Study finds decline in number of countries engaged in conflicts in 2001

Monday, December 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks rank as the ``most dangerous conflict'' of the year in a new report that found nine fewer conflicts around the world than in 2000.

Of 193 countries evaluated by the National Defense Council Foundation, 59 have had serious conflicts this year, from separatist-ethnic violence and political fighting to drug trafficking, religious turmoil and a mutiny by soldiers in Papua New Guinea over army downsizing.

The figure is nine fewer than last year's 68 countries, but still far more than the Cold War average of 35 countries, when the U.S-Soviet standoff brought the world some stability.

The annual report found no ``high-intensity conflicts pitching one state army versus another.'' Instead, most conflicts were ``low-medium intensity and were normally fought between the state and one or more sub-state actors such as a rebel force or a terrorist organization.''

The United States gained an unwanted membership on the list after the attacks, the ``most dangerous conflict'' of the year, due to the possibility of further attacks on American soil.

``There are multiple terrorist groups out there beyond Osama bin Laden,'' the report says of the man believed responsible for the Sept. 11 airliner hijackings. It noted that terrorists could take advantage of U.S. vulnerabilities by staging, for example, ``a catastrophic attack against one of our nation's ports.''

F. Andy Messing Jr., executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based foundation, said the reports are done to call attention to dangerous situations worldwide and to help U.S. officials determine how to shape any military response.

``If you don't identify the problem, you can't develop a strategy to address the problem,'' he said.

Messing, a former Army Special Forces officer, said America's military was ill-prepared for the battle against terrorism because it hasn't been reorganized to reflect the end of the Cold War. America should have led with special operations forces, not conventional forces, he said.

Not everyone agrees with the foundation's list, which is based on a country's level of disruption to its socioeconomic, political and security fabric by internal and external conflicts.

For example, the CIA's list counts conflicts, not countries, so one conflict can involve several nations, said spokesman Mark Mansfield. The agency's number for the year is 30, down one from last year. The specifics are classified, Mansfield said.

The Washington-based Center for Defense Information, which has issued reports skeptical of increased military spending, counts major conflicts that have caused at least 1,000 casualties, and separately counts potential hotspots, said chief researcher Daniel Smith, a retired Army colonel.

Major conflicts in 2001 total 38, one down from last year, and more than one-fourth involve Indonesia, India and the Philippines, by Smith's count.

``I usually restrict it to military operations involving a government versus a force, rebels or some movement that is seeking a political or economic goal,'' Smith said in an interview. He also counted 23 conflicts in suspension or areas to watch, the same as last year.

The National Defense Council Foundation also named 10 countries considered most likely to be conflict areas next year.

Topping the list is Somalia, a possible terrorist haven where warlords have been undermining transitional government, the study found. Also on that list are Iraq, Burma, Congo-Kinshasa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burundi, Sudan, Comoros and Sierra Leone.

Separatist movements, often along religious lines, was a recurrent theme this year, with Islamic groups wanting to form their own states in Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia and China.

``It does seem to indicate there are a lot of disgruntled Muslim groups in the world, frequently using Islam as an excuse for violence,'' the foundation said.

Demonstrating a certain prescience, the organization last year named Afghanistan the ``most dangerous conflict'' of 2000, given its ongoing civil war, sponsorship of international terrorism and multiple terrorist bombings, among other things.

Eleven countries, including the United States, were added this year; 20 were removed.

Ghana snagged the dubious honor of ``stupidest conflict,'' where the foundation found ``what should have been a quarrel between two young men over an act of vandalism escalated into a renewed fight between two ethnic groups,'' the Mamprusi and Kusasi.

The United States was on the list in 1996 because of drug-related violence and high crime rates. It was removed in 1997 as crime rates fell.