduction in deaths from terrorism.

During the first decade since the Fragile States Index was established in 2007, 99 countries improved while 75 became more fragile. Between 2015 and 2020), only 7 countries deteriorated. However, the 2021 Fragile States Index rates 33 countries between “alert” to “very high alert” for fragility. According to OECD 23% of the world’s population lives in fragile contexts, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, information warfare (as different than cyber warfare that attacks computers, software, and command control systems) manipulates information trusted by targets without their awareness, so that the targets will make decisions against their interest but in the interest of the one conducting information warfare. Fake news via bots, videos, and other forms of information warfare are increasingly manipulating perceptions of truth, while the public does not know how to defend itself.

Cyberattacks from governments and organized crime on other governments and corporations are expected to increase. Asymmetrical cyber warfare changes the conventional balance of power analysis. Is there a reasonable way to hold software companies accountable for hacking of their products as other businesses are responsible for failures in their products? And what scale and impact of a cyber-attack or information warfare would trigger Article 5 of NATO, and what would be proportional responses? U.S. intelligence services received 84.1 billion in 2021 (up from $78.6 billion in 2011) to bring conflicts to an end and prevent others. Since the targets of cyber attaches and information warfare are also individuals and corporations as well as governments, the success of national strategies to counter this new theater of conflict depends also on the behavior of civilians; hence more comprehensive strategies are needed to include civilians.

Some conflict prevention strategies include ensuring that government services are available to all groups, establishing transparent and accountable governance, holding inclusive meetings to address grievances, setting joint goals, reducing corruption, improving the free flow of information, using trade embargoes and other economic sanctions, initiating low-profile mediation, improving minority rights, controlling hate speech, providing economic aid, holding inter-religious dialogues, and using the World Court. Some conflict resolution strategies include national dialogues, international negotiations, integrating civil society actors into negotiations, military intervention, demilitarized zones, UN Peacekeeping, economic incentives, and religious leaders’ initiatives. Re-war prevention strategies include reintegration of ex-combatants and displaced populations; UN Peacekeeping (especially including women in the team); truth and reconciliation commissions; rebuilding of institutions; promotion of the safe return of refugees, IDPs, and migrants; and economic development with all parties, including access to finance.

Actions to Address Global Challenge 10:

  • Create treaties and governance systems to manage the AI arms race and development of artificial narrow intelligence

  • Review the conflict resolution and prevention strategies, such as the above, as to when and why they work or fail, and teach these conclusions and integrate them into various forms of media and entertainment.

  • Readjust school curricula to emphasize compassionate behavior, tolerance for diversity, peaceful resolution of conflicts, compromise, and consensus.

  • Use participatory processes to produce back-casted peace scenarios to show plausible alternatives to conflict stories (see ”Middle East Peace Scenarios” in Scenarios, under Research in GFIS).

  • Mandate equal access of all groups to government services.

  • Increase attention to ways to stop patronage and corruption.

  • Integrate women into conflict reduction and peacekeeping forces.

  • Conduct education programs for families and communities to detect potential terrorists and prevent them from becoming terrorists.

  • Create a public online collective intelligence system to develop diplomatic, foreign policy, military, and legal systems to address the new asymmetrical threats.

  • Establish NGO networks to monitor indicators of conflict and discuss and link strategies for rapid deployment of non-military resources.

  • Increase use of non-lethal weapons.

  • Educate people about their roles in cyber security, including school curricula as was as the general public

  • Create cyber traps and counter-jamming systems to catch attackers.

  • Create a global framework how information warfare can be addressed on international platforms managed by global companies.

  • Connect early warning systems of governments and UN agencies with NGOs and the media to help generate the political will to prevent or reduce conflicts.

  • Establish tracking systems of sources and destinations for weapons.

  • Develop a Geneva-like Convention on cyber and information warfare

  • Use predictive analytics on disinformation databases to continually forecast potential infowarfare acts and preempt the actions to get ahead of information warfare.

  • Internet platforms should create automatic prompts when a user is about to forward information that is known disinformation.

  • Negotiate a treaty on autonomous AI weapons.

  • Implement Sustainable Development Goal 16: peace, justice, and inclusiveness.

