The number of global armed conflicts has been skyrocketing with violence that devastates human lives for generations to come. As a result, the model of traditional conflict has moved to the extreme such that in modern conflict, dominant groups are using advanced weaponry to threaten weaker groups. This can lead to long-term, on-going conflicts that can bring negative impacts to the human populations attempting to live in peace. Surprisingly, such international conflicts in this 21st century break the diplomacy structures of international relationships with dangerous intractable wars.
Levy reports that “the spread of global capitalism and democracy have led to considerable speculation about a turning point in the history of warfare”. The very notion of this speculation often dehumanizes people and destroys world peace. As can be seen, there is no shortage of ‘endless’ wars, fundamentally complicating conflict management and the end goal of peace.
Today, there are a thousand reasons why the international community is still struggling with such international conflicts.
Most political analysts claim that there are a few main causes of international conflicts; the way this author sees it, the political systems at play, socioeconomic factors, and natural resources are the root causes of international conflict between people, organizations, and nation-states. Understanding international conflict is crucially important in order to theorize the basis of causative armed conflict. Acknowledging the starting point of the conflict helps to differentiate between traditional and modern conflicts. After the end of the Cold War, there has been a change in how people interact with each other in the international arena.
While people-to-people interactions have changed, the definitions of international conflict have also reversed based on the types of armed conflicts.
In the Beyond Intractability website, Malek and Burgess define international conflict as “inter-group conflicts within one country when one group is fighting for independence or increased social, political, or economic power.” Other political scientists at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, categorize international conflict into several definitions, as follows: Intrastate/civil conflict, which refers to violence between a government and at least one non-governmental party within a sovereign country; Interstate conflict, which refers to violence between two or more governments; Non-state conflict, which refers to the use of armed force between two organized armed groups, neither of which is the government of a state; One-sided violence, which refers to the use of armed force by the government of a state or by a formally organized group against civilians. (“Definitions”)
However, these terms are subject to political, economic, and environmental issues. Despite these limitations, each of these definitions addresses critical elements underlying the causes of war conflict. One of the main causes of international conflict is the political systems at play. The political system of a country can be slightly different based on the types of governmental institutions and abuse of leadership power, for example, democracy or authoritarian regimes. From 210 countries and territories in the world, there are 29 countries, which are considered not free and offer no freedom for their citizens; comparatively, only 84 countries and territories are considered free (“Countries and Territories”). Without a free and fair political system, the country itself is battered and weakened. Looking at the aforementioned results from the Freedom House, there should be at least half of these countries and territories practicing democratic systems as societies move toward globalization.
Unfortunately, as Parlar Dar states, this is not the case because some of these nation-states prefer non-democratization due to the lack of resources. If a country practices a democratic system, it is less likely conflict will occur. In contrast, if a country is an authoritarian regime, most often, there will be conflict domestically, and even internationally. Smolar and Potocka argue that even though Russia and Ukraine are independent countries, they can be considered as authoritarian regimes and fall under communism due to the ricochet effect from the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, most of its post-territories are in chaos; not only are citizens allowed to choose their leaders, but also there are massive human rights violations.
In addition to the failure of governmental institutions, another factor that falls under the political system is the corruption of countries’ leaders. Corruption has become a widespread and overwhelming issue when leaders use their positions and roles for self-interest and to monopolize their power. Orjuela explains that “[c]orruption tends to transfer resources from ordinary people to elites, and from the poor to the rich, functioning as an extra tax on citizens and diverting resources from public expenditure”. As a result of their greed, political leaders lose trust from people and create borders between citizens by forcing them into socioeconomic groups of the lower, middle, and upper classes. The governments and societies of these leaders often resemble anarchic structures that do not have legitimate governmental authority. In a report from BBC News, Somalia, as an example, has not had a lawful governing institution since 1991, which has pitted the country into civil war, displacing 1.4 million Somalis globally (“Somalia”).
If Somalia had a lawful political system, its citizens would not have to seek protection from neighboring countries. In fact, war incurs many costs on a country and endangers non-combatants. Some political leaders would rather demand authority, than concern themselves with their publics. The abuse of political power can demerit and discredit countries and lead to armed destruction; likewise, a leader’s private gain will only increase social inequality within the cabinet and among the citizens. Another main cause of international conflict is associated with socioeconomic factors, which can be put into two categories, social and economic factors. There are concerns regarding the social factor’s influences on an international conflict due to the disproportionate amount of male leadership, nationally and internationally. Melander speculates that the lack of female representation in the parliament increases tensions and judgments, and most importantly there is gender inequality where women are looked down on because of their femininity.
