Last year the number of armed conflicts decreased markedly, at the same time as the number of battle-related deaths in these conflicts increased dramatically, largely due to the situation in Syria. This is described by peace researchers at Uppsala University’s Conflict Data Program (UCDP) in an article recently published in the Journal of Peace Research.

UCDP registered 32 active armed conflicts in 2012 - five fewer than in the year prior. Despite this decrease, however, the total number of battle-related deaths increased dramatically during the year. In the 24 years that have passed since the end of the Cold War, UCDP has reported higher battle-related deaths’ levels on only six occasions.

  • It is mostly the war in Syria that has caused this large increase, Lotta Themnér, one of UCDP’s project leaders, says. Not since the end of the interstate war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1999-2001 have we seen a conflict this bloody.

Despite this, relatively little has been done by the international community.

  • This is remarkable since all large conflicts since the mid-1980s have seen close collaboration between the major powers to find, at a minimum, a ceasefire between the parties, but oftentimes also a negotiated settlement. It does not bode well for the future development of major power relations, and this in turn will affect how local conflicts are handled, says Professor Peter Wallensteen, leader of the program.

Aside from the war in Syria, developments in some other major conflicts also contributed to the gloomy numbers. In Somalia and Yemen violence escalated and fatalities increased markedly.

After a three-year period where few peace processes reached a negotiated settlement, the number of peace agreements increased in 2012. During the year four accords were signed: one each in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Philippines, and also one in the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan. Even if this number is positive news at first glance, the researchers add that this needs to be seen in a larger context. The conflicts are still plentiful and the amount of concluded agreements remains well below the level of the 1990s. Furthermore, the signing of an agreement is only a first step in a long process towards peace and many of the accords have already reached a dead-end.

For a free download of the conflict data article including information on all 2012 conflicts, please visit the Sage Publications website.

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