Peace researchers look back on a conflict-laden 2015

8 January 2016

Researchers at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) are busy compiling data on how organised violence affected the world in 2015. It is clear that the alarming development of 2014, with large amounts of casualties from armed conflicts, continued in many parts of the world in 2015.

In the two deadliest conflicts of 2014, Syria and Iraq, violence continued unabated in 2015. In addition, escalating unrest has caused the security situation to deteriorate further in countries like Nigeria, Yemen and Egypt, says Therése Pettersson, Research Coordinator of the UCDP.

‘Afghanistan too has seen a large increase in violence,’ she points out. ‘The international forces have pulled out, causing the Afghan National Security Forces to become more vulnerable. At the same time, the tentative attempts at negotiations have stalled following a leadership conflict among the Taliban caused by the news that Mulla Omar has been dead for years.’

Yet another exacerbating factor is the expansion of the Islamic State (IS), as the group has proclaimed provinces in a number of countries such as Russia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Libya and Egypt. Groups that are loosely tied to or inspired by the IS have also carried out spectacular terrorist attacks against civilian targets around the world. The violence of the IS and their allies has also caused more and more countries to get involved in the conflicts.

‘The most salient examples are the bombings of Syria by Russia, the US, the UK and France,’ says Professor Peter Wallensteen, adviser to the UCDP.

‘The phenomenon of external parties involving themselves militarily in the conflicts of other countries has seen a marked increase over the last years, but research shows that these conflicts are more difficult to resolve,’ he cautions. ‘Though the image of 2015 in retrospect is not altogether a negative one, there are specks of light which are important to keep in mind. One of the conflicts classified as a war by the UCDP in 2014, which means that the conflict caused at least 1000 combat-related deaths over the year, was South Sudan. However, in 2015, a peace treaty between the warring factions has significantly stemmed the violence.’

‘In Colombia, Myanmar and the Philippines, promising peace talks are underway as well, and in Ukraine, a ceasefire treaty has led to a decline in the heaviest fighting,’ Wallensteen presses.

The greatest challenge in 2016 will be to manage the increasingly dire situation in the Middle East, which is partially but not fully a result of the expansion of the IS.

‘This will require neighbouring countries and political superpowers to find common ground and coordinate their efforts in the region’, Therése Pettersson concludes.