During our work monitoring the world’s armed conflicts, we look at a number of criteria to discern whether a country is in conflict, rather than suffering from high levels of violent criminality. A conflict’s duration and tempo, as well as the threat it poses to the state, are key factors, explains Anastasia Voronkova.

ACS 2017By Dr Anastasia Voronkova, Editor, Armed Conflict Survey

Since the publication of the Armed Conflict Survey 2017 there has been a lot of discussion of our finding that Mexico is the second-most lethal conflict worldwide. Should the violence in Mexico even be considered a conflict or is it simply organised criminality, albeit on a large scale?

During our work monitoring the world’s armed conflicts, we look at a number of criteria to discern whether a country is in conflict, rather than suffering from high levels of violent criminality. Firstly, we consider the duration and tempo. Those in which the violence is sustained over many years and with consistent intensity tend to qualify; those that experience periodic spikes in violence do not. Secondly, is the violence a threat to the state, as well as the citizen? For instance, is the government’s territorial control in question? And finally, has the state recognised the threat in these terms and responded with force? Sadly, Mexico meets all these criteria. Other Latin American countries, such as Brazil, may be in the grip of high levels of criminal violence, but their governments have greater territorial control, and violence ebbs and flows.

The IISS Armed Conflict Database has been monitoring Mexico for ten years. It classifies Mexico as an armed conflict because the national government has characterised criminal cartels as an existential threat. When in 2006 then-president Felipe Calderón ordered the deployment of 6,500 troops to battle the cartels in Michoacán, to be followed shortly by the dispatch of another 35,000 to other regions, he did so on the basis that organised crime had become a threat to national security. He reiterated that characterisation in 2010. Undoubtedly, the state has succeeded in fragmenting the largest cartels.

The Armed Conflict Survey provides estimates of annual fatalities in each of the 37 armed conflicts that it tracks. Both in the Armed Conflict Survey and Armed Conflict Database, we are counting the absolute number of conflict-related fatalities. We do not make any assessment of levels of violence, and for that reason we do not adjust the figures by population.

Each conflict that we monitor is different, with its own causes and particular pattern of violence. Our coverage includes the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, through to the long-running conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa that largely consume United Nations peacekeeping efforts, to insurgencies in the Philippines and Myanmar, and so-called ‘frozen’ conflicts such as Nagorno-Karabakh. Organised crime is a common thread running through an increasing number of these.


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