Current Affairs

Unresolved legacies of the old: World Conflict

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    29th May, 2021
Unresolved legacies of the old: World Conflict


  • From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, 2020 has been an eventful year.
  • In 2021, the world is dealing with the aftermath and sifting through the debris.
  • Start with the pandemic, which has precipitated a global economic crisis without precedent since World War II, with an additional 150 million people being driven below the extreme poverty line. 
  • Although the consequences do not directly correlate with conflict, violence is more likely during periods of economic volatility.

Emerge of a New Era of Conflict and Violence

The world has transformed rapidly in the decade since the end of the Cold War. An old system is gone and, although it is easy to identify what has changed, it is not yet clear that a new system has taken its place. The nature of conflict and violence has transformed substantially.

  • The list of potentially epoch-making changes is familiar by now:
    • the end of an era of bipolarity
    • a new wave of democratization
    • increasing globalization of information and economic power
    • more frequent efforts at international coordination of security policy
    • a rash of sometimes-violent expressions of claims to rights based on cultural identity
    • a redefinition of sovereignty that imposes on states new responsibilities to their citizens and the world community
  • Conflicts between domestic groups: Conflicts now tend to be less deadly and often waged between domestic groups rather than states.
  • Homicides: Homicides are becoming more frequent in some parts of the world.

If homicide rates keep climbing at the current rate of 4 per cent, then Sustainable Development Goals 16 – which includes a target ‘to significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere’ – will not be met by 2030. 

  • Gender-based attacks: Also, gender-based attacks are increasing globally. The long-term impact on development of inter-personal violence, including violence against children, is also more widely recognized.
  • Technological advancement concerns: Separately, technological advances have raised concerns about lethal autonomous weapons and cyberattacks, the weaponization of bots and drones, and the livestreaming of extremist attacks.
    • There has also been a rise in criminal activity involving data hacks and ransomware, for example.
  •  Meanwhile, international cooperation is under strain, diminishing global potential for the prevention and resolution of conflict and violence in all forms.

What about terrorism?

  • While terrorism remains widespread, its impact has been waning in recent years.
  • Globally, the number of deaths attributed to terrorism dropped for a third consecutive year in 2018, to under 19,000.
  • Attacks have become less lethal as governments step up counter-terrorism efforts, regional and international coordination, and programmes to prevent and counter violent extremism.
  • In 2017, a fifth of terrorist attacks were unsuccessful, compared with just over 12 per cent in 2014. 
  • Conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with more than 99 per cent of all terrorist-related deaths occurring in countries involved in a violent conflict or with high levels of political terror.
  • The majority of deadly attacks take place in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria, bearing the heaviest burden. 

Major world conflicts


  • After almost two decades of fighting, the U.S. government signed a deal with Taliban insurgents in February.
  • Washington pledged to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in return for Taliban commitments to forbid terrorists from using the country for operations and to enter talks with the Afghan government.

India and China

  • The ties between India and China reached its lowest level due to border dispute in the Himalayan region.
  • The tension between the two world powers aggravated following skirmishes between the two militaries at the border near Pangong Lake in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.
  • Later, on the intervening night of June 15-16, around 20 Indian soldiers (including an officer) and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers died in overnight clashes.

The India-China border is divided into three sectors

  • Western: The boundary dispute in the Western Sector pertains to the Johnson Line proposed by the British in the 1860s that extended up to the Kunlun Mountains and put Aksai Chin in the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Middle: In the Middle Sector, the dispute is a minor one. It is the only one where India and China have exchanged maps on which they broadly agree.
  • Eastern: The disputed boundary in the Eastern Sector of the India-China border is over the MacMahon Line.

US & Iran

  • The beginning of the year 2020 saw a dramatic escalation in hostilities between the US and Iran, after a US drone strike killed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qassem Soleimani. 
    • Soleimani was killed on January 3 in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport.
    • Irani media outlets described Soleimani's killing as an ‘’assassination’’.

Saudi Arabia-Yemen Conflict

  • The unceremonious ouster of pro-Saudi president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi had triggered a bitter war between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2015.
  • The brutal civil war going on in Yemen has so far claimed more than 16,000 lives and left millions of people on the brink of starvation.
  • The conflict has been dubbed as a "proxy war" among major powers for control in the Middle East as a Saudi-led coalition forces fight rebels backed by Iran.
  • In a bid to end the conflict, the United Nations intervened in April 2020 and urged both sides to pursue peace talks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Saudi-led coalition called a unilateral ceasefire in April, but it carried out dozens of airstrikes within a week.
  • On July 2, the coalition fighter jets launched scores of airstrikes on several Yemeni provinces. The operation was a response to ballistic missile and drone attacks by the Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia. Both sides have attacked each other since September.
  • The UN had verified the deaths of at least 7,500 civilians by September 2019, with most caused by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. However, monitoring groups believe the death toll is far higher.

Israel-Palestine conflict

  • West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories occupied by Israel since 1967, have been at the centre of the 70-year Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are territories that have been under Israel’s occupation since 1967. 