Source: Start Project, University of Maryland, with Millennium Project compilation and forecast

Short Overview and Regional Considerations

The vast majority of the world is living in peace and trans-border wars are increasingly rare. Yet half the world has the potential to become violently unstable due to a combination of growing inequality, increasing unemployment, rising prices of food, falling water tables, abuses of elite power, outdated institutional structures, organized crime, terrorist groups, limited access to natural and social resources, and inadequate legal and governance systems. Globalization, migration, geopolitical shifts, changing nature of power, and increasing access of individuals to natural, technological and social resources, have raised the world’s vulnerabilities to new levels and are changing the security paradigm. The diplomatic, foreign policy, military, and legal systems to address the new asymmetrical threats have yet to be established. The UN, NATO, and other security structures are based on the nation-state as the primary decisionmaking entity, which has become increasingly inadequate.

State of peacefulness: According to the 2016 Global Peace Index, the world has become less peaceful over the past decade. In 2015, although the trend toward peace has improved in 81 countries and deteriorated in 79, the global average declined, since the size of deterioration was larger than the improvements–mainly due to the developments in the MENA region. The total economic impact of violenceon world economy was estimated at $13.6 trillion (PPP) for 2015, equivalent to 13.3% of world GDP. Meantime, UN peace-keeping expenditures totaled $8.27 billion, representing only 1.1% of the estimated $742 billion of economic losses from armed conflict.

Terrorist activity is also on the rise, according to the 2016 Global Terrorism Index. Although in 2016, the scores of 66 countries improved, while 53 countries deteriorated, the overall GTI score deteriorated by 6% compared to 2015, due to increased terrorism in many countries. However, 72% of all deaths from terrorism occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. Terrorism has been dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and Al-Qaeda. The lone actor phenomenon adds a new dimension to the global security landscape, not only from a safety point of view, but most of all, ethical and legal perspectives. As a “glocalized” phenomenon, it needs a global framework with local action. The 123 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 who are illiterate represent a growing unemployment problem. The vast majority of them are in South and West Asia (62 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (48 million). The 2016 Fragile States Index, compiled by the Fund for Peace, shows that out of the 177 countries rated based on their susceptibility to destabilization, 125 are in some “alert” or “warning” category, eight of which are in the “Very High Alert” category (double compered to the previous year.)

Civilians constitute the majority of fatalities in the international struggle against violent extremism, and the changing nature of transnational terrorism makes it difficult for governments to ensure homeland security. However, lone wolves and small group attacks are one of the symptoms of our social and international systems’ failures to keep pace with a better informed, highly connected, technology-savvy, more demanding, and interrelated world. The combination of thought and feelings with the capability of new technologies and data availability became the most powerful weapon, available to almost anyone interested. Recent studies reveal a higher prevalence and success rate of lone wolf attacks than other types of terrorism. Mail-order DNA and future desktop molecular and pharmaceutical manufacturing, plus access (possibly via organized crime) to nuclear materials, could one day give single individuals the ability to make and use weapons of mass destruction (SIMAD: Single Individuals Massively Destructive)—from biological weapons that could kill millions in an epidemic to low-level nuclear “dirty” bombs. To prevent this, three areas should be developed: 1) mesh networks of nanotech sensors and other advanced technology to detect such threats; 2) mental health and education systems to detect and treat individuals who might otherwise grow up to use such weapons; and 3) roles and responsibilities for the public to detect potential SIMADs. These approaches have complex legal and constitutional issues that are not yet resolved. Improving capabilities to deal with risks of terrorism, piracy, regional instability, and missile and cyber attacks, as well as widening cooperation with partners are the highest priorities of NATO, in order to build stability and avoid the necessity of fighting instability.

The 2014 National Intelligence Strategy of the USA, warning that the “risk of conflict and mass atrocities may increase,” underlines the importance of identifying and monitoring the effects of threat multipliers such as demographic changes, poverty, environmental degradation, and scarcity of basic resources, since they could cause further political instability and social tensions—“conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

IDMC reports show a continued rise in internally displaced people worldwide, the highest since the 1990s, from 33.3 million in 2013 to 38 million in 2014. In mid-2014, there were 18.1 million refugees of concern according to UNHCR, 2.1 million more than the 2013 figure, and 5.1 million of them were refugees in about 60 UNRWA camps (about 300,000 more than the previous year). At the beginning of 2015, there were 16 UN Peacekeeping missions, along with political missions in Libya, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan, with a total of 125,396 security and support personnel from 120 countries.

