COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, JULY 2, 2005 ( In spite of fears about global insecurity, the number of armed conflicts continues to decline. An overview of the world situation was published June 1 by the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management.

Authored by Monty Marshall and Ted Robert Gurr, the report, "Peace and Conflict 2005: A Global Survey of Armed Conflicts, Self-Determination Movements, and Democracy," notes a number of positive trends. Among them:

-- A decline in the global magnitude of armed conflict, following a peak in the early 1990s. Major wars are down from 12 at the end of 2002 to eight in early 2005. And, according to the report's calculations, the general magnitude of global warfare has decreased by more than 60% since peaking in the mid-1980s, falling by the end of 2004 to its lowest level since the late 1950s. In early 2005 there were 18 countries with ongoing major armed conflicts, and in two of these there were two ongoing wars, for a total of 20 major armed conflicts in the world.

-- Most democratic regimes established during the 1980s and 1990s have endured despite political and economic crises. Moreover, there has been an increase in action by popular forces, such as Bolivia, Georgia, the Philippines and Ukraine, to promote democratic principles and hold leaders accountable.

-- In the Middle East, democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq have gained support, and small steps have been taken toward political reform in other Arab autocracies.

-- Ethnic-based wars for independence, a significant threat to civil peace in the 1990s, have continued to decline to their lowest level since 1960. In the 2001-2004 period, 13 major self-determination conflicts were settled or contained, offset by a half-dozen new or renewed campaigns.

-- Repression and political discrimination against ethnic minorities have declined significantly, coinciding with the dramatic decline in autocratic regimes since the late 1980s. Since 1950, the number of minorities benefiting from policies aimed at remedying past political discrimination has increased fivefold.

The report warned: "These positive trends are no warrant for unqualified optimism about the future of world peace." For example, there is no guarantee that the strategies that have brought about the recent improvements will work in the future, the report said. Moreover, there are difficulties in achieving the level of international cooperation needed to overcome the challenges to peace.

Regional trends

The report uses a system of red and yellow flags to draw attention to areas of potential conflict. The 2005 edition gives a red flag to 31 out of 161 countries surveyed, down from 34 in the 2003 report. Seventeen African countries draw a red flag. Other danger spots are Armenia, Cambodia, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon and Pakistan.

Another 51 countries are yellow-flagged, of which 19 are in Africa south of the Sahara, 10 in North Africa and the Middle East, and 12 in the Asia-Pacific region. In short, the report observes, "half the world's countries have serious weaknesses that call for international scrutiny and engagement."

One region that is particularly worrying is Africa. "African countries have generally low capacity for conflict management and continue to face serious and complex challenges to peace and stability in 2005," the report said. Yet, it noted that progress has been made in increasing regional cooperation. As well, there are important differences within the region.

Moreover, the one thing distinguishing Africa from other regions of the world is the newness of its state system, the report said. All but four of the 50 African countries gained their independence in the latter half of the 20th century. "State building is no simple task," the report observed, "and the building of modern, viable states has everywhere, and in all times, been fraught with enormous difficulties."

Muslim countries, meanwhile, were seen as having a profile comparable to that of the African countries, with a large number marked out as sources of potential conflict. Unlike in Africa, however, armed conflict in Muslim regions has declined by more than 60% since 1991, a trend similar to the overall global reduction.

Asia is also a trouble spot. Along with Africa it accounts for most of the world's major armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War.

In South America, several countries have been rocked by economic and financial crises leading to mass demonstrations and the resignations of elected leaders. In a change with the past, this time the military forces have generally stood aside, the report noted.


The report noted that terrorism, though it receives a lot of media attention, causes relatively few deaths compared to other conflicts. There have been 10 incidents in the last seven years that have caused more than 100 deaths. During the 1990s there were about 300 deaths per year by international terrorism and 3,000 deaths per annum by acts of local terrorism.

In contrast, there were more than 300,000 deaths per annum in warfare in the 1990s. Most of the victims were noncombatants. The report does acknowledge the potential for danger if terrorists obtain weapons of mass destruction, but the probability of this happening remains hard to evaluate.

Overall, the report concluded, even though terrorism causes much fear, "our greatest fears can be realized when the state becomes the terrorist, or when the powerful weapons created by the state fall into the hands of the evildoer."

Challenges ahead

The report also outlined a number of challenges that lie ahead. These include:

-- the legacy of wounded societies and failing states as they emerge from years of destructive conflict.

– the unleashed surplus of war personnel and materiel that is flooding the global market. This not only fuels organized crime, but in general creates security problems.

-- the ghettoization of large areas of the world where deepening poverty and deteriorating social conditions marginalize entire populations and severely limit their access to the benefits of the global economy.

-- the severe inequality in the distribution of wealth and resources that contributes to the maintenance of autocratic regimes and the rise of terrorism and insurgencies throughout the Muslim world.

-- the accountability and transparency of postwar regimes and the implementation of peace accords and integration of disenfranchised populations.

Benedict XVI, in his address May 12 to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, noted his own origins in having lived in a country burdened by war. He stated: "I am particularly sensitive to dialogue between all human beings in order to overcome every kind of conflict and tension and to make our earth an earth of peace and brotherhood."

He urged Christians and political leaders to combine their efforts "to achieve a peaceful society, to overcome the temptation of confrontation between cultures, races and worlds that are different."

The Pope noted that the Church continues to proclaim and to defend fundamental human rights, which too often continue to be violated in many regions. And he pledged: "Rest assured that the Catholic Church will continue to offer to cooperate, in her own province and with her own means, to safeguard the dignity of every person and to serve the common good."