Can there be peace in the time of Corona?
Though not a universal trend, a recent article has found that the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may lead to escalating armed conflict.
“In five of the nine countries analysed, armed conflict prevalence increased in the face of the pandemic,” Dr Tobias Ide, a researcher at the School of Geography, University of Melbourne, said in a research note.
“COVID-19 did not change the root causes or principal dynamics of the armed conflicts in any of these five countries, but it accelerated existing trends and provided strategic opportunities for armed groups to exploit,” he added.
Ide drew his data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), an online platform that collects and displays data regarding political violence and protest events across several regions of the world. He then compared these against local COVID-19 case data.
Because of data availability concerns, nine countries were included in the analysis: Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Yemen.
Between March and June 2020, coincident with the first 4 months of the COVID-19 crisis, four countries saw sharp declines in armed conflict: Afghanistan, Colombia, Thailand, and Yemen. In all cases, temporary peace was brought about for strategic reasons. Lockdowns and movement restrictions made it difficult for some armed groups to operate, while others leveraged ceasefires as a means to gain popular support. [World Dev 2020;doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105355]
Peace was temporary, however, and health diplomacy and sustainable peacebuilding did not seem like viable options moving forward.
In the remaining five countries (India, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and the Philippines), COVID-19 only exacerbated the friction between the state and armed groups. The further weakening of state institutions and their preoccupation with the pandemic, as well as the lack of international scrutiny, could have created the opening for armed conflict.
“While short-term rises in armed conflict risks related to the pandemic are mostly driven by changed opportunity structures,” Ide explained, pointing to the nine examples above, “grievances could play a more prominent role when longer time horizons are considered.”
The expected economic repercussions of the pandemic, for example, may drive more and more households into hardship. When taken together with existing fissures around ethnicity and religion, this may be enough to raise the level of discontent to a point that encourages armed conflict, he said.
The global weakening of democracy as governments impose increasingly drastic measures to stem the tide of COVID-19 may also be a risk factor.
“Armed conflict can have tremendous negative effects on human security and health governance. It is therefore of crucial importance to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on armed conflict risks and to develop adequate policy responses, such as sanctioning armed groups trying to exploit the pandemic,” Ide added.