A world at war - Issue 56 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

The 20th century was the most violent in recorded history. According to historian Eric Hobsbawm, around 187 million deaths were caused by or associated with wars – more than 10 per cent of the global population at the start of the century.

Yet it ended relatively peacefully and, despite the fall-out from September 11, this century has – so far – been considerably less violent. Closer trade between nations has helped: in an increasingly interdependent world, countries would prefer not to go to war when billions of dollars of enterprise are at stake. However, the world remains littered with conflicts, from militaristic chest-beating that threatens to turn violent to all-out civil wars with the daily death tolls approaching three figures. There are also 17 UN peacekeeping missions stationed in various locations, though in most cases there is little peace to actually keep.

This map details 20 conflicts from around the world but, sadly, it is not an exhaustive list. From Mexico to Western Sahara, Guinea-Bissau to Georgia, there are threats to peace. While the dominant battle of the second half of the 20th century, communism vs capitalism, ended with the demise of the Berlin Wall, there are enough religious and ideological divides – as well as land and resource-based disputes – to ensure that a peaceful world remains a distant dream.

Conflict map



More than two decades of fighting shows little sign of abating. Islamist militia group al-Shabaab controls much of southern and central Somalia; African Union forces and Ethiopian and Kenyan troops are fighting back. Pirates operate off the Somali coast, where Nato warships patrol the area. 



The success of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the south has given hope to other rebel groups, particularly in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions. Khartoum is relying on militia groups and Antonovs, used to deadly effect in Darfur.


Sudan/South Sudan

A peace deal ended a 22-year civil war in 2005 and the south finally gained independence last year, but disputes over the border, security and oil have led to more clashes. South Sudan’s tacit support for rebel groups in the north doesn’t help. 


DR Congo

At one stage Congo’s wars dragged in nine of its neighbours. The country is now nominally democratic yet much of the east contains warring militia groups. A recent UN report claimed that one such group, M23, had the support of neighbouring Rwanda.



Until recently, Mali was viewed from the outside as relatively stable and democratic. The ease with which a junior officer led a bloodless coup this year tainted that image; the subsequent swiftness of a rebellion in the north destroyed it for good. Islamist militias continue to terrorise the northern population.



The bloodiest Arab uprising shows little sign of abating. It is a war that has dragged in several other countries: Russia, China and Iran have all given support to President Assad, while Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are backing the opposition. The US, UK and France lurk in the background.



Turkey is not the only country bordering Syria to be affected by the violence there. There have been clashes in Tripoli, while tension is once again increasing in Beirut. 



The prospects of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians is as remote as ever. The Israeli government is far more concerned with the perceived threat from Iran.



The 2003 invasion of Iraq toppled dictator Saddam Hussein but a sectarian-fuelled conflict continues. Al-Qaeda affiliate groups continue to plot and execute violent attacks, largely against Shi’ite targets. Their latest series of attacks claimed hundreds of lives. Al-Qaeda announced it as the start of a “new stage of jihad [called] Destroying the Walls.”



The landlocked central Asian country has been mired in conflict for decades. Most recently, the US-led invasion of 2001 debunked the Taliban and set about dismantling al-Qaeda bases in the country. Over 10 years later and 130,000 Nato troops still remain in the country fighting a resilient Taliban insurgency. Nato forces are set to withdraw in 2014 and peace talks with the Taliban are underway. 


North Korea/South Korea

More appears to be known about the personal life of Kim Jong-un than his political outlook. Behind-the-scenes manoeuvring has given the rest of the world a glimpse of the internal power struggle at work here. However, some things never change: the prospect of a serious confrontation with the South is as real as ever.



You say Senkaku, I say Diaoyu, let’s call the whole thing off – before we start a war over a bunch of uninhabited islands.



Hundreds of troops from Thailand and Cambodia have now been withdrawn from a disputed border area, though neither side is confident that peace is assured. At issue is ownership of land surrounding a 900-year-old Khmer temple.



These days the proxy battle between these two countries has been fought more in Afghanistan than Kashmir, and with money rather than weapons. Nuclear-armed Pakistan’s unstable political situation frightens not just India. The rest of the world also fears what could happen if the Pakistan government fails.



The Falklands is still at the “severe chest-beating” level, despite Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s efforts to increase pressure on the UK. Both sides have beefed up their military in the area.



One of the most violent countries in one of the world’s most violent regions. The appointment of a crusading attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, presents an element of hope.



The island has been divided into a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north for more than three decades. During conflicts in the 1960s and 1970s, around 500 Turkish Cypriots and 1,500 Greek Cypriots went missing. Few have been found, hence more violence.



Sharing a 822km-long border with Syria, Turkey has realised that its desire for “zero problems” in the neighbourhood is doomed. The military build-up along the border comes as the once-calm Kurdish situation also threatens to ignite.


Basque region

The Spain-ETA conflict has been referred to as “Europe’s longest war”. The first attacks were against the Franco administration and continued throughout the 20th century. In October 2011, ETA announced a “definitive cessation of its armed activity” but some radical off-shoots of the organsiation still exist.



A separatist movement in the French-administered Mediterranean island had lain dormant for several years after a wave of attacks during the 1990s, but in recent months there have been signs of its re-emergence.

Share on:






Go back: Contents



sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • Global Music