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Hotspot report

Annual Analysis – Upcoming conflicts for 2017

Switzerland, 09/02/2017 by Céline Neuenschwander

Which conflicts will concern us this year? The annual analysis provides plausible answers to this question. In addition, new risk zones will be revealed and the development of ongoing crises assessed. Our partner, Conias Risk Intelligence, has contributed informative risk maps to the annual analysis, which contain de-tailed information about risk levels.

Which crises await the world in 2017 and which regions are especially at risk? The annual analysis for 2017 provides answers to these questions. It assesses current struggles, explains their possible development and outlines new risk zones.

Our partner, Conias Risk Intelligence, has contributed their exclusive risk maps to the annual analysis. They highlight the intensity of the conflicts and categorize them in one of five risk categories. In this way, we can present a more detailed account of the risk as well as emphasize the differences within the country. The trouble spots described are not an exhaustive list; areas were chosen not only according to their potential for conflict, but also with a view to the large number of Swiss citizens or travelers who frequent the regions.

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These conflicts are brewing in 2017:

India – A nuclear power in conflict

India has developed economically in the last few years and has seen a steadily growing GDP in the last six. But not all regions of this Asian country have profited equally from the economic progress. One region that has been disadvantaged since India’s independence is found in the northeast. A number of local rebel groups regularly carry out attacks on security forces and on the infrastructure. The city of Kolkata was often the scene of these attacks and is considered a safe haven for rebels. They are in favor of autonomy and independence from India. For Narendra Modi, India’s president, the idea of independence for this northeastern region is not even up for discussion. He is concerned that this would lead to further states demanding independence. Another conflict is situated in the region of Chhattisgarh, categorized as risk level 4. Here, Naxalite rebels are violently attempting to implement communist social order. They are self-appointed militants fighting against discrimination and poverty on behalf of the people of India.

Another region that is also pursuing equality is the Kashmir region on the Pakistani border. The Kashmir conflict has been brewing since India’s independence and threatens to escalate even further this year. In 1947, when India was divided into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, the then Maharajah of Kashmir, who ruled over a Muslim population, joined the chiefly Hindu India.
Pakistan, which unites the Muslim population of the region, laid claim to the region and occupied the western part of Kashmir and India the eastern part. Ever since, it has been a struggle to control the Kashmir area, which has seen many attacks.

The conflict between Hindus and Muslims is not only limited to the Kashmir region. Attacks have been carried out in public spaces and cities by both sides; in the past, Mumbai was plagued by a series of attacks. As a consequence of the Hindus’ political rise to power under President Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party, the radicalization of Muslims has been accelerated.

The Kashmir conflict has become more intense and will continue to be a topic this year. Ever since the Indian military shot a Pakistani rebel last year, the conflict has reached a new level. The Pakistani terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) has increased the number of guerrilla attacks; Indian armed forces suffered their heaviest losses in 20 years. Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers and are keeping the option open of a first strike. Some members of President Modi’s government are demanding an increase in military action in Kashmir, which could imply a nuclear war. Conceding is not an option for India because as a result other regions of the country could be encouraged in their efforts to demand independence.


Venezuela – First the collapse and then the conflict

Venezuela’s economy has hit an abysmal low. Years of structural problems and economic mismanagement have led to this disaster. What should the population expect to face this year?

This catastrophic situation is rooted in the tenure of previous president Hugo Chavez. His plan focused on controlling the economy and nationalizing companies. At the same time, exports were concentrated on oil sales, which now generates 96 percent of export revenue. These earnings financed former President Chavez’ large state institutions and expensive social programs. The economic crash accompanied by sinking oil prices: suddenly the state no longer had its most important means of income. Venezuela had to sell a barrel of oil for a fraction of the price that would be necessary to cover the deficit. At the same time, companies lacked the funds to purchase and process goods; production in Venezuela came to a standstill. In order to keep the economy going, despite inadequate earnings from the oil business, the government authorized the printing of money. This sparked a depreciation of currency, prices began to rise incessantly, and today the local population can buy less and less food at affordable prices.

The inflation and lack of revenue in Venezuela are now so severe that the shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies remain empty. Retailers no longer have the money to buy goods; this is leading to food rationing and malnutrition among the people, yet President Maduro continues to run the expensive social programs and extravagant state institutions. In the persistent absence of state revenues, money continues to be printed and in turn heightens the inflation – a vicious circle.

