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The worldwide lull in war

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In Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland, longstanding civil conflicts are in transition, however tentative, from violent conflict to cease-fires and negotiations. The political problems there are far from solved, but today there's no active fighting.

Not only did these old wars end, but the alarming new ethnic wars that followed the cold war's end have also died down. In Bosnia and Kosovo, international troops keep the peace. In Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, only sporadic clashes occur, compared with cataclysmic violence in the 1990s.

Likewise to the west, in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal. In Sierra Leone, where rebels terrorized civilians with random mutilations in the 1990s, UN peacekeepers have disarmed militias, and democratic elections are taking place this week. Algeria's brutal civil war wound down several years ago. Because peace is less newsworthy than war, many Americans still think vicious ethnic wars are raging when in fact they have largely ended.

Nowhere in the world are heavily armed forces fighting each other with tanks, artillery, and warplanes on both sides. The last conventional war between states, Ethiopia and Eritrea, ended two years ago, with the border dispute sent for arbitration.

Despite this good news, the war lull is not complete. Little wars simmer in several countries, where armed factions control territory and sometimes fight each other or the government.

The list includes Somalia, Turkey, Georgia, Russia/Chechnya, parts of Central Asia, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Peru. However, these are generally low-level sporadic clashes, with fatalities in major military operations reaching into the dozens or hundreds, but not thousands. And they are all internal to their countries, with little active outside support for armed factions. By contrast, rival states are intensely involved in Kashmir, where low-level violence could yet escalate dramatically.

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