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World conflict in the 21st century

Updated on February 2, 2013

Armed conflict will increase in the twenty first century. History has taught us that there have always been conflicts. Indeed it is difficult to imagine a period of human history where there were no conflicts. Currently today there are approximately 80 major conflicts around the world. History has also taught us that we simply do not learn from past mistakes and that we are seemingly doomed to repeat them. It is this basic ignorance that fuels conflicts. I will begin by looking at some of the common root causes of today’s conflicts

There are numerous reasons for conflict, which I believe will continue into and beyond the twenty first century. Conflicts that have been raging for centuries now, conflicts such as the disagreement over Kashmir. The dispute over Kashmir is as old as the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947. The division was made by the British rulers who gave the two countries independence. Since then, India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the region and a series of military engagements. The most recent battle was over the Kargil sector in 1999. Although the possibility of war can never be completely ruled out, both countries are extremely aware of the consequences of letting any tension build to tightly along the border. If tempers begin to escalate out of control, both countries are nuclear powers, thus the world can be in for another major war. This conflict stems from the clash of religion and culture. India is protesting that Kashmir is for Hindus and Pakistan says it’s for the Muslims. It can boil down to a battle for power, and strength of religion. If Pakistan gives in to India on Kashmir borders then Islam is seen as weaker than Hinduism. This one part is what makes diplomatic negations so hard. Peace in this conflict would only be achieved through a compromise which at the present neither party is willing to do.

The next past armed conflict I looked at to conclude my belief of increase in armed conflicts in the twenty first century is the clash between Israel and Palestine. Following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Palestine was granted to Britain as a League of Nations mandate to build a national home for the Jewish people. The Arabs resented the Jews coming in to take their land. Led by Grand Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini, they rioted repeatedly and later revolted, creating a history of enmity between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Britain stopped Jewish immigration to Palestine. These territorial disputes I believe will also play a significant role in the amount of armed conflicts. As more and more people migrate from one country to another, groups can form and thus tensions can arise. In 1947, the UN partitioned the land into Arab and Jewish states. The Arabs did not accept the partition and war broke out. The Jews won a decisive victory, expanded their state and created several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees. The Arab states refused to recognize Israel or make peace with it. Wars broke out in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982, and there were many terror raids and Israeli reprisals. Diplomats and other heads of state around the world have been trying to find peace in this dispute. What will make the next hundred years any different? In my opinion time might not be the answer, a total separation of both cultures might.

While this issue was over territory between two different people, the genocide in Rwanda was in a nutshell the slaughtering of one tribe. Rwanda experienced Africa's worst genocide in modern times and is still recovering from the shock. But its efforts at recovery were marred by its intervention in the conflict in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has been beset by ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus. Although after 1959 the ethnic relationship was reversed, when civil war prompted around 200,000 Tutsis to flee to Burundi, lingering resentment led to periodic massacres of Tutsis. Intervention from outside powers will also play an enormous role in the control of conflicts, as shown in Rwanda. A total of 800,000 died and this occurred in one of the smallest countries in the world. This could of easily been stopped and deescalated by the larger powers, however they did not see an interest in Rwanda. There is very little preventing another one of these genocides from occurring again. As state before history repeats itself, the world swore we would and could not let genocide occur especially after what happened with the killing of Jews by Hitler and the Nazi party.

One of the most recent conflicts arising is the conflict over soft lumber trade between the US and Canada. This issue brings up misconceptions and misinterpretations in economic trade. The Canadian defense involves federal and provincial governments and the forest industry. The federal government has the overall responsibility for coordinating national activities related to the countervailing duty, while provincial governments have the lead in addressing the allegations that relate to provincial programs. The forest industry has the lead in the anti dumping duty case. The US and Canada are in this case able to use diplomatic negations to bring peace and prevent any further escalation of tension. Although this may and probably will not escalate into an all out war between Canada and the US, if this dispute occurred among underdeveloped nuclear capable countries with the right amount of tension and disagreement this situation can easily turn into an armed conflict.

Currently the US is the world’s foremost superpower, however what will happen when in the upcoming future when nations such as China and India become superpowers the same as or bigger then the US? Military force will no longer be a main solution for conflicts, due to America’s tiny 300 million population compared to China and India’s population rounding 2.5 billion. Time can only show us whether the world will move to more diplomatic means of solving conflicts.

The examples above show that there are a vast number of forces that can drive conflict. There are many forces which I believe increase the likelihood of a flash point for armed conflict in the twenty first century. These include poverty, power, globalization and militarism. Impoverished countries will look for resources to feed their hungry masses. These are only a few reasons why I see armed conflict increasing in the twenty first century. Globalization will probably be the main factor fueling conflict in the twenty first century. Many religions and cultures are going to be forced to trade and get along with each another. Combine that with the fight for power, and tension can easily be created. This exposure to a crossing of cultural boundaries mixed with misconceptions can lead to a competition for religious power. There has been and always will be a power war, due to the need of one group to dominate others. Examples of this are colonialism and slavery. The larger countries will continue to exploit the smaller ones and for scarce resources in Third World countries. This could push desperate masses in Third World countries to revolt against their own governments. Armed conflict in the twenty first century can also be civil. The citizens of underdeveloped countries might get displeased with how their country is being run and eventually turn against them. Larger countries could potentially ally with other powerful nations of similar size to form economic blocks that can dictate trade to smaller ones. Economic size and again the competition to be the biggest will definitely play a part in armed conflicts. Smaller nations could band together and try to topple a larger country with hopes of competing on the national stage. However even if smaller and larger nations are not actively trying to overthrow other nations they will arm themselves and so increase the chances of an arms race. “Do unto others before they do onto you type of attitude”. This growing tension of trying to arm oneself will reach such a large extent that other countries will see this as a preparation for attack, thus tensions will rise and at a certain point diplomatic intervention will be futile. As discussed in class one of the main reasons for war is misconceptions and misinterpretations between states. When societies begin to get even more diverse with time these misunderstandings could breed fear and from fear comes the fight or flight response. Thus if a nation wants to continue to be independent they need to fight.

Basic human instinct will also play a part in armed conflicts in the twenty first century. Greed, dishonesty, fabrication and hypocrisy cannot be suddenly erased from our genes. Since the beginning of time man has been greedy. This is still evident today with nations wanting to keep increasing in size even if it means exploiting underdeveloped countries. Today there are many more issues then what we faced in the twentieth century. Terrorism and rise of non governmental bodies are playing an enormous role in conflict today. They are even more readily able to go to war. These bodies are always plotting attacks, thus nations need to be prepared which can spark arms races. This trend of armed conflict is becoming more evident today especially with religious fundamentalists.




Armed Conflict in the 21st Century: The Information Revolution and Post-Modern Warfare. Steven Metz, April 2000


Global Security Concerns (Anticipating the Twenty First Century) Dr. Karl P. Magyar, Lt Col Bradley S. Davis., Air University Press March 1996


Four Great Conflicts of the Twenty First Century: William H. Starbuck, New York University



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