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Ideological Clash: the most frequent conflict in 2008
by Luis Alves
2009-02-24 10:48:29
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Two parties- organized groups, states or organizations - determined to achieve their goals; interests or positional differences over national values. These are the two necessary elements for a clash (or conflict), according to the definition in the last 17th annual report released by the HIIK (Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research), the Conflict Barometer 2008, which describes recent trends in conflict development, escalations and settlements.

The study classifies “conflict “ second 5 levels of intensity:

1 - Latent conflict (Low intensity, Non-violent)
A positional difference over definable values of national meaning, considering demands articulated by one of the parties and perceived by the other.

2 - Manifest conflict (Low intensity, Non-violent)
Stage preliminary to violent force. (for example, verbal pressure, threatening explicitly with violence, imposition of economic sanctions).

3 - Crisis (Medium intensity , Violent)
Tense situation in which at least one of the conflict parties uses violent force in sporadic incidents.

4 - Severe crisis (High intensity, Violent)
Violent force repeatedly used in an organized way.

5 - War (High intensity - Violent)
Violent conflict in which violent force is used with a certain continuity in an organized and systematic way. The extent of destruction is massive and of long duration.

The causes of conflicts are also classified second the next 9 items:
(these sum of factors - that often operate in conjunction, undermining the stability of states and the foundations of human security - point to a conflict syndrome, a new kind of war)

System/ideology (107 cases) - Continuing the trend of previous years, the most frequent conflict item in 2008 was “system/ideology”, with 107 cases. According to the HIIK study, this item means that conflicts were conducted in order to change the political or economic system or concerned ideological differences.

National power (74 cases)

Resources (71 cases)

Territory (53 cases)

Secession (50 cases)

Regional predominance (47 cases)

Autonomy (45 cases)

International power (38 cases)

Decolonization (0cases)

Others (28cases)

Some global conclusions

  • Compared to 2007, second the Conflict Barometer 2008, the number of conflicts remained almost the same – 344 in 2007 and 345 in 2008. 39 conflicts were fought out with the use of massive violence, 95 conflicts were conducted with sporadic use of violence (crises), and 211 non-violent conflicts were counted ( 129 manifest and 82 latent conflicts ).
  • After a relatively peaceful 2007, the number of highly violent conflicts rose once more in 2008. 9 wars and 30 severe crises were counted (6 wars and 26 severe crises - a total of 32 highly violent conflicts, in 2007).
  • Regarding global conflicts (low, medium and high intensity) from 1945 to 2008, the number of conflicts observed per year has risen more or less continuously. Most of the conflicts are low-intensity conflicts. A continuous and regular increase, interrupted by deescalation phases is obserbable on high-intensity conflicts.
  • In 1992, after the collapse of the USSR, it was reached the all-time high(49) in high intensity conflicts. After a remarkable decrease to 30 in 2005, the number of highly violent conflicts rose again to 36 in 2006, decreased to 32 in 2007, and rose again to 39 in 2008 – the highest number since 2004.
  • In recent years, the number of crises had soared to previously unknown values, peaking 113 in 2005, and then remaining on a very high level.
  • More than 2/3 of the conflicts monitored in 2008 were internal conflicts (254 intrastate and 91 interstate cases). Only 8 out of 91 of the interstate conflicts were conducted with the use of violence. Intrastate conflicts represents the vast majority of violent and especially highly violent conflicts.

