Armed Conflict
& Intervention

“The reality in which the people in the streets and houses and fields – all the people, anywhere – are the battlefield. Military engagements can take place anywhere, with civilians around, against civilians, in defense of civilians. Civilians are the targets, objectives to be won, as much as an opposing force.”- General Sir Rupert Smith.

Intra-state war and armed conflicts, taking place within the borders of a state such as military coups, have dominated the political scene and threatened individuals and the community with violence. Since the end of the Cold War, conflicts between states have decreased dramatically. The 2005 Human Security Report from the Human Security Centre asserts that the number of armed conflicts has dropped by 40 percent from 1992 to 2001.[1] It also finds that fewer than five percent of wars take place between states, a ninety percent decline in the average number of persons killed in armed conflict since the end of the Korean War, and a concentration of world conflict on the African continent.

What we are experiencing today is mostly non-state armed conflicts, also referred to as asymmetric warfare. Non-state armed conflicts have dependently on a region increased or decreased direct death tolls: according to the 2009/2010 Human Security Report, the battle-death toll from non-state armed conflict has significantly declined in sub-Saharan Africa, yet increased in Central and South Asia between 2002 and 2008.[2]

Since the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. in 2001, we have seen an upturn in international terrorism used mainly for transmitting political messages. International terrorism represents a new dimension to armed conflicts. It constitutes a new challenge and poses great difficulties to combat due to the use of technology and the decentralized organization of terrorist groups. Current criminal networks are elastic in their form and have the ability to move quickly, transform and be administered from different locations.

In 1989 non-state actors were responsible for some twenty percent of deaths from one-sided violence. By 2008 that share had risen to more than eighty percent.[3]

Proponents of modern warfare thus constitute a severe threat to human security. General Sir Rupert Smith, former deputy commander of NATO, coined the term “war amongst the people” in 2005: “these are political events with military characteristics, mostly without battlefields, wars about winning the battle of wills, not to crush but to change minds.”[4] General Smith’s statement summarizes succinctly the new challenges of military engagements in the twenty-first century.


[1] Human Security Centre. Press Release. (New York, October 17, 2005). http://www.humansecurityreport.info/press/Press_Release.pdf.

[2] Human Security Research Group. (Vancouver, 2010). http://www.hsrgroup.org/docs/Publications/HSR20092010/Figures/20092010Report_Fig11_2_BattleDeathsNonStateArmedConflictRegions.pdf.

[3] Human Security Research Group. (Vancouver, 2010). http://www.hsrgroup.org/docs/Publications/HSR20092010/Figures/20092010Report_Fig11_2_BattleDeathsNonStateArmedConflictRegions.pdf.

[4] Cooper, R. Book Review. The Utility of Force by General Sir Rupert Smith. http://www.envirosecurity.org/ges/TheUtilityOfForceByGeneralSirRupertSmith.pdf.

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