The independent resource on global security

2. Major armed conflicts


I. Introduction

II. Transnational dimensions of contemporary conflicts

III. Transnationalism in armed conflicts in 2006

IV. Conclusions


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Transnationalism has been recognized as an important aspect of international relations for several decades. It has recently also become an important factor in the analysis of conflict, helping to provide explanations for and definitions of conflict that link local incidents of violence to broader social, political and economic developments in the world order. Important transnational aspects of collective armed violence are population displacement and the role of diasporas; state-based transnational conflict networks; and international terrorism
and crime.

Three conflict areas that claimed international attention in 2006 and most starkly demonstrate transnational dimensions of modern conflict are Afghanistan, the Middle East and Somalia.

In Afghanistan the main transnational element of the conflict was the Taliban’s ability to operate from bases in neighbouring Pakistan—an allegation that has been contested by the Pakistani Government but is otherwise generally accepted as fact.

The conflict involving Israel, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon illustrated the greater role of regional and transnational conflict networks and the link between state and non-state actors, as both Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon received political, ideological and practical support from states such as Iran and Syria. Recognition was given to the interlinked nature of the conflicts in the Middle East by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his call for a ‘Whole Middle East Strategy’ to resolve the problems of the region.

In Somalia violent battles and humanitarian crises caused scores of civilian casualties and led to widespread population displacement. The inability of the Transitional Federal Government to extend its control throughout the country enabled the Union of Islamic Courts to broaden its influence, at first challenged only by US-supported Mogadishu warlords. Devoid of any state authority to impose internal order and to counter destructive external influences, Somalia provided a base where transnational criminal and terrorist interests could intersect. The international Somali diaspora continues to affect the conflict in various ways, and large Somali refugee populations outside the country may also be a destabilizing factor.

A growing awareness of the transnational character of security issues in 2006, the urgent need to counter the negative aspects of this phenomenon and the potential for making positive use of transnational actors and influences to promote conflict resolution and peacebuilding all suggest that, in the future, finding ways to address transnational aspects of conflict will be high on the international policy agenda.

Sara Lindberg (Sweden/USA) is a Research Assistant with the SIPRI Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Project.

Dr Neil J. Melvin (UK) is a Senior Research Fellow of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels.