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Trends in Armed Conflict, 1946–2015

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The world reached a level of conflict deaths in 2014–2015 that is unparalleled in the post-Cold War period. The ability of the international community to contain some of the conflicts that have the greatest regional impacts determines whether we will see a long-term trend of intensified conflict, or a return to lower levels of violence.

Brief Points

• There has been a slight decline in total battle deaths from 2014 to 2015.

• Due to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of casualties in 2014 and 2015 has risen to the highest level since the end of the Cold War.

• The number of armed conflicts in the world rose from 41 to 50 from 2014 to 2015, mostly due to an increase in rebel groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.

Kendra Dupuy: Chr. Michelsen Institute & PRIO
Scott Gates: University of Oslo & PRIO
Håvard Mokleiv Nygård: Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Ida Rudolfsen: Uppsala University & PRIO
Håvard Strand: University of Oslo & PRIO
Henrik Urdal: Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Recent Trends

The number of armed conflicts in the world in 2015 was 50 according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the highest number since 1992. Over 97,000 people were killed as a direct consequence of armed conflicts in 2015, a slight decline from 104,000 in 2014. Yet, the number of people killed in conflict in 2014 and 2015 is higher than any other time in the post-Cold War period. Since the end of the Cold War, the trend in armed conflict has been generally downward as seen in Figure 1. Yet in recent years, we have seen upsurges in both the number of conflicts and the severity of war. Does this portend an end to the waning of war?

The number of conflicts increased from 41 in 2014 to 50 in 2015, the highest number since 1991. The number of wars – conflicts with more than 1,000 battle deaths – went down from 12 in 2014 to 11 in 2015. The number of minor armed conflicts increased from 29 to 39.

The eleven wars in 2015 accounted for 92% of all battle deaths, whereas the 39 minor conflicts accounted for only 8% of the total. There is stability in the pattern of the largest conflicts:
Of the eleven wars, nine were also categorized as wars in 2014. Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria (registered as two wars), Afghanistan, Somalia, Ukraine and Pakistan had continuations of ongoing wars in 2015. Nigeria had an additional conflict that saw over 1,000 battle deaths in 2015, while the conflict in Sudan also reached the status of full war. The conflict in South Sudan went below 1,000 deaths, while one of the two conflicts in Ukraine and the Israel/Palestine conflict are not registered as having been active in 2015. Of the ten conflicts that took the most lives in 2014, only two (Afghanistan and Yemen) became more violent in 2015. Seven of the largest conflicts (Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine) became less violent, while one (Somalia) saw no major change.