Marc Champion reports for Bloomberg, May 9, 2017, that according to the annual Armed Conflict Survey by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Mexico has surpassed Iraq and Afghanistan to become the world’s second-most deadly conflict zone after Syria.
In 2016, the world’s five deadliest countries are:
Syria, with 50,000 fatalities.
Mexico, 23,000 fatalities.
Iraq, 17,000 fatalities.
Afghanistan, 16,000 fatalities.
Yemen, 7,000 fatalities.
What distinguishes Mexico from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is this:
Mexico’s violence is not from war, but from the deadly activities of the country’s criminal cartels.
Yesterday, at the Armed Conflict Survey’s launch in London, IISS director general John Chipman said Mexico’s level of bloodshed was all the more surprising because “Mexico is a conflict marked by the absence of artillery, tanks or combat aviation.” Virtually all of Mexico’s deaths were caused by small arms. The largest number of fatalities occurred in Mexican states that have become “key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels,” with violence flaring as gangs try to clear areas of rivals so they can monopolize drug trafficking routes.
The Middle East in general and Syria in particular remained the most lethal regions on earth, with the nearly six-year-old-Syrian conflict claiming a further 50,000 lives. That brings the total number of deaths in Syria’s civil and proxy war to an estimated 290,000, almost three times the number killed in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
Overall, the number of people killed in armed conflicts around the world fell slightly last year to 157,000, from 167,000 in 2015. Nevertheless, the figure is high compared with the previous decade, while the number of civilians displaced by war continued to rise — which means more refugees.
Chipman and the report’s authors are not optimistic about the prospects for reducing these levels of violence for a number of reasons:
1. Conflicts are becoming more urban, with siege warfare increasingly common, especially so in Syria.
2. As new conflicts emerge, old ones tend not to get resolved but rather subside into a “simmering” state, capable of boiling over again at any moment. Examples are the low-level simmering war in Eastern Ukraine, and Turkey’s more than three-decade-old battle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which exploded again last year into an urbanized insurgency that killed 3,000 people.
3. Although the Islamic State terrorist organization lost a quarter of its territory and a higher proportion of its fighters last year, the toll on civilians is likely to increase as the group returns to more traditional insurgent tactics.
4. The main tool of the international community to try to reduce bloodshed — the $8 billion-a-year United Nations peace-keeping forces — are increasingly overstretched and ineffectual. The UN is also by its nature too politically riven to carry out effective military operations.