Environmental security: As growing populations and economies increase the drain on natural resources and cause environmental degradation, social tensions are expected to increase, triggering complex interactions of old ethnic and religious conflicts, civil unrest, indigenous protests, terrorism, and crime. In local areas where political, environmental, and economic conditions worsen, increasing migrations can be expected, which in turn can create new conflicts. Future effects of climate change could create up to 400 million migrants by 2050, which could further increase conditions for conflict. The UN estimates that 40% of the internal conflicts over the past 60 years were natural resource related. Although the degree of climate change’s impacts is uncertain, it would be prudent to prepare to adapt to increasing floods in wet areas, increasing droughts in dry areas, falling river flows fed by mountain ice, and seawater incursions into freshwater areas. Conflicts related to natural resources and/or environmental degradation are twice as likely to return to violence or become “re-wars” within five years; hence, peace agreements should address these environmental conditions while dismantling the structures of violence and establishing structures of peace. Since conflict and environmental degradation exacerbate each other, their spectrum and severity could expand unless they are addressed together, as a system. As a result, environmental security is increasingly dominating national and international agendas, shifting defense and geopolitical paradigms. Increased attention is being given to environmental security and other non-traditional security strategies for addressing the root causes of unrest and protecting individuals as well as sovereign states. Militaries will have to focus on social and environmental conditions as well as battlefields and soldiers, forcing new financial prioritization. The UN Security Council’s focus on the environment-security-development nexus is increasing, as several countries are urging that climate change be addressed as a global security threat, with issues ranging from loss of livelihoods and illegal exploitation of minerals to the impacts of climate change on national sovereignty. However, the UN’s International Law Commission has stated that they do not intend to impose stricter restrictions on belligerents to protect the environment.

Military expenditure: SIPRI estimates that global military expenditures stand at about $1.75 trillion annually, since 2009 (1.76 trillion in 2015). Military expenditures in North America, Western Europe, and Central Europe are decreasing, while they are increasing in all other regions. Transfers of major weapons in 2012-16 reached their highest volume for any five-year period since the end of the cold war, mainly driven by demand in the Middle East and Asia. In 2012, China joined the group of five biggest weapons exporters; together, they accounted for 74% of the total volume of arms exports: the United States (33%), Russia (23%), China (6.2%), France (6%), and Germany (5.6%). Asia and Oceania’s share of global arms imports increased to 43% in 2012-2016. NATO guidelines suggest that countries spend 2% of their GDP on defense, with at least 20% of it for defense-related R&D and major equipment acquisitions. Only the US (NATO’s biggest defense spender), Greece, and Estonia met the 2% guideline in 2016. If all NATO European countries were to meet the 2% of GDP target, their defence spending would have needed to rise by over 40%. However, initiatives such as Smart Defence are increasing the efficiency of both operations and funds by generating new defense capabilities through growing cooperation among allies. According to the 2015 Defence Companies Anti-Corruption Index, compiled by Transparency International, 66% of defense companies have poor to non-existent ethics and anti-corruption programs. Nevertheless, since 2012, 60% of the companies surveyed have seen marginal improvements, while 33% have taken greater steps toward mitigating corruption.

Nuclear threats: The IAEA database records a total of 2556 incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and other radioactive materials between 1993 and the middle of 2014 (up from 2407 last year). The IAEA received reports of 149 nuclear trafficking incidents during 2014 (compared with 155 the previous year and 163 during 2012), ranging from illegal possession and attempted sale and smuggling to unauthorized disposal of materials and discoveries of lost radiological sources. The Project on Managing the Atom noted that the series of nuclear security summits since 2010 have led to 13 countries getting rid of their residual HEU and extracted plutonium, increased security for nuclear material rich sites, better rules and regulations for safekeeping of nuclear material, and a more robust IAEA. At the same time, they called for further consolidation of the global effort to secure radiological material.

The number of nuclear weapons is falling in the US, Russia, the UK, and France, staying relatively constant in Israel and China, and is increasing in India, Pakistan, and North Korea, according to a comparison of the 2008 and 2015 estimates by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). The New START Treaty (signed in 2010) is still binding on the US and Russia, but tensions over Ukraine, disagreements over the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the politics of missile defense complicate the future of both the treaty and nuclear disarmament in general. As of April 28, 2015, the US had 1,900 deployed strategic warheads and Russia had 1,780. Assuming that the conditions of the New START Treaty are upheld, the FAS projects that the number of warheads in the US and Russia will drop to around 1,550 and 1,330, respectively, by 2022. The total number of the world’s nuclear weapons (deployed, in reserve, and waiting for dismantlement) was around 15,700 in 2015, down from 20,373 in March of 2008 and from more than 65,000 in 1985.

Changing nature of conflicts: Although interstate wars may be disappearing, which reduces the need for deterrence policies, long-range multi-state tensions over (energy and food) resources and boundary claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are intensifying. In the South China Sea (SCS), China is attempting to solidify its nine-dash line through island reclamation and basing while many ASEAN states have competing claims. The tensions have increased in recent months as China is increasingly strengthening its efforts in the SCS. Within only weeks small attols have been remarkably expanded into impressive military bases with airstrips and harbors. Additionally, sea level rise associated with climate change will inundate low lying islands and force re-evaluations of maritime boundary claims under UNCLOS. One response has been militarization. China and India are investing heavily in their military forces, particularly naval procurement, as are many of the states in Asia and Oceania. China’s language on U.S. involvement in the South China Sea is increasingly bellicose. The warming of the Arctic will give access to new shipping lanes and sources of oil and natural gas, which adds a potential conflict zone for nation-states with overlapping jurisdictions. Russia is reopening the Arctic to their military, and created a new command in the region while the military exercises of the other Arctic states and NATO are growing in size and importance. The opportunities for peaceful solutions to these maritime boundary issues will lie in adherence to international law and arbitration (under UNCLOS) and the value of intergovernmental and multi-lateral institutions, such as the Arctic Council and ASEAN.

The cyber dimension: After land, sea, air, and space, cyberspace is now the “fifth battlespace” or domain on the agenda of security experts. Governments and businesses are under cyber-attacks (espionage or sabotage) daily from other governments, competitors, hackers, and criminal organizations. The sources of these assaults are tough to identify, and this makes retribution problematic. Even when the source is verified, it is difficult to formulate an appropriate response. Countries, especially highly connected ones, have to consider the threat of a “cyber-Pearl-Harbor”; hence, much effort has been devoted to cyber-defense and potential countermeasures. Because society’s vital systems increasingly depend on the Internet, cyber-weapons that could bring them down can be thought of as weapons of mass destruction; hence, deterrence and protection are critical, yet policy is not clear and international cyber-arms agreements are non-existent. Unlike nuclear protection and deterrence, cyberwar defense has to more fully include corporations and individuals, forcing a fundamental re-conceptualization of protection, deterrence, and defense itself. Increasingly, conflict includes advanced foot soldiers as nodes in vast networks of war machines, with combatants thousands of miles away controlling drones overhead. Cyber-weapons, special operations, and unmanned sensors and vehicles are becoming the key military elements of the future. All of this makes satellites prime wartime targets.

New security paradigm: Military power has yet to prove effective in asymmetrical warfare without genuine cultural engagement. The new security paradigm is actually about fighting a philosophy. But when fighting a philosophy, there has to be another acceptable one to replace it, respecting complex cultural, religious, ideological and ethical aspects. Right now, we fight the philosophy that guides the terrorists and lone actors—be it based on religious extremism or social discontent—but do little to offer an alternative, except the rhetoric about a freedom that does not resonate with them. Thus, this new security paradigm requires innovative strategies by both security organizations and society to help address the conditions that favor the spread of threatening ideas. Offering all those young people opportunities, instead of weapons or responding with violence would have a higher probability of leading to peace and stability worldwide. Peace strategies without love, compassion, or spiritual outlooks are less likely to work because intellectual or rational approaches alone are not likely to overcome the emotional divisions that prevent peace. Conflict prevention and solution efforts should include NGOs, and work with all the related factions, including personal and Internet conversations with hardline groups and their potential recruits, taking into consideration their emotional and spiritual sensibilities. Individuals’ strong emotional devotion to their ethnic groups rather than to the nation (and eventually humanity) makes progress toward stable democracy difficult in many areas. Massive public education programs are needed to promote respect for diversity and the oneness that underlies that diversity.

