In a hyperconnected world where the hybride nature of conflicts is prominent in each and every part of the planet and the sophistication of lethal weapons causes for great concerns, the essence of conflict is facing an enormous change of scale. Thus, the nature of attacks or modern wars have changed over the years and seems to have reached a point of no return.
In the past two decades, a number of reports showed that the very character and tactics of armed conflicts tremendously evolved. These developments have created new threats to civilians where women and children are playing an important part and are often themselves directly in the forefront. In fact, as stated in official assessment reports “the absence of clear battlefields, the increasing number and diversification of parties add to the complexity of conflicts”. In addition, mass terrorism and counter-terrorism activities are rather confusing and one can note a thin line between what is judged permitted and what is not in tackling security threats. For instance the deliberate targeting of safe havens according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols of 1977, such as schools or hospitals, is giving a totally new vision of what’s at stake here. Having said that, we can only note that the nature of conflicts and violence in general has transformed a lot since the end of WW II and the creation of the United Nations 75 years ago.
Indeed, conflicts engage less states than local or global organized groups nowadays. On another side, technological progress tends to render weapons more and more lethal and the recent innovations such as drones allow a deeper control on conflict zones and on the enemy’s actions. In the middle of a more violent world, the global potential to understand, prevent and solve conflicts is currently living an unprecedented crisis because international cooperation is difficult to achieve and many conflicts are frozen and entrenched. It is a fact that today’s conflicts are deeply rooted and last longer – this is for example the case in Syria which entered its 10 years of war, in Ukraine since 2014, in South Sudan and in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Unresolved regional tensions, illicit economy and the absence of rule of law are among others factors driving new conflicts. Aside of “classical” conflicts, organized crime and human trafficking networks are on the rise too, especially help by political instability, social movements and mounting global poverty.
On the other hand, violent extremism is also spanning broader areas as extremist organizations have now all access to the Internet which allows for more efficient and effective recruitment, incitement and propaganda. As an official UN report highlights: ” Conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism with more than 99 per cent of all terrorist-related deaths occurring in countries involved in violent conflicts and where there are high levels of economic development but lack of economic opportunities. The majority of deadly attacks take place in the Middle-East, Noth Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria”. Meanwhile various incidents and attacks happen in developing countries as well and are perpetrated by individuals that can be considered either as ‘ lone wolfs’ or as taking part in a bigger picture. As the report mentions: “There has been a sizeable increase in the number of attacks carried out by actors with far-right, white nationalist, or Anti-Muslim beliefs in both Western Europe and North America in the past two decades”.
Meanwhile, there is also a big concern with regard to the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on future conflicts and wars realm. Actually, the possibility of control over Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), that is to say Biological, Chemical or Nuclear and Radiological Weapons is a true and real danger. Similarly, cyberattacks are everywhere and even take place in the public sphere such as elections’s process. According to numerous special and intelligence services, these latters have doubled in the past two years. Nuclear power plants, airports and hospitals can be easy targets for they provide essential frameworks and commonly stand for vital infrastructures to a country’s life. In a certain way, disinformation and misuse of data with a view to deceive and corrupt people’s minds are also a form of violence. In this context, the generalisation of what is called ‘deepfakes’ which is the fact of generating convincing though false images, audio/video contents and duplicating fake information can lead to instability and create overall confusion for both individuals and countries. The geopolitical realities are continuously on the move and international governance is currently transforming and with the uncertainty powered by the post COVID-19 world, it is essential to get the whole picture to be able to understand the new nature of upheavals. Not to forget that in this new order, non-state actors, NGOs, GAFA and the private sector have a growing influence. Finally we observe urban riots developing and lasting longer than before, triggered by burning unsolved questions regarding ethnicity and gratuitious violences and calling for dignity and respect for All. This is the case in the USA with the movement ‘Black Lives Matter’ or in Hong Kong where anger and public demonstrations in the streets did not stop at all after lockdowns.
In today’s globalized world where technological evolution grows faster and faster and new powers want to play a leading part on the international chessboard, one has to pay special attention to the slightest events occurring and to the ever- transforming nature of conflicts. Understanding conflict analysis’ trends and new different conflict motivations constitute helpful tools but in order to fulfill SDG # 16, that is to tend towards more peaceful, just and inclusive societies, political courage as well as stronger collaboration and trust between states, civil society and the private sector are deeply required.
Anne Marrillet holds a Master in History as well as a Master in European Studies from the European Institute of the University of Geneva. After working as Project Officer at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, she focuses on International Security and Human Rights and is also strongly interested in inter-disciplinary topics.