Why Stealth Conflicts?
When I first began researching conflict more than ten years ago, it seemed logical to start by getting a broad overview of the situation – laying out a map of the world and checking country by country to find out where in the world conflict was occurring and how severe it was. While death toll figures from conflicts are notoriously unreliable, it quickly became clear that the vast majority of the world’s deadliest conflicts were happening in Africa. It also became clear that most of the conflicts that were holding the interest and attention of the outside world were in fact relatively small in comparison.
I began comparing counts of death tolls from a variety of sources – death tolls that include (importantly) the nonviolent deaths caused by conflict-related starvation and disease. At latest count (sometime last year), conflicts in Africa accounted for some 88 percent of the world’s conflict-related deaths since the end of the Cold War. Eight of the world’s ten deadliest conflicts since that time have been in Africa, with Iraq and Afghanistan being the only conflicts outside of Africa to fall within the world’s ten deadliest conflicts.
But perhaps the most glaring point to note is the scale of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which utterly dwarfs any other conflict in our time. With the most recent count of the death toll reaching 5.4 million, it is four times deadlier than the second most deadly conflict, and is possibly the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II (with the possible exception of the Korean War). Yet, for all of the advances in communications technology and apparent humanitarian concern of our times, the conflict has consistently failed to attract the attention of the outside world. Instead, it is conflicts literally one thousand times smaller (and smaller) that have consistently found themselves in the spotlight of humanitarian and political concern – in Kosovo (with a death toll of 2,000 before the NATO bombing), and Israel-Palestine (with a death toll of roughly 5,000).
While I realized that for powerful policymakers, national/political interests mean far more than any notion of humanitarian concern related to the death toll of a particular conflict, humanitarian rhetoric was always a central pillar of the response. More importantly, those that have supposedly taken on the role of watchdog of the policymakers, and/or the objective viewers of the world – the media, civil society organizations and academia – seemed to be reading from very similar scripts when it came time to decide which conflict demanded the attention of the outside world at any given time. While certain actors may have held very divergent views regarding what should be done in response to a particular conflict, the vast majority seemed to hold very similar views about which conflict was important.
This has meant that not only is there a huge problem with the failure to respond with any semblance of proportion to the world’s deadliest conflicts by those able to respond, but it has also meant that there are very few who are even able to notice or point out the problem itself. It is scandalous that the world’s deadliest conflicts are not the object of attention and concern. It is doubly scandalous that this state of affairs is not even recognized as a scandal.
But how can this be possible in this day and age? How can there be such a unison outpouring of humanitarian concern for the victims of a relatively small conflict, such selective indignation, and at the same time almost blanket silence in response to a conflict responsible for an infinitely greater amount of suffering? How can we claim ignorance about the world’s deadliest conflicts, and at the same time be so closely connected to the largest and most advanced information gathering and delivery system the world has ever seen? How can this situation persist when an unprecedented number and variety of entities are now taking an interest and involving themselves in global affairs?
It is the desire to answer these questions that has led to the research I have conducted. I believe I have found some of the answers. I will continue to search for more (and more accurate) answers, and I will continue to work to bring them to light.