View Full Version : Next Year's Wars - The 16 brewing conflicts to watch for in 2011.

01-01-2011, 12:45 PM
Across the globe today, you'll find almost three dozen raging conflicts, from the valleys of Afghanistan to the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the streets of Kashmir. But what are the next crises that might erupt in 2011? Here are a few worrisome spots that make our list.


At first glance, Colombia's prospects for 2011 look bright. The country's new president, Juan Manuel Santos, has surprised many former critics with his bold reform proposals, many of which are aimed at addressing the root causes of the country's 46-year civil conflict against leftist rebels. He has mended relations with neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador, committed to protect human rights advocates, and proposed legislation to help resettle the country's four million displaced.

The news is not all good, however. Despite a series of strategic losses in recent years -- from territory to key leadership -- the country's leftist guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), still maintain about 8,000 armed troops and perhaps twice that number of supporters. The rebels killed some 30 police in the weeks after Santos's inauguration, clearly to make a point. Meanwhile, new illegal armed groups have sprung up to capture the drug trafficking market, their ranks filled with former paramilitary fighters. These gangs are largely responsible for the rising incidence of urban violence; homicide rates have gone up by over 100 percent in Colombia's second city, Medellín, last year.

If these new armed groups are not contained, Colombia stands to regress in its long fight to finally root out the drug trade -- and the militancy it fuels. In such a scenario, FARC could see a comeback, restarting its campaign of terror in the country's major cities. As has been the case so often in Colombia's recent history, it would be the civilian population who would suffer most from such a return to conflict.

Yet the opposite scenario is equally likely in the coming months. Santos has worked with his counterparts in Venezuela and Ecuador to increase border surveillance, putting pressure on illegal armed groups holed up there. Under such pressure, FARC may even welcome the chance to start talks with the government about disarmament and reintegration. Much rests in this government's hands.


Over the next 12 months, watch for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to take his brand of 21st-century socialism to the extremes. Having lost his majority in Parliament in September, Chávez has since been working hard to ensure that the new, opposition legislature will be irrelevant by the time it is sworn in in January. The Venezuelan president has consolidated control over the military and police, seized more private companies, and won temporary "decree powers" from the outgoing, pro-government National Assembly.

Chávez's power grab comes as the country's economic, social, and security problems are mounting. Violence has spiked dramatically in urban areas; there were some 19,000 homicides in 2009 out of a population of 28 million. In recent years, Venezuela has become a major drug-trafficking corridor, home to foreign and domestic cartels alike. State security forces have also been accused of participating in criminal activity. Meanwhile, Chávez has escalated -- rather than soothed -- the situation with fiery, partisan rhetoric that seems to egg on a violent suppression of the opposition. That message has an audience; government-allied street gangs in Caracas stand ready to defend his revolution with Kalashnikovs.


It has been four years since Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on the country's drug lords. During that time, 30,000 people have fallen victim to the conflict, many of them along the northern border with the United States, largely as a result of in-fighting among rival gangs vying for control of trafficking corridors. Today, Ciudad Juarez, a border city near Texas, competes with Caracas as the most deadly city in the world. Over the last 12 months, the violence has spread to Mexico's economic and cultural hubs that were once considered immune from drug infiltration. To the north, Mexico's organized crime routes now reach into nearly every metropolitan area of the United States.

In short, despite a $400 million annual aid package from the United States, and big boosts in funding for the military, it's far from clear whether the government of Mexico is winning -- or can win -- this battle.

During the last year in particular, Calderón has been criticized for the conduct of the narco war. Not only is it difficult to pinpoint clear progress, but for many, life has visibly deteriorated since the crackdown began. Twenty times more Mexicans have died during the last four years than Americans have in the entire war in Afghanistan. Two gubernatorial candidates and 11 mayors have been assassinated. The press is under increasing pressure to self-censor. One paper in Ciudad Juárez went as far as asking, in an open letter to the cartels, what it was that they were allowed to publish.

"Winning" would require a hard look at the Mexican military and police, which have been credibly accused of committing flagrant abuses while fighting the drug gangs. The judicial system likewise needs strengthening to bring the guilty to fair trial. And, of course, much depends on Mexico's northern neighbor: America remains the largest market for drugs in the world, and so long as U.S. users demand product, the cartels will keep the supply flowing.

CONTINUED (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/12/28/next_years_wars?page=full)