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A peace caricature by Iranian artist Hassan Karimzadeh
The changing nature of conflict makes defining peace harderImage: Hassan Karimzadeh

World Peace Day

September 21, 2009

September 21 is United Nations International Peace Day. It is the one day that all weapons around the world should fall silent. But what has happened since the previous Peace Day? Has the world become more peaceful?


Answering the question of whether the world is more peaceful than it was a year ago is difficult, at least on the very day set aside by the UN for the recognition of peace. One reason is that the research institutes involved present conflict statistics concluding on the December of the previous year - three months after UN Peace Day.

Also, there are varying opinions as to what constitutes a conflict.

One of the presentig institutes is the Institute for International Conflict Research at the University of Heidelberg. Its “Global Conflict Barometer” report contains statistics from a very broad spectrum of what it considers to be conflicts, from a clash of interests up to the organized and systematic use of force in intermediate or domestic wars. Using its barometer, the institute has determined that there were 345 conflicts in the world during 2008 - more than ever before.

The high number of conflicts in 2008 doesn't necessarily reflect a less peaceful world, however. It could be a result of the explosion in available information on conflicts in the most far-flung and inaccessible corners of the globe over the last 15 years. The global spread of Web-based information exchanges, mobile telephony and other communication technologies are used more intensively today by reporters on conflicts and by those involved in the conflicts themselves.

World sees an increase in "high" category conflicts

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires from a position outside the Gaza Strip, near the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza, Saturday, March 1, 2008.
Israel's war in Gaza came after the last UN Peace DayImage: AP

While there the number of world-wide conflicts is uncertain, a clear trend is recognizable with the character of the conflicts. The report from the Heidelberg institute shows that there was an increase in what it describes as “high” conflict – “a violent conflict in which violent force is used with a certain continuity in an organized and systematic way. The conflict parties exercise extensive measures, depending on the situation. The extent of destruction is massive and of long duration.”

Between 2007 and 2008, the institute recorded a rise of seven “high” intensity conflicts, rising from 32 to 39. Nine of these were considered full-on wars.

In the three months after the 2008 Peace Day, the world witnessed a new “high” conflict – the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

The Heidelberg institute forecasts no substantial change in the number of “high” conflicts in 2009, based on analysis of the current world situation. This is also based on statistics that have shown the number of “high” conflicts stabilizing since the turn of the millennium with only slight increases and decreases.

Africa still the most war-ravaged continent

Congolese regular army soldiers (FARDC) rest on the front line just outside Kibati camp for the displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo,12 November 2008.
Africa saw another blood-stained year in 2008Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

The region with the most concentrated amount of conflicts in 2008 was Africa. The Heidelberg institute recorded 12 “high” conflicts in 2008, with three officially described as full-on wars. Conflicts were recorded in Sudan, Chad, the Congo, the Central African Republic of Somalia, Ethiopia, Mali and the Niger. None of these 12 “high” conflicts in Africa were ended or concluded with a political solution as of Peace Day 2009.

In Asia, in second place, continuous and partially new conflicts were recorded in Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Turkey, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In addition, the war in Afghanistan substantially escalated since the beginning of 2009.

On the American continent, the Heidelberg institute registered an increase in conflicts including the near civil war in Mexico between drug gangs and security forces, and increases in frequency of persisting conflicts in Colombia over the last 12 months.

Europe sees political solutions ending conflicts

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, center, and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, right, smile and shake hands during the informal Commonwealth of Independent States ( CIS) summit in Strelna, outside St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, June 6, 2008.
Georgia and Russia have been talking after their war endedImage: AP

There are finally some positive messages from Europe. After Russia and Georgia went to war last August over the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the situation in the southern Caucasus has relaxed to a certain extent, and a political solution has been discussed in negotiations – although so far without success. Also, tensions over borders between Slovenia and Croatia have decreased and a political solution to the conflict has been discussed.

One of the most surprising new developments registered by the Heidelberg institute is the return of the putsch. The 2009 report is expected to show a marked increase in coups d'état, with seven putsches already taking place since the turn of the year, most recently in Honduras. Whether this is just an anomaly or the beginning of a long-term trend, the conflict researchers cannot say.

Author: Andreas Zumach

Adaptor: Nick Amies

Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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