New Release: UCDP’s annual report on armed conflicts in 2011


On Friday 13th the UCDP released its annual report on armed conflicts; this release detailing the events of 2011. The release – announced in press releases in Swedish and English – is accompanied by a full update to the armed conflict category of the UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia as well as a data presentation article in the Journal of Peace Research.

As may have been expected by many following the events of the Arab Spring the report paints a relatively bleak picture, with the initial paragraph noting that 37 armed conflicts were active (i.e. stood between a government and a rebel group or between a government and a government, involved a stated political incompatibility, and caused more than 25 battle-related deaths) in 2011, which is an increase from the 31 recorded in 2010. This is an increase of almost 20%.

Although a substantial increase (in fact the largest increase between years since 1990) this number is still nowhere near the 50+ conflicts recorded in the early 1990s. In fact, looking back a couple of years gives a much stronger impression of relatively stable numbers around the 30-35 mark that fluctuate relatively mildly. As is stated in the JPR piece it is thus much too early to conclude that the trend of declining violence in the world noted by the widely publicized books by Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker is coming to an end.

More statistics of interest is the increase in wars (more than 1000 battle-deaths) from 2010 to 2011; increasing from four in 2010 to six in 2011. These conflicts were the ones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.

Yet another piece of bad news was noted by Professor Peter Wallensteen, the UCDP:s director. Namely that only one peace agreement was signed during the whole year of 2011. This is the lowest recorded number since 1987. Even though the number of peace agreements has been falling during the late 2000s and early 2010s this could mark the end of an era of international attempts at peaceful conflict resolution (this post’s speculation, and not Professor Wallensteen’s).

Some notes on these numbers

While many may automatically associate this increase in the number of armed conflicts with the Arab Spring this event’s imprint on the data is actually relatively small. Only Syria and Libya were classified as armed conflicts. Most of the other countries that were affected by this political event either experienced relatively little violence, or were struck by violence against civilians by government forces, or by more disorganized clashes between police and protesters.

The largest contributing factor to this increase is in fact the lack of stability in Africa, with conflicts reigniting in the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal, and new conflicts starting in Southern Sudan and Sudan.

Except for Yemen and Libya the countries embroiled in war are the same as over the past few years. Libya’s war in 2011 was short but intense, whilst Yemen’s conflict with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had been simmering for years before exploding in 2011. The intensity of fighting continues to increase in Afghanistan, with estimates reaching as high as 7000-8000 killed in battles. Intensity in Pakistan and in Somalia have, however, dropped somewhat.

More to come

This was only a short resume of all of the data now available concerning the year 2011. Other information available is:

–          The press release for the launch of the annual update, in English and in Swedish

–          The data presentation article itself, at the Journal of Peace Research

–          A full update of the UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia for the state-based category of violence

–          Updates up to 2011 (and revisions for earlier years) of several other datasets for analysis

–          Updates to charts and graphs within the week

//Ralph Sundberg, Ph.D. candidate and project manager (UCDP GED)