This is one of the most controversial topics because much attention has been devoted to sexual violence. For instance, the Rohingya ethnic minority, especially Rohingya women, are experiencing everyday violence whether committed by civilians or armed males. As one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world, Rohingya Muslims are “often targeted as a means to nationalist mobilization…” and are more likely to experience intrastate conflict. The conflict has affected all the people of Rakhine State, Myanmar, and they risk being caught between ethnic armed groups—namely Buddhists—and the military, and being brutalized by both. Despite this, the Rohingya Muslims have to struggle to survive for their lives. Gender inequality and discrimination against ethnic minorities represent a systemic abuse of social structure and has resulted in the longest-running conflict in the international field.
Looking at the economic factor, most armed conflicts manifest because political leaders fail to successfully manage their countries’ economies. Moreover, countries with poor economies and poor governance are most likely to experience recurring conflict. Schneider agrees that economic interdependence can be a result of the increased risk of militarized interstate disputes because of the saliency in the trading and asymmetry relationships. According to his statement, economic wealth and inequality generate greed and grievances that can incite a civil war. In the African regions alone, there is a disproportionate number of conflicts in regions with extreme poverty rates. Taking the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example, the World Bank has contributed to help the country fight poverty and improve living standards for the Congolese; nonetheless, the country remains as one of the poorest countries in the world, with only 4.4% economic growth in 2019 (“The World Bank in DRC”).
Even though international organizations like the World Bank become the third party of the Congolese catastrophes, the crisis is still causing disparity among the leaders and the public. Also, some economic experts have discovered that the conflict in Congo can be traced to economic behavior. Okpotor comments that negative economic behavior can lead to an increase of rebels and transnational criminal organizations in conflict zones (112). Given this information, if the country is not stable, it can become a failed state. The economic instability of a country can also interferes with global security and lead to international conflict. Altogether, the socioeconomic factors have long-standing causation in diminishing peace.
The final main cause of international conflict is natural resources. Without natural resources, there will not be an inclusive and successful political and economic system. However, if there are plenty of natural resources, it may spur armed conflict. Economic analysts hypothesize that “resources abundance might increase the value of the state as a target of violence”. States that have rich resources, such as oil and gold, are most likely to be targeted because natural resources are a source of money, and resource exploitation can lead to scarcity, raise frustration among the citizens, and provoke conflict regionally. For this reason, North Korea, for example, has still not globalized because the dictator and other leaders in the country exploit most of the natural resources from water to energy. Not only that, but the leaders also use the resources to build nuclear weapons. Even though North Korea is isolated and the economy faltered, its nuclear weapons development has caused tensions between neighboring countries and the international community, especially the United States.
The use of nuclear weapons not only can kill many people, but also can destroy and damage the environment. Competition over natural resources increases the chances and facilitation of conflict between political leaders whether they are pro- or anti-governments. If this conflict is not resolved, civilians may experience severe starvation and famine. Hsieh et al. estimate that about two million North Korean citizens starved to death due to food shortage in the 20th century. Inadequate resources in North Korea is resulting in the opportunity for armed conflict. The linkages between natural resources and armed conflicts are the inclusion of international conflict as well as one of the major implications for the promotion of interstate and intrastate war.
In addition to the scarcity of natural resources, there is another issue that can bring a power-based of armed conflict that is terrorism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes terrorism into two categories, international and domestic terrorism. International terrorism means “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored) “(“Terrorism”). On the other hand, domestic terrorism is “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature” (“Terrorism”). In order to relate natural resources with terrorism, domestic terrorism may apply in this case because terrorist groups’ focus is to gain control over the natural resources of a country, especially if the country’s natural resource is oil. In fact, most of the oil-based countries are in the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria.
These two countries are still in war conflict due to terrorist attacks by the Islamic States’ rebellions because they want to exploit the natural resource. Deutch argues that because terrorist groups take over the countries, it leads to the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) after the post-9/11 tragedy, especially in Syria. Negatively, resource-rich countries in the Middle East are dysfunctional politically and economically. Counterterrorism has threatened and increased oppression of radicalization and emergency in poor and failed states. Given these points, violence from terrorist groups will divide people and encourage international conflict between actor states. In conclusion, the main causes of international conflict in the subject of the political system, socioeconomic factors, and natural resources have a strong relationship with one another. From previous research, these three causes can impact the diplomacies and partnerships between countries. Understanding the terms of international conflict are important to differentiate them into their definitions and events.
The political system of a country can be weakened if political leaders abuse their power and do not promote democracy in their governments. That is why corruption ruins the countries and the elite dominate the seats in the parliaments. Socioeconomic factors, on the contrary, limit the public’s involvement to protect their fundamental rights. Women are more likely to be victimized during armed conflict; there are gender inequality issues nationally and internationally. Furthermore, the economic system also can induce insecurity, and increase poverty rates if leaders fail to manage the economy. Continuous competitions for power (greed and grievances) destroy peace because it causes the exploitation of natural resources and counterterrorism. All these elements are some of the international conflicts that have devastated human lives and armed conflict has demolished the world peace.