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World: Swedish Report Emphasizes Role Of Poverty In War

A new Swedish report says that most wars in the 1990s were caused primarily by poverty. Ethnic rivalries, the report says, usually flared into violence only where poverty was high. And the decade's wars were almost always within states rather than between them. Correspondent Anthony Georgieff reports.

Copenhagen, 20 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A report by the Center for War and Peace Research in Uppsala, Sweden, says a new pattern of conflict emerged in the last decade. War, the report says, is no longer a pattern of East opposing West, or a colonial power opposing freedom fighters. Instead, almost all armed conflicts now take place within a country's borders. In eight out of ten cases, such conflicts are set off by poverty.

The report, commissioned by the Swedish parliament, analyzes 103 wars from 1989 to 1997 in 69 different countries. Only in six cases could the conflicts be seen as wars between two countries. The remaining 97 were civil wars.

The report also draws on data from the United Nations Development Program about the levels of economic development and poverty throughout the world. The very fact that a country is poor exposes it to a risk of war three times higher than a rich country. Of all the armed conflicts in the 1990s, more than three-quarters occurred in either the world's poorest states or in states that were undergoing an economic crisis.

Poverty, of course, is not the only cause of war the report cites. Religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences also play roles. But those factors, the report says, are all of weaker significance than the lack of economic welfare.

Ethnicity or religion, the report says, may explain why a particular group takes part in an armed conflict. But those factors do not usually determine why a conflict flares up in the first place.

To put it another way, almost all countries, rich as well as poor, have some form of dormant ethnic or religious conflict, but it is in the poor countries that such conflicts break out into violence. In countries with well-functioning economies, it is easier for the opposed groups to overcome their differences through dialogue.

The Swedish report calls into question the prevalent ideology underpinning models of conflict resolution since the end of the Cold War. These models include the imposition of sanctions or embargoes and the deployment of observers or peacekeeping forces. In most cases, the report says, those measures have proved expensive and ineffective.

It recommends seeking better intelligence on the sources of potential conflicts and acting preemptively, before fighting breaks out.