It is less expensive and more effective to attack the root causes of unrest than to stop explosions of violence. In fragile and conflict-states, more ODA should be oriented towards peacebuilding and statebuilding. In 2012, 46% of ODA went to non-peace and statebuilding efforts, with only 4% of the money allocated for political reform, 3% for justice, and just about 1% for security.The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has shown that the level of law enforcement and judiciary corruption is significantly related to the level of peace within countries, but a change in the level of peace does not affect corruption. While worldwide corruption has increased over the past 7 years, global peace has declined by an average of 5%. The IEP has also identified a “tipping point”, where up to that juncture increased corruption does not seriously impact peace but after which violence (including political varieties, internal conflict, crime involving force, and murder) sharply increases along with rising corruption. Of the 64 nations at the “tipping point”, all are either “flawed democracies” (Philippines, Greece, Mexico), “authoritarian regimes” (Myanmar, China, Iran), or “hybrid regimes” (Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Venezuela).The Institute for Economics and Peace has identified eight pillars of peace: A well-functioning government; A sound business environment; An equitable distribution of resources; An acceptance of the rights of others; Good relations with neighbors; Free flow of information; A high level of human capital; and Low levels of corruption.Proposed Sustainable Development Goal 16, “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels”, might help address the corruption-peace nexus.

The probability of a more peaceful world is increasing due to the growth of democracy, international trade, global news media, the Internet, increasing prosperity and decreasing extreme poverty, NGOs’ efforts, satellite surveillance, better access to resources, and the evolution of the UN and regional organizations. Cross-cultural dialogues are flourishing, and intra-state conflicts are increasingly being settled by international interventions. Some believe that the collective mind of humanity can contribute to peace or conflict, and hence we can think ourselves into a more peaceful future.

Transitional justice is one of the major factors for success in post-conflict peace-building. It is still necessary to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and to support the International Criminal Court.The Geneva Convention should be updated to cover intrastate conflicts and specifics of the new asymmetrical warfare.The UN Security Council Resolution 11580 Condemning Violent Extremism and to Prevent Travel, Support for Foreign Terrorist Fighters, adopted in September 2014, is the first comprehensive international legal instrument that is specifically calling upon all Member States to respect their obligations under international law to prevent the spread of radicalization and terrorism, and addresses the lone wolf phenomenon. However, wider implementation is difficult due to the absence of a comprehensive agreement on what individuals or groups are definitively terrorists. Classification remains highly political, with a great deal of variation among member states’ lists of terrorist organizations.

In 2015, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that 90% of the world’s known chemical weapons stockpile had been destroyed.The Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force in August 2010 and by May 2015 had 91 States Parties. The Arms Trade Treaty, adopted by the UN in April 2013, entered into force in December 2014. It aims to prevent the flow of arms to conflict regions, human rights abusers, violators of the laws of war; and warlords, pirates, and gangs. However, it only regulates international trade in conventional arms, and combat aircraft and warships. Both treaties have yet to be ratified by some major producers and traders such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. Resolution 2220 adopted in 2015, aims toincrease cooperation among nations to curb “illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse” of small arms and light weapons, mainly to terrorists and criminal networks, and calls upon all States to ratify the ATT and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols. The UN remarks that over the past decade, small arms and light weapons were a common factor in over 250 conflicts and 50,000 deaths around the world.Although more than 70 countries have or are developing drones and other devices for remote-control warfare, there are currently no international laws that specifically regulate their use.

New technologies are offering unprecedented possibilities for peace and conflict. Advances in detection, cleanup, monitoring, and surveillance will increase concurrently with accuracy and lethality. Intelligent battlefield robots will have elements of the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention built into their programming. Self-adjusting bullets will be less likely to miss their targets (for good or ill). Lowcost, highly networked drones will form “swarms” that can operate in combat or peaceful reconnaissance roles. A NASA project tested the concept of “spiderbots” that can be placed into a hazardous environment to communicate among themselves and with the outside world, including satellites, to monitor dangerous situations. Ultra-sensitive, portable chemical and biological devices offer increasing accuracy in detection, monitoring, and cleanup, with rapid response time.

Governments should establish an international audit system for each weapon type, destroy existing stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, create tracking systems for potential bioweapons, develop SIMAD prevention strategies, and support networks of CDC-like centers to counter impacts of bioterrorism, and agreement should be reached on enforcement mechanisms for the Biological Weapons Convention.Work should continue to make irregular warfare more humane, and increase the use of non-lethal weapons and the precision of drone attacks to reduce civilian death and potential future revenge cycles.