Other interesting conclusions:
  • In this analysis, conflicts very often involve more than one item. Combinations of the 3 most frequent items were common - territory and resources, regional predominance and resources, or international power and system/ideology.
  • Conflicts over national power, regional predominance, secession or autonomy, resources, and system/ideology were violent in about 50% of the cases.
  • Conflicts over territory and international power were conducted without the use of violence in a large number of cases.
  • About 20% (20 cases) of the conflicts concerning system/ideology were even fought out with the use of massive violence, making this item the most important one in highly violent conflicts: 20, more than half of the 39 high-intensity conflicts, were fought out over questions of system or ideology, alone or in combination with other items. The second most important items in high-intensity conflicts were national power, resources, and secession with 10 cases each.
  • There are remarkable differences between the various world regions , indicating different regional patterns of conflicts. System/Ideology, the most frequent item in total, was the prevalent item in Asia and Oceania (38 cases, 1/3 of conflicts), in the Middle East and Maghreb (27 items, more than 50%), and in the Americas (24 cases, more than more than 50% of conflicts as well).
  • System/Ideology item was of minor importance in Europe (12 cases), and almost unknown in Africa (6 cases). The second most frequent item on a global scale, national power, was significant in Africa (25 cases, almost half of the conflicts) and in Asia/Oceania (24 cases), as well as in the Middle East and Maghreb (15 cases). However, it was comparatively rare in the Americas (6 cases) and Europe (5 cases).
  • The item ranking third in global terms, resources, was prevalent in Africa (29 cases), where many conflicts were fueled by natural resources exploited by rebel groups, and in the Americas (20 cases), but rare in Europe ( 6cases), Asia and Oceania (11 cases), and in the Middle East and Maghreb (5 cases).
  • Conflicts over regional predominance were fought out primarily in Africa (18 cases) and in Asia and Oceania (22 cases). This item was unknown in Europe (zero cases) and very rare in the Middle East and Maghreb (one case). In the Americas, it was not very frequent (6 cases), but it was accounted for both high-intensity conflicts in this region.
  • Conflicts over self-determination (over autonomy or secession), were prevalent in Europe (14 and 20, respectively) and common in Asia and Oceania (15 and 18), but not too frequent in Africa (both 9), and quite rare both in the Americas (3 and 1) and in the Middle East and Maghreb (4 and 2).
  • Although there is rarely only one cause of dispute, ideological change (System/Ideology) represents the most common cause of conflict. In fact, these conflicts were conducted in order to change the political or economic system or ideological differences, which signifies deep socio-economic inequalities behind them.

The Impact of Climate Change: 2 ways
(links between climate change and wars)

The “physical consequences of climate change” enumerated in the report A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War, by International Alert (melting glaciers, sea-level rise, loss of island coastline, less usable land, droughts, floods, desertification, spread of disease and pestilence, changes to crop seasons and output), as well as the “unintended” consequences or the “knock-on socio-political consequences of climate change” (livelihood insecurity, food insecurity, increased social tension, less access to useable water, decreased trade, decline in human health, increased poverty, decreased physical security, increased migration) do not directly cause violent conflict. The outcome depends on social and political factors that impact on the potential for violent conflict - some variables increase and others decrease conflict probability. So , second the International Alert report, we have two possible ways: “Good governance and integrated planning for adaptation” or “Bad Governance and institutions/ patterns of violent conflict”.[2]

Both ways depend on some factors, which we don’t know exactly and how they influence the capacity to adapt to climate change. But the current understanding is that we are talking about 3 political and social characteristics [3]:

1 - the deeper the divisions between ethnic and religious groups or between classes are, the more likely it is that environmental scarcity causes violent conflict.

2 - states with weak political institutions are particularly vulnerable, since they find it difficult to manage the social tensions caused by climate change.

3 - democracies are better able to protect the environment and manage peacefully the consequences of environmental degradation.

According to the International Alert report, the first way results in “risk reduction and peacebuilding”, in a “sustainable and non-violent adaptation to consequences of climate change”, strengthening good governance, while the second one results in a violent conflict, exacerbating the physical impacts and knock-on consequences of climate change , weakening already bad governance and locking states into repeating cycles of conflict.

It is not surprise that the most frequent conflict item in 2008 was “system/ideology”. As we said before, it means that they were conducted in order to change political or economic systems or ideological differences. Social inequalities were always the ignition of transformation, in a world where the consequences of neo-liberal policies are leading to a growing social injustice and job insecurity.

However, for the markets of “legitimate use of violence” and for the global “military-industrial complex”, the horror caused by them is a mere “collateral damage”, some unaccounted market externalities . They want the “final push”, “the last battle” to impose total submission.


[1] Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research at the Department of Political Science, University of Heidelberg, Conflict Barometer 2008,Crises - Wars - Coups d’Etat / Negotiations - Mediations - Peace Settlements, 17th Annual Conflict Analysis

[2] Dan Smith, Janani Vivekananda, A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War, International Alert, London UK, 2007-11

[3] Tapani Vaahtoranta, The wars of climate change, OSCE review 3/2007, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

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Get it off your chest
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AP2009-02-25 04:47:18
Hi Mr. Luis, quite enlightening article.

I believe this will interest you, a TV report by CBC Canada on Portugal's Green Energies system - it's about time:


enjoy :)

AP2009-02-25 06:11:58
ps - I just wonder why the pilot guy has the bunny on his arm... ahah

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