Recent Civil Wars

Here is a handy graphic on several recent civil wars, their duration, and the number of lives cost (source: The Economist). To explain the relative decline in number of deaths in more recent years…

“So far, nothing has done more to end the world’s hot little wars than winding up its big cold one. From 1945 to 1989 the number of civil wars rose by leaps and bounds, as America and the Soviet Union fueled internecine fighting in weak young states, either to gain advantage or to stop the other doing so.”




7 thoughts on “Recent Civil Wars

  1. There is the phenomenon of long-term civil wars/insurgencies morphing into a different kind of violence post-Cold War. I don’t know that there is a good term for this kind of violence that is at the level of low intensity warfare but that is not aimed at seizing control of government. Examples include the drug trade-related violence in Central America and Mexico as well as the post-Apartheid security situation in South Africa.

    • I’m pretty sure there is a technical term for these too. I remember reading somewhere about definitions for different types of wars based on intensity (low, moderate, high) based on the number of deaths. Though I felt that such definitions seemed kind of clumsy.

      • I’ve heard ‘criminal insurgency’ but insurgency by definition is criminal, a common definition of insurgent activity being “criminalized politics.” I’m a splitter rather than a lumper myself, so I’m dubious of typologies, anyway.

        An online acquaintance’s son told him during third or fourth deployment in Afghanistan that he wasn’t sure what to call what was going on there, but it wasn’t a war. I buy that. Now, if someone were to ask me if that means that means that Afghanistan is in a better way than Syria right now I would say that neither one is.

  2. A useful aide-memoir, Patrick. One imagines casualties are higher than before WW2 only because of advance in killing power, but I’m not sure if this is true ~ millions can be killed in a short time using machetes in Africa or hoe heads in Cambodia. Underlying much of this is the presumption that the cold war increased such conflict by the two blocs using surrogates to fight their conflict ~ this might or might not be so. If anything, it shows that nowhere, no country, no religion, no ideology, no ethnicity is immune from self-destruction. It would be interesting to compare with previous centuries ~ unfortunately I think we would find much the same pattern, just some different place-names ~ in terms of % of populations, casualties might demonstrate consistency. It would also be interesting, although perhaps impossible, to turn this info on its head and produce a chart of countries having no significant conflict. Or were there none?

    • If we take as a starting point that all humans share common ancestry, and therefore common biology, then I would think that means that all are capable of the same behaviors, peaceful or self-destructive. Some circumstances push us in either direction, which we can respond to. Vikings can become peaceful modern Danes, who could no doubt become Viking-like again if the right circumstances arose. It’s about potential. William James put it like this in 1890:

      “We, the lineal representatives of the successful enactors of one scene of slaughter after another, must, whatever more pacific virtues we may also possess, still carry about with us ready at any moment to burst into flames, the smoldering and sinister traits of character by means of which they lived through so many massacres, harming others, but themselves unharmed.”

      Sometimes, I chuckle to myself that modern evolutionary explanations for human violence- the Steven Pinkers, for example – don’t really bring us any closer to predicting violence than the ancient philosophers could do. It still comes down to circumstances and choice, or the angel and devil on either shoulder.

      • Patrick. We (the human species) have (has) been around a great many bushes to get back to the food supply we had free by taking a walk (although that walk could be dangerous!). In the best of circumstances, instead of popping into the woods and river to get dinner, we now labour in our gardens, fields, factories and offices and drive out of town to the supermarket. Why on earth did we bother? To get a few more years?

        We are also back to a very basic starting point of philosophy. Are we noble savages lost, or are we vicious savages in search of peace?

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