Early warning systems of governments and UN agencies could better connect with NGOs and the media to help generate the political will to prevent or reduce conflicts. User-initiated collaborations on the Web should be increasingly used for peace promotion, rumor control, fact-finding, and reconciliation. Back-casted peace scenarios should be created through participatory processes to show plausible alternatives to conflict stories (see ”Middle East Peace Scenarios” in ‘Scenarios‘, under Research in GFIS).

Assessing progress: Challenge 10 will be addressed seriously when intrastate wars, arms sales, and violent crimes decrease by 50% from one year to another.

Regional Considerations:

Sub-Saharan Africa: has slowly decreased conflicts over the past 10 years, and one of the worst offenders, the M23 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has eschewed violence. The African Union has set up a Rapid Reaction Force to deal with outbreaks of violence on the continent. The cost of conflicts fueled by imported weapons in Africa is estimated at $11 billion. South Sudan has achieved independence, but disputes with the North and internal conflicts are continuing. It is estimated that there are more than 11.3 million IDPs in sub-Saharan Africa, out of which some 4.5 million were newly displaced in 2014. Central Africa has the highest number of IDPs, 7.9 million, out of which 3 million were newly displaced in 2014. The countries with the largest number of IDPs–South Sudan, Somalia, CAR, DRC, and Sudan–are also rated as the world’s “Very High Alert” countries. Boko Haram’s extreme violence to impose Islamic law in north-eastern Nigeria displaced at least 975,300 people in 2014. French and UN forces are still battling the insurgency in northern Mali, and Somalia is a failing patchwork of regions run locally or from Kenya or Ethiopia. The unrest between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria has intensified and threatens to ignite wider sectarian conflict in the region. General unrest is endemic in much of West Africa and is compounded by poor and corrupt governance. Youth unemployment, illiteracy of about 50% among young people, and 11.6 million AIDS orphans may fuel a new generation of violence and crime.

North Africa and the Middle East:The Arab Spring/Awakening, overturning a number of long-lived authoritarian regimes, opened the wider Arab world to the prospect of embracing democratic governance. However, due to various reasons, this state of affairs has not been achieved yet. The spread of political instability throughout North Africa and the Middle East has inhibited the sort of national unity that is necessary for democratization. Middle East accounted for 29% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer (after India) with an increase of 212%; Qatar’s imports grew 245% and the majority of the other states in the region also increased arms imports in 2012-16 compared to 2007-11. Some Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, are buying their weapons from different suppliers to diversify their dependence on other countries, especially the United States. Iraq is buying $4.2-$5 billion in arms from Russia while ISIL, largely as a result of Iraq’s ineffective government and sectarian divisions, attempts to establish a caliphate throughout the rest of Iraq as it continues its insurgency in Syria.

Violent Al-Qaeda activities have increased in the Islamic Maghreb and the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Mali, Somalia, and Yemen, and this reflects the organization’s post-bin Laden shift from a centralized organization to a franchise operation. Lone wolf extremists supplement such Al-Qaeda activity throughout the world. The ongoing civil war in Yemen, which is exacerbated by the Saudi-led airstrikes, has devastated the country, and since not properly addressed, the war has dangerously increased instability in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen’s agriculture and infrastructure systems have been destroyed as its water crisis persists, and WFP aid cannot reach more than 10% of the country’s 24 million starving population. If instead of violence and weapons, the response would be with desalination units and economic opportunities for the million unemployed Yemenis, the chances to end violence in the region might greatly increase. The IDMC notes the number of IDPs in the region increased for a third consecutive year, reaching 11.9 million, with some 10,500 people newly displaced daily. By the end of 2014, some 7.6 million IDPs were in Syria, while for many of them return is not an option, given that 30% of the country’s housing is estimated to be damaged or destroyed.

Egypt’s difficulty in establishing a stable government is emblematic of the struggle throughout the Islamic world between secular and religious forces. Ethiopia’s policy of damming the Nile’s vital waters is causing a serious conflict with Egypt, but it is hoped that a recent agreement will ease tension. In the wake of the Arab revolutions, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran fear the aspirations for an independent Kurdistan among the Kurdish minorities in their countries, and such independence already exists de facto in Syria and Iraq. The OPCW-UN mission in Syria was completed in June 2014, although the UN must continue to monitorchlorine gas attacks. Worsening conditions in the Syrian Civil War could lead to the involvement of Turkey (a NATO member), Israel and Lebanon.