In addition to economic problems, this year threatens to bring even more political unrest. President Maduro called a state of emergency and has been ruling by decree. In doing so, he can bypass parliament, whose majority has recently been taken over by the opposition party for the first time. With this method of government, Maduro is only ensuring more resentment and resistance among the people. There have been more and more demonstrations and violent protests in Venezuela’s cities, especially in Caracas and Maracaibo. Protesters run the risk of being suppressed by security forces or even shot. In the cities, the struggle for goods and food frequently results in violent outbreaks. This political crisis, triggered by economic problems, threatens to escalate even further.

There are three possible scenarios as to how the strife in Venezuela will unfold: the first feasible outcome envisages that President Maduro, the ruling party and the opposition party mutually agree to President Maduro’s resignation. Elections take place and a newly elected president could establish a broadly supported government and introduce measures to contend with the crisis. Another scenario would be that the military turns against Maduro and forces him to resign. This situation entails considerable potential for escalation, which could easily end in civil war. In the last scenario, Maduro would have to resign in response to pressure from the people. Citizens could start a revolt and overthrow the president with force. Even in this example the country would face a new wave of conflict. To a great extent, the last two scenarios are dependent on Venezuela’s economic development in the next two to three years. A violent ousting of the regime would only come into question should the economy continue to deteriorate considerably.


Ethiopia – Unrest among the ethnicities

Ethiopia’s security is being compromised by various parallel, ongoing conflicts. The conflict between the government and the members of the Oromo population is crucial. After the Ethiopian government’s decision to expand the capital city of Addis Ababa at the cost of Oromo territory, there has been an increase in the number of violent protests and riots between government troops and Oromo citizens. In the last six months, the conflict has risen to the highest risk level. The violent eruptions between the Oromo and the government are mainly situated in the area with the highest risk: to the south and west of the cities Adama and Addis Ababa. The conflict will most likely continue to be a concern this year because in recent months armed opposition groups have regrouped and are fighting against the government.

The current confrontation between the government and the Oromo ethnic group is a telling example of the tensions in Ethiopia. Here, lines of conflict are drawn along ethnic groups and there are many, fragmenting Ethiopia into 80 ethnicities. Political parties and decision makers systematically favor certain ethnicities and disadvantage others. Constant discrimination and unequal political rights are trouble spots and ensure violent outbreaks again and again. The two biggest resistance movements are the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) and the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front). They are fighting for more rights and freedom for their ethnic group and are carrying out attacks on the military.

There is a serious security risk in the areas close to the northern and eastern borders to Eritrea and Somalia. Armed conflict has been brewing for years between Eritrea and Ethiopia about the border demarcation line. The militant terrorist group Al-Shabaab operates in eastern Somalia and regularly carries out attacks. Religious affiliation is increasingly posing a security threat to citizens. Assaults on Muslims in Ethiopia continue to rise. The reason for this is the sweeping suspicion that Muslims are cooperating with the Islamic Al-Shabaab (militant group). Because of the instability found in neighboring countries, criminal activities, corruption and smuggling are flourishing – all factors which negatively impact Ethiopia’s security risk in the borderlands.


Turkey – Gloomy prospects for the country on the Bosporus

The political and economic developments in Turkey have been the topic of discussion in recent months. In the near future, increased destabilization of the security situation is expected for the local population.

One key conflict in Turkey is splitting the populace into secular and Islamic-oriented parts. Secular individuals with more worldly views are being increasingly confronted with religious laws and creeping Islamization, brought about by President Erdogan’s AKP. Based on what is known today, the following developments are plausible for Turkey:

On the one hand, more terrorist attacks by the Islamic State are possible. Since Turkey got involved in the Syrian war, ISIS has called for increased attacks on Turkish soil. Especially affected are the Syrian borderlands as well as urban areas and cities such as Istanbul or Ankara. On the other hand, an intensification of the Kurdish conflict is probable. Terrorist attacks and fighting carried out by Kurds are a particular concern for the southeastern areas, some of which today are already classed as risk level four or five. The Kurds are contributing to the Syrian conflict and are providing some troops. This reinforces their intention to justify their own autonomous state. In addition to this, there is the possibility of a partitioning Syria, which affords the plan additional opportunities. Erdogan is aware of this, which is why his reactions are becoming more violent.

