The Council on Foreign Relations and Foreign Policy have both come out with lists of potential conflicts to watch in 2013. Both provide good summaries of potential global hotspots, but instead of concentrating on potential geopolitical struggles, I’d like to take a brief look at the conflicts that will likely be important for civilian protection advocates. While the conflicts in the DRC and Burma, for example, are always at the top of the civilian protection list, I’d like to focus on six conflicts that have the potential to 1) impact civilian populations and 2) take a very different form in 2013 than they did in 2012. Here are the first three.
The insurgencies in Blue Nile and South Kordofan are likely to continue, and the government’s heavy handed response is also likely to stay the same. While these two issues are currently the country’s two biggest humanitarian crises, they might not even be the biggest problems in 2013. Growing divisions within the NCP caused what appears to have been a coup attempt in November, and combined with the return of #SudanRevolts, Bashir now looks far weaker than he has in years. Jay Ulfelder’s 2013 coup forecasts puts the chances of another coup in Sudan at number two worldwide, an event which is likely to not only initiate major power struggles within the Khartoum elite, but also involve various factions fighting it out on the ground. There is also a real danger of a low-intensity war between North and South Sudan along the border, as the North continues to bomb within Southern territory. In South Sudan, cattle raids between the Dinka, Lou Nuer, and Murle tribes are accruing huge casualties, and there are no signs that the South Sudanese governments will seriously address this crisis.
Afghanistan has been in the news for years as one of the most violent places in the world, but in 2013, it’s only going to get worse. In short, U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been a total failure, and the Afghan government does not look ready to govern on its own once U.S./NATO forces begin their draw-down, and eventually leave in 2014. Afghan security forces are ill-trained and unable to function independently, the government is impressively corrupt, the Taliban remains strong, and Pakistan continues to meddle. All of these factors point to an uptick in violence in the coming year. There are few positive signs for 2013.
Designating Mali as the new Afghanistan is simplistic, but like Afghanistan, Mali is a hot mess. In March, junior officers angry at the government’s inability to properly supply soldiers fighting a Taureg rebellion in the north mutinied, and then, perhaps accidentally, seized the state. A few weeks later, Tuareg rebels succeeded in pushing Malian forces at of northern Mali and declared the independence or a new state, Azawad. Since then, there has been another coup against a prime minister who pulled too hard on the leash held by the original coup plotters. Despite facades of democracy, the real power in Mali rests in Kati, an army town outside of Bamako.
In the north, things are even worse. Following the defeat of the the Malian army, the situation in the north collapsed into yet another civil war, as the MNLA, a secular Tuareg group, battled Ansar Dine, an Islamist faction. The Islamists eventually gained the upper hand. The struggle for Azawad is a complex mix of ethnic and political affiliations, and this deadly, multifaceted conflict has had a disastrous affect on the civilian population. The conflict has caused a full-fledged humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands becoming either refugees or internally displaced. On December 20th, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to back the creation of the international force to retake northern Mali. The plan, according to both Susan Rice (who called it “crap) and Daniel Drezner, has some problems, “…the Security Council has pledged to send peacekeepers on a timetable that makes academic publishing seem speedy, without any idea of how it will be funded, staffed, or operate with indigenous forces, married to vague calls for political action to lay the groundwork for said peacekeepers.” With or without an intervention force, the lack of any real progress toward a political solution will mean a long, deadly year for northern Mali.