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Security risk assessment

Global Security Threats: Find out about the threat of overseas conflict around the world.

Find out about security threats around the world, from terrorism, serious crime and kidnap to natural disasters, overseas emergencies and cybercrime.

Global Security Threats

Overseas Conflict

Overseas conflict
  • Armed conflicts continue to rage around the world. There have been between 30-52 conflicts being fought at any one time in the last 20 years. Whether inter-state or intra-state they have had far-reaching implications for the regions and the rest of the world alike.

  • The dangers of armed conflict can not only be a major threat to people in the immediate and surrounding area, but it can also create weak governments and a poor security environment for other countries in the region, that terrorists can take advantage of and thrive in.

Armed conflict continues to rage in many places around the world and has been continually waged in numerous parts of the world in some form without interval post both world wars, without exception. In this modern era, there have been over two hundred and eighty distinct armed conflicts around the globe, with ongoing conflicts in the past twenty years numbering between 30-52 at any one time.

At the end of the Cold War, there was a new era of optimism. Ongoing conflicts ended in Central America, South & Central Africa and the UN-brokered accords ended disputes in the far east. After the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by Iraq, Iraqi forces posed a serious threat to Saudi Arabia, the response was an overwhelming demonstration of force from a United States-led coalition, that subsequently brought about a sense of a 'brave new world' in which the United States as a superpower would act as a global policeman under the auspices of the UN. This short period was known as the ‘New World Order’. 

During the next decade, this new world order did not see the presumed positive effects play out in reality. In North Africa, a decade-long civil war erupted. In Central Africa there was an escalation of violence and subsequent massacre, then genocide of Hutu and Tutsi people, with up to a million people killed. In Europe, Yugoslavia violently broke apart and in Bosnia Herzegovina, there was mass ethnic cleansing. In the Caucasus in 1991, Chechen opponents to the Russian Federation broke free leading to an invasion and subsequent bloody conflict over almost two years.

Since the end of the Cold War, the number of major conflicts has been decreasing, post-Cold War has been a period in which inter-state conflict has been significantly reduced, but intra-state violence symbolised by hatred and ethnic violence would be a new normal. Irregular warfare, which includes insurgency, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism, became the dominant forms of armed conflict and violence, with the distinctions between sides and supporters becoming increasingly blurred.


During this time there have been overlapping trends in armed conflict have emerged. The event that defines the conflicts and violence of the early 2000s was the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Armed violence was prevalent across the world, with Central African conflicts being an example, but 9/11 being an attack on a global superpower, produced a major response defining the major conflicts in the following years. 

The subsequent Global War on Terror (GWOT) led to the crushing of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his army in Iraq. The war on terror against Al-Qaeda had a major impact on countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also had an effect on the credibility of the United States and their allies' ability to demonstrate that an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and subsequent occupation, with an aim to rebuild these nations, would be possible and beneficial for each nation involved. 

There have been several trends that have persisted after the beginning of 'the war on terror'. After Al-Qaeda was seen to be sufficiently dismantled, a number of offshoots or ‘franchises’ established themselves, one of which was in Iraq and would develop into the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS). As of 2014, ISIS had become the primary focus of the terror wars, effectively becoming an insurgency and at the same time influencing terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe over this time.

After the focus of the terror, wars were directed towards Afghanistan and Iraq and other protracted conflicts driven by ethnicity, identity, or religion, but with specifically local concerns were then overlooked. These major trends include others like Darfur, Kashmir, the Caucasus, Central Africa and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict that all ensued. The conflict in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are also examples of this trend. Religion is a major factor, it is ethnicity and identity which predicate these conflicts, exacerbated by tensions over resources and territory. 

