Civil Wars Worldwide Are More Likely to Recur

The age of peace is growing more and more fragile. That's the new warning from the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, which had previously documented the sharp drop in the number of post-Cold War conflicts to a low of just 20 in 2004. That number spiked back up to 27 the next year and has stayed stable since, but with very disturbing indicators for the future, according to the center's 2010 report. All of the 26 current conflicts, from Afghanistan to Congo, are new or ongoing outbreaks of old civil wars, suggesting that the global subculture of violently failing states is growing more entrenched. And the vulnerability of the 25 nations most likely to see outbreaks of conflict in the near future—measured by factors long associated with war, like unstable governments and hostility to free trade—has spiked in the past two years. 

The big reason for this spike is the unfinished march of democracy. Nations that start to build democratic systems are highly volatile in the early years, as Kenya proved by moving quickly from ballots to ethnic bloodshed early last year. New democracies now most at risk of following the Kenyan experience are Congo, Burundi, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Nepal, and Kyrgyzstan. Another reason is violent neighbors: Burundi's risk is up because Congo is at war.

One answer, the study says, is to make sure that young democracies are growing more stable in other ways. The most dramatic drop in risk of war came in Iraq, where a fledgling democracy nonetheless managed large gains in other risk factors, mainly economic openness and preventing infant mortality. The nation most at risk remains Afghanistan, where democracy has done nothing to improve lives, virtually assuring that the war will continue. 

Another answer is that the world community needs to work harder to stabilize nations struggling to calm down after the shooting stops. This has helped in Serbia, where efforts to bring the Balkans into Europe have lowered the war risk. Indeed the urgency of working to reduce tension in postconflict societies is dramatized by what is not happening: there are no new wars, and no wars between states. Only old civil wars, all in danger of recurring, again and again. More and more, the troubled class of failing states is all the lone class of warring states.