West Bank and Gaza Strip

  • The West Bank is located to the west of the Jordan River. It is a landlocked territory, bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel to the south, west and north.
  • The Gaza Strip, on the other hand, is a small boot-shaped territory along the Mediterranean coast between Egypt and Israel.

Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes

  • In July 2020, armed forces of Armenian and Azerbaijani clashed near Movses in Tavush Province of Armenia, and Agdam in Tovuz District of Azerbaijan at the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border.
  • Both sides accused each other of reigniting the conflict, which erupted at the Ganja gap, which is a strategic route transport corridor for Azerbaijan.
  • The major reason for the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Nagorno-Karabakh region

  • Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia.
  • A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
  • Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks.
  • In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan
  • Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian
  • Russia has traditionally been seen as an ally of the Armenians.

Ethiopia’s Tigray

  • The ongoing armed conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray began in November 2020.
  • The tensions between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in Addis Ababa and leaders from the country’s northern Tigray region came out in the open after the Tigrayan forces clashed with the national military.


  • Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population.
  • Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.
  • It has a unique cultural heritage, being the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church - one of the oldest Christian denominations - and a monarchy that ended only in the coup of 1974.

Other important conflicts



India and Pakistan have fought several wars since their post-World War II split, mostly over the Himalayan highlands of Kashmir.

South China Sea


China is simultaneously involved in another major territorial dispute, but this one has primarily played out at sea. Beijing maintains vast claims to the sprawling, resource-rich waters of the South China Sea, but these conflict with boundaries drawn by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Eastern Europe


The failure of longstanding arms control measures and trust-building treaties between the U.S. and Russia has contributed to deteriorating security conditions in Europe, as has an eastern Ukrainian insurgency that the West suspects Russia is backing to reclaim its Soviet-era sphere of influence.

Syria-Turkey Border


In Syria, Russia has attempted to keep flaring tensions between Iran and Israel at bay, but Moscow faces another challenge in the country's north. The Syrian government's nationwide victories have left Idlib province the final bastion of the rebel and jihadi uprising that once threatened to take Damascus, but opposition forces here receive backing from Turkey, a NATO ally.

How the world politics is changing?

  • A potentially revolutionary change in world politics has been a de facto redefinition of “international conflict.”
  • International conflict still includes the old-fashioned war, a violent confrontation between nation states acting through their own armed forces or proxies with at least one state fighting outside its borders.
  • But now some conflicts are treated as threats to international peace and security even if two states are not fighting.
  • Particularly when internal conflicts involve violations of universal norms such as self-determination, human rights, or democratic governance, concerted international actions—including the threat or use of force—are being taken to prevent, conclude, or resolve them just as they sometimes have been for old-fashioned wars.

Recent example

  • There are various prominent recent examples. They include the
    • delayed international military responses to genocide in Rwanda
    • ethnic cleansing in Bosnia
    • repression in East Timo
    • the unprecedented military response of NATO to repression in Kosovo
    • the establishment and enforcement of no-fly zones in Iraq
    • the use of economic sanctions against South Africa and Yugoslavia
  • Threatened or enacted coups d’état against democratically established governments have also sometimes been treated as international conflicts, as in Haiti.
  • Similarly, threats of the violent dissolution of states or of their dissolution into violence have triggered international concern, as in Bosnia, Albania, and Somalia.

What are the impacts of global conflicts?

  • Displacement and refugee crisis: A more complex environment leads to more complex humanitarian impact, with sky-rocketing internal displacement and refugee numbers, with regional pressures on social delivery systems, up to full system failures.
  • Global mortality: 1.3 million people die every year due to warfare, crime, and self-directed violence. This constitutes an avoidable 2 % of global mortality.
  • Extra financial burden: The deepening impact on people also leads to skyrocketing costs: the cumulative international humanitarian response has surpassed 25 billion US dollars annually, to respond to 125 million people in need. The cost of global conflict is estimated at around 10-15 trillion US dollars per year, or 10% of global GDP.
  • Full collapse of the system: Mass housing, crowded transportation systems, concentrated or cartelized nutrition providers, water and electricity infrastructure, health and education structures: all of those are interdependent systems, which risk full collapse, when the cumulative impact of violence, or war, hit.

What measures are required?

  • Stability through basic humanitarianism
  • Enhanced dialogue and action-oriented collaboration
  • A rights-based approach
  • Sound public private partnerships and increased risk taking and investments in fragile contexts
  • Particular attention to the dynamics of fragility in urban environments

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights.
  • It was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world.
  • The Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.
  • It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. 
  • The UDHR is widely recognized as having inspired, and paved the way for, the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels (all containing references to it in their preambles). 

The road ahead

The recent dynamics and transformations of warfare that we are witnessing in many contexts are multidimensional: asymmetric conflicts, the fragmentation of actors, moving and dissolving borders, the globalization of battlefields, warfare based on terror tactics, the scale and spread of secret and remote warfare including through special operations, the State-like posturing of some non-State actors, and the list goes on.

This moment calls for a new approach that puts human rights at the center of policymaking in regard to all the world conflict issues.