Other trends include the ‘Arab Spring’, which has reached across the Arab world and has seen disastrous conflicts like Libya, Yemen and Syria take place and descend into civil war, setting the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State insurgency in Syria and Iraq. In many cases, the causes were localised and in the case of Iraq and Syria, there are also roots in the occupation of Iraq that had an effect. The uprisings and protests that began in 2010 came about through the demands of the people of each country for better governance, better human rights and quality of life. As the vast majority of outcomes after revolution and uprisings, the response by these governments varied from small concessions to harsh repression, with only Tunisia moving towards democratic governance. The Islamic State insurgency forms only one part of the Syrian civil war and is but one part of the social and political problems besetting Iraq, but their assumption of the role of global jihad and threat to Iraq has ensured western military involvement.

Another major theme is the re-emergence of long-standing Cold War rivalries, despite the withdrawal of United States and Soviet forces from Europe and reductions in nuclear weapons. Tied into this is the rise of China as a major economic, political and military power, one increasingly able to assert its power around the Asia Pacific region and assert its influence around the rest of the world.

While in recent years there has been a surge in both the number of conflicts and the severity of war. This surge has now ended and has been replaced by a downward trend in conflict. However, this trend does not suggest it will continue as there are a number of particular countries and regions that have the potential to slip into open armed conflict at any time, which include tensions between countries with large military forces such as Iran.

The causes of armed conflict can be numerous and the conditions, of pre-war, can differ significantly, they can be slow to manifest, or war can rapidly ensue catching many off guard, including foreign governments and intelligence agencies. Wars often also have cultural dimensions related to ethnicity or religion, but there are invariably underlying economic causes too. Major root causes include political, economic, and social inequalities; extreme poverty; economic stagnation; poor government; high unemployment; environmental degradation; and individual economic incentives to fight between groups predisposed to conflict.

Reducing the likelihood of wars is extremely difficult, as good intentions often lead to undesirable outcomes, but it is essential to clearly identify the fundamental problems and motives involved, without participating nations being swayed by opposing groups (either wrongly backing unknown groups financially or militarily) or being blinded by incorrect predisposed beliefs, without fully understanding the situation or history of the tensions causing the conflict.

The evidence of the root causes of conflict, suggests some policy responses can be adopted to reduce the likelihood of future war. The promotion of inclusive development; reduction of inequalities between groups, tackling unemployment and via national and international sanctions and incentives in these areas, may reduce incentives to take to violence. Many groups of people who fight perceive themselves as belonging to a common culture (ethnic or religious), and part of the reason that they are fighting may be to maintain their cultural autonomy or because of ethnic or religious tensions and differences. There may also be important underlying economic and political factors that can play a major or minor role, but nonetheless must not be ignored. 

The result of armed conflict around the world can be extreme, apart from the devastating loss of life and the destabilising effect of conflict, wars are a major cause of poverty, underdevelopment, and ill health in these conflict-ridden countries. At this time eight out of ten of the world's poorest countries are suffering, or have recently suffered from large-scale violent armed conflict. Wars in developing countries have heavy human, economic, and social costs and are a major cause of poverty and underdevelopment of these countries and regions. The heavy costs of these conflicts can be seen in the number of extra infant deaths caused by the war in Cambodia, for example, which were estimated to be 3% of the country's 1990 population. Most current conflicts, such as in Sudan or the Congo, are within states, although there is often considerable outside intervention, as in Afghanistan. In the past 30 years, Africa has been especially badly affected by war in many areas of the continent, causing untold numbers of fatalities and injuries over this period of time. This also has a wide-reaching effect, whether it is large-scale numbers of refugees being displaced, huge numbers of migrants moving away from poor or conflict-ridden regions or the spreading of global terrorism from these areas. 

The dangers of armed conflict can not only be a major threat to people in the immediate and surrounding area, but it can also create weak governments and a poor security environment in the region that terrorists thrive in. This can not only affect the conflict zone but also the surrounding area, region and the rest of the world’s security. The dangers of armed conflict to the population, whether state-on-state war or civil conflicts between violent groups, within these areas are self-evident. The risks to individuals travelling to or from conflict zones, or are travelling near existing conflicts or developing clashes, are also significant but are extremely difficult to evaluate, which is of great concern for governments, organisations and individual foreign nationals that work or travel around the globe.

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