The election of a more moderate Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and renewed negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, Germany, France, Russia, and China) have raised the hope that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. However, Saudi Arabia fears that such a deal could increase Iran`s hegemony in the region without even preventing it from acquiring an atomic bomb.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have not resumed, for Israel’s conservative Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, refuses to meet any of the PA’s three preconditions: settlement freeze, commitment to negotiating along the 1967 lines, and release of Palestinian prisoners. Meantime, the Palestinians continue acts of terrorism, threats, and violence.

Asia and Oceania: Long-term global perspectives and possibly international intervention will be needed to solve energy resource conflicts in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines are contending over islets and economic zones. Alliances within the Association of South East Asian Nations, including with the United States or India, can broaden the scope of the tensions. China’s internal problems over water, energy, demographics, urbanization, income gaps, and development projects displacing villagers will have to be well-managed to prevent future conflicts. The severe Muslim Uighur unrest in the northwest is continuing unabated, but there are some signs of progress in Tibet. China is moving into Central Asia, becoming the major economic partner in four of the five republics, but is fostering hostility toward Japan in its population. China’s official military budget accounted for more than 33% of Asia’s total spend in 2016. It is attempting to become a significant world naval power and its military capability — particularly in the air domain — is increasingly challenging western military technological superiority. China is also increasing its sales of more advanced military systems to Africa and Latin America.

An internationally acceptable solution to North Korea’s nuclear program is still lacking. Japan is about to adopt a set of security bills that would greatly expand Japan’s defense role in overseas military operations. Mindanao has finally achieved a degree of autonomy in the Philippines after its long and violent struggle. Pakistan’s internal instability, and the complex strategic relationships among Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, hinder the peacemaking and counter-extremist efforts in all three countries. The $7.5 billion in civilian aid given to Pakistan over the past five years has mostly been ineffective, and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is very shaky. Persecution of non-Muslims persists there. India is facing spreading Maoist violence.

As the international combat mission in Afghanistan is scaling down, the threat of the Taliban–with a core of some 60,000 fighters–is increasing and expanding in the neighboring countries, mainly Pakistan. Although difficult to establish, it is estimated that since 2001, some 20-30 thousand Taliban and 21 thousand Afghan civilians have been killed, while recently, since the fighting intensified, an average of 12 Talibanfighters are killed every day by Afghan police and army units. UNHCR estimates that some 3.7 million Afghans have been displaced or are a population of concern. Contention for control of the country’s rich minerals and agricultural resources can be expected among the government, the warlords, and the insurgents, challenging the country’s newly refurbished security sector. Reportedly, many of the regional officials/warlords also are proprietors of thriving narcotics networks, aided by their units of the Afghan Local Police, and are committing terrible human rights violations – torture and murder. China could become a key intermediary in future stabilization efforts. The agreement on cooperation in counter-terrorism between the Pakistani (ISI) and Afghan (NDS) intelligence services will also heavily affect Afghanistan’s future security environment, presenting a united front to the Taliban, increasing cross-border security, and creating an opportunity for improved relations between the two neighbors. Serious humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are being neglected in favor of reconstruction, an effort suffering from rampant corruption.

Europe: Western Europe is the most peaceful region in the world, with no domestic or external conflicts. The Basque ETA rebels have forsworn violence. However, the large numbers of migrant laborers, refugees, and asylum seekers entering the EU requires new approaches to better integrate them into society if increased unrest and violence are to be prevented. This is aggravated by the new surge of immigrants from North Africa that Italy, Greece, and Spain have taken in but other countries have been less willing to accept. UNHCR estimates that the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving to Europe by sea increased to over 218,000 in 2014, compared to 80,000 in 2013, and some 3,500 lives were lost. Italy estimates that another 200,000 people in Libya are waiting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Reportedly, the IS is using the migrants exodus to smuggle fighters into Europe, promote the IS and Sharia ideology, and to fund terrorism. The new EU anti-smuggling operation, EU Nafor Med, is hoped to help curb the illegal migration by sea.

