The CSS Blog Network

Less Armed Conflict but More Political Violence in Africa

Courtesy of Steve Snodgrass/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 12 April 2017.

Conflict data sources show fewer armed conflicts, but are we getting the full picture?

Political violence in Africa is rising and it is more complex than before. But it is significantly less deadly than in previous decades, according to a number of conflict data sources.

Open-source conflict data is increasingly used to supplement reporting and analysis of trends in instability in Africa. A number of recent global reports, including the OECD States of Fragility 2016: Understanding Violence, use conflict data to show changes in conflict type, actors, tactics and intensity across and within countries over time.

While Africa accounted for only 16% of the global population in 2016, more than a third of global conflict took place here last year. Leading conflict data projects such as the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) show that conflict incidents in Africa rose significantly between 2010 and 2014, but have been declining since 2015.

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Carl von Clausewitz Reviewed

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This article was originally published in Volume 17, Number 2 of the Canadian Military Journal in spring 2017.

These four recent books on the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) attest yet again to this master theorist’s ongoing interest to practitioners and scholars in the fields of strategy, international relations, military theory, and civil-military relations. His masterpiece, On War, has been of enormous influence worldwide ever since its posthumous publication in the 1830s. There have been innumerable testimonials to its impact, but four will suffice here to make the point. According to Major-General JFC Fuller, Clausewitz rises to the level of a Galileo, a Euler, or a Newton. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) considered Clausewitz the intellectual master of all writers on the subject of war, and the British philosopher W.B. Gallie is of the view that On War was the first and to date, the only book of outstanding intellectual eminence on the subject of war. Finally, one of the leading strategic theorists still writing today, Colin Gray, has concluded that for as long as humankind engages in warfare, Clausewitz must rule.1

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Oman’s Unique Approach to Mediation: A Solution for Sunni-Shia Conflicts?

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.

The Sultanate of Oman is a peaceful country on the southeastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula. The 2016 Global Terrorism Index gives the country a score of “0”, which means there is “no impact of terrorism” within its borders. It’s noteworthy that Oman is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with such a score, which makes it one of the safest countries in the world.

There are several factors that explain Oman’s internal security. It is a relatively wealthy nation, its ruler – Sultan Qaboos – believes in progressive governance, and Omanis share a meticulous approach to mediation, which is shaped in part by Ibadi Islamic law. (Ibadism is the form of Islam practiced by the majority of the population in Oman. It’s an ancient and ascetic branch of Islam that dates to the first century A.H. and is respected by both Sunni and Shia jurists for its rigorous and scholastic approach to jurisprudence, among other features.) Given these helpful influences and the stature of Ibadism, it is justifiable to argue that Oman’s unique method of mediation may provide one of the keys to resolving conflicts that have both intra-extra-Islamic dimensions.

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Fish Wars: How Fishing Can Start – and Stop – Conflict

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This article was published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 17 March 2017.

On February 18, the US sent naval ships to the South China Seas, an area of armed tension over rich but dwindling fishing grounds (among other things). The following day, a newspaper headline proclaimed the risk of “global fish wars” sparked by climate change and rising nationalism.

Is the world on the brink of interstate fish wars? Probably not: a large-scale military dispute is not likely to erupt over tuna, and conflict over fish affected by climate change could occur over a long time horizon. But as fish become more difficult to find, understanding the links between fisheries and violent armed conflict is increasingly important.

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Spiritual Ardor and Military Might: The Story of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 March 2017.

Afshon Ostovar, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Oxford University Press, 2016)

This past September in an audience hall in Tehran, a prominent vocalist named Sadegh Ahangaran took to a microphone to justify an Iranian military adventure. Ahangaran had earned the nickname “the nightingale of the Imam” for his melodies of martyrdom decades earlier during the Iran-Iraq War, his defiant voice often the last thing Iranian combatants heard before death. In his more recent performance, Ahangaran drew on these talents to serenade a similar crowd, but about a different war.

“I must break their windpipes in Aleppo, so that their feet do not touch Kermanshah,” sang Ahangaran, clad in the uniform of a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Reaching a crescendo, he thundered, “Since we have said no to the arrogance, we have disturbed the dream of the enemy … We are behind the Mullah until martyrdom.” Enraptured by the recital and seated on the floor before him were soldiers and commanders, past and present, of the IRGC. On a stage directly in front of them was their Mullah – Iran’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief – Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

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