The sudden and dramatic popular uprisings in parts of the Middle East and North Africa, which together constituted the “Arab Spring”, point to the emergence of a significantly different conflict environment than that which prevailed for much of the 20th century, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says.
“This has involved important shifts in the scale, intensity and duration of armed conflict around the world, and in the principal actors involved in violence,” the Swedish NGO says in its 2012 Yearbook.
“The events of last year were not isolated in terms of contemporary conflict trends. In fact, they echoed changes that have been occurring in armed conflict for decades. Taken together, these changes suggest that there’s a new kind of conflict environment emerging, one in which international interventions become far more difficult to carry out,’ stated Dr Neil Melvin, Director of the SIPRI Armed Conflict programme.
The Yearbook adds the “uprisings of the Arab Spring spread rapidly from country to country and soon affected large parts of North Africa and the Middle East. While they shared a number of traits—including large demonstrations, non-violent actions, the absence of single leaders and the use of central squares in major cities—they also differed in certain respects. The extent of the demands made by the protesters varied, ranging from improved economic situations to regime change, as did the level of violence. While there were comparatively few fatalities in Algeria and Morocco, other countries—including Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen—were much more severely affected. The highest levels of violence were in Libya and Syria,” the Yearbook reads.
International reactions varied, with external support limited to a few cases. “Western powers, notably France and the USA, initially supported governments in Egypt and Tunisia but then began to push for change. In the case of Libya, they quickly took an active stand against the regime, with the UN’s approval and NATO as the instrument. Over conflict in Syria, China and Russia, both of which had become increasingly critical of the international use of force, opposed Western-led efforts to sanction the ruling regime. The scope for third-party involvement in solving these crises was remarkably limited, and serious negotiations only occurred in Yemen.
The outcomes of the first year of the Arab Spring were mixed. There were examples of regime change but also cases where popular resistance was repressed. Nevertheless, Arab politics has been
changed by this historically unique series of events, SIPRI adds.
SIPRI also notes that over the period 2001–10 there were 69 armed conflicts worldwide and 221 non-state conflicts and 127 actors were involved in one-sided violence. “Thus, in total, there were more than 400 violent actions that each resulted in the deaths of more than 25 people in a particular year. The extent of organized violence at the end of the decade was lower than at its beginning, although the decline was not dramatic. Moreover, while in the 1990s there were wide fluctuations in the number of conflicts, this pattern was not repeated in the 2000s, indicating that the downward trend may be a promising sign of future developments.”