Only U.K., Greece, and Estonia are set to meet the NATO guideline of 2% of GDP investment to defense; if Germany were to meet the target, its defense budget should almost double, from €37 billion (~$42 billion) to over €74 billion (~$84 billion).

The situation of the Roma population (an estimated 10 million throughout Europe) continues to be a challenge across the continent. Continued youth unemployment and fiscal austerity in parts of the Eurozone have resulted in violent social protests. Stronger and more stable institutions and further political integration are needed to keep the EU together. The revelation of covert U.S., and then German, electronic intelligence directed against EU countries increased suspicion among the alliance members.

The re-emergence of ethnic tensions and confrontations between the Albanian and Slavic populations in the Western Balkans raises concerns over the fragile stability of the region. Croatia joined the EU in 2013; membership talks began with Serbia and those with Turkey have resumed. In view of the Ukraine crises, three Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania —are asking for permanent NATO presence as a deterrent against increased Russian activity in several European regions. NATO is embarkingon the largest expansion of its collective capabilities since the end of the Cold War, with the NATO Response Force increasing twofold. Tensions and violence between Russians and minority citizens from the Caucasus and Central Asia are increasing, while in Ukraine it exploded into civil war. The war in Ukraine has led to a deterioration of its economic situation, which may bring further destabilization in the region. Russia is reforming and modernizing its military and increased its 2015 defense budget to 4.2% of GDP (3.3. trillion rubles), the highest of the post-Soviet period.

Latin America: Drug wars in Mexico caused more deaths than occurred in Afghanistan. Although national wars are rare in the region, internal violence from organized crime, paramilitaries, and amalgams of the two groups continues to be fueled in some areas by corrupt government officials, military, police, and national and international corporations. Criminal violence and threats have displaced more than 7 million people in the region — over 436,500 in 2014 — a 12% increase compared to 2013. Columbia has the highest number of IDPs, over 6 million, followed by El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala, which together account for some 820,000 people. To eliminate criminal gangs, Latin America should address inequality and develop educational systems that meet the requirements of the knowledge economy. Recent political changes have begun to improve opportunities for indigenous peoples in some parts of the region, while political polarization over policies to address poverty and development persist.

The Failed States Index shows that since 2008, stability improved in most countries of the region. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States adopted a Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace and is increasing regional integration and solidarity for defense of national sovereignty. The International Court in the Hague has become the most widely used mechanism by Latin American countries to peacefully resolve conflicts; e.g.; Nicaragua and Colombia; Peru and Chile; Bolivia and Chile. Brazil proceeds on its path toward world power status. Argentina is resuming a more aggressive stance toward the Falklands question. Violence is impeding development in Central America, a region with one of the highest crime and homicide rates in the world.

North America: Although the U.S. is reducing its activity in Afghanistan, preparing to completely withdraw, it has re-entered the Iraqi arena with airstrikes against ISIL. Its spending on national defense is being reduced from 4.7% of GDP in 2010 to 3.5% in 2014 and under the Budget Enforcement Act is supposed to be cut further to 2.6% by 2020. Hence, its military expenditure–still the world’s highest–has been reduced from $711 billion in 2011 to $610 billion in 2014. Its national defense budget for 2015 is $636.6 billion and the proposed one for 2016 is $612 billion. Home-grown terrorism and lone wolf add a new dimension to U.S. security challenges. Since 2006, 98% of all deaths from terrorism were caused by attacks carried out by lone actors.

Over the past five years, Canada’s military expenditure has been around CAD$20 billion but is projected to increase considerably, as its engagements and role in the international arena are growing. The U.S. has signed the Arms Trade Treaty but did not ratify it, while Canada neither signed, nor ratified it. As Arctic ice continues to melt, vast quantities of natural gas and oil will be accessible where national boundaries are disputed. This could be a source of U.S.-Canadian tension, along with Russia, Norway, and Denmark.

Cooperation on environmental security could become a focus to build U.S.-China strategic trust. Such trust-building efforts should be given more attention that might reduce nation-state cyber warfare.

The number of cyber attacks on the U.S. continues to grow, shifting increasing attention to the protection of national infrastructure, such as the electric grid and the evolving Internet of Things.


Writer: The Millennium Project of USIA Council Member Jerome C. Glenn


NOTE: USIA People have their own views and opinions that are not necessarily the USIA, and vice versa.


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