Traditional warfare and separatist conflicts have been declining over the past 15 years, but 20 percent of all nations still face a serious risk of armed conflict. Those are the findings of a global survey from the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management. The report says the areas of greatest risk are sub-Saharan Africa and the Muslim world.
The survey says the post-Cold War period has seen a steady decline in armed conflicts. Ted Gurr, co-author of Peace and Conflict 2005 and professor at the University of Maryland, says it may seem hard to believe that armed conflict is down.
"Yet by every indicator that we use -- number of major or minor armed conflicts, magnitude of armed conflicts, numbers of deaths, in so far as we can calculate them -- the trends have continued downward,” he explained. “What has increased is the introduction of a new and very dramatic form of terrorism, suicide bombings, and media attention to violent conflict, instant media attention, and fear."
Mr. Gurr attributes the decline in the number of armed conflicts to two factors: more negotiated settlements and the spread of democracy.
"Now, both of those are fragile," he added. "That's why I regard the prospects for the continuation of these trends in the future to be more than a little problematic. Negotiated settlements can break down, like they have done very recently in Indonesia's Aceh province, for example. And many of the newer democracies are institutionally fragile. So, the good news is tempered by a very substantial measure of caution."
Fewer armed conflicts means an increase in the number of countries recovering from years of devastating warfare.
Monty Marshall, lead author of the report and professor of policy at George Mason University, says many of the recovering countries are in Africa, where other factors place them at risk for sliding back into conflict.
He cites the region's many humanitarian crises, ranging from long-term poverty and widespread and recurring famine to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which have undermined already fragile state governments in sub-Saharan Africa. This has left the region with little capacity to handle future conflicts.
Mr. Marshall says, perhaps even more surprising about the 2005 report is how poorly equipped Muslim countries are to handle future conflicts.
"When we think of Middle Eastern countries, especially, we think of the vast oil wealth in the region,” he said. “But when we look at Muslim countries more broadly conceived, this wealth is not well distributed throughout this region, and the Muslim countries are equally poor in many respects to African countries. We haven't seen the humanitarian situations arise to the same extent as in Africa, but this could happen because the conditions are not good for containing the current situation."
Mr. Marshall defines the "current situation" as the spread of Islamic jihadist movements throughout the broader Middle East and Muslim world.
The report identifies six places where there is potential for emerging conflicts - five of which are in Muslim countries, where, the report says, radical Islamic groups pose a threat. Those countries are Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Southern Thailand and Turkey.