With the increasing security risks within Turkey, the role of the military is unclear. In July of last year, an attempted coup took place against President Erdogan. It is possible that this was a breach from the lower military ranks. To ensure the country’s security, it is necessary to have a uniform and functioning military.

One possible development in this context is that Erdogan’s rule will become increasingly authoritarian. The President used the state of emergency after the coup to take a hard line against the Kurds and political opponents. Several thousand dismissals and mass incarcerations were the result. Furthermore, the President initiated the transition to a presidential system, which has to be approved only by the people in a referendum. If this is the case, then this only concentrates the power in Erdogan’s hands. Those who have different political views are already being oppressed and the free press is being abolished. An even greater concentration of power could lead to increased repression; this would essentially elevate the potential of risk.

Added to the above scenarios is the worsening economy. Dwindling revenues from the tourism industry and the political instability are linked to declining foreign investments. Given all of these circumstances, the immediate future for Turkey looks increasingly precarious.


Yemen – An overlooked war

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011, a war has been raging that has gone all but unnoticed by the public. The conflict’s origins stem from the uprising of the Yemeni population against then President Abdullah Saleh. The citizens demanded his resignation and a redistribution of political power. The now ex-president actually signed an agreement that provided for his withdrawal from the government as well as the transfer of power to the provisional president who was still to be elected. Within this context, a national conference was formed, in which all parties were to take part and reconcile the country. The Houthi political movement, however, was excluded from the conference.

The Houthis have been in conflict with the Yemeni government since 2004. The group is rebelling against political discrimination and fighting for their own autonomous territory. After the Houthi movement was excluded from the negotiations in Yemen in 2011, the group experienced a surge in support. The negotiations in Yemen, however, didn’t lead to a redistribution of power as expected; instead, the same two parties still had the say. The interim government was presided over by Manur Hadi, Saleh’s previous deputy. Promises to fight corruption and to improve humanitarian and economic conditions also remained unfulfilled. As a consequence of being left out of the negotiations, Houthi rebels began occupying areas of the west coast and on the border to Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, the Houthi rebels formed an alliance with former President Saleh, and forced Hadi’s interim government to resign. The conflict between the two camps – Hadi and government troops against the Houthis and ex-President Saleh – escalated. In spring 2015, Saudi Arabia got involved in the struggles of its southern neighbor, as did Iran and – indirectly – the USA. Saudi Arabia views the Shiite Houthi movement as an extension of Iran, its archrival, whose influence in the Middle East needs to be dampened. This is why the Saudi military is launching air strikes on Houthi territories in Yemen. The highest risk level is on the border to Saudi Arabia and in the Houthi strongholds Al Hudaydah or the embattled city of Taiz. The influence of Al Qaida and the Ansar al-Sharia movement are also not to be underestimated. Both groups regularly carry out attacks on the Houthis.

The longer the conflict lasts, the more improbable a peaceful solution will be. None of the involved parties think a peaceful resolution is the best idea: President Hadi is concerned a peace negotiation will lead to his losing office; the Houthis on the other hand expect to be even more oppressed after the negotiations. Their neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, is hoping for a victory against the Houthis in order to secure their regional dominance. In addition to that, there are Al Qaida and local jihadist fighters who favor a destabilized Yemen so they can take refuge. Last but not least, even the USA will profit from a continuation of the war, as the Saudis make up the largest purchaser of North American arms exports.


Syria – Hardened fronts mean no hope for the end of war

The war in Syria has intensified over the last year. Under current conditions, there seems to be no relief in sight, neither for the country nor those left behind. Many wars are being carried out on Syrian soil: the first is a regime fighting the uprising of the people; the second is a civil war involving different ethnic groups and the third consists of foreign powers that have begun fighting each other in a proxy war.

The conflict is complicated by the fact that there are so many warring parties with opposing interests, as well as the dynamics of the conflict that constantly brings about new alliances. These factors make it very difficult to define fronts. Under President Bahar al Assad, the Syrian regime is fighting for the reinstatement of power across all of Syria. This is why the civilian population is also being bombed. The Free Syrian Army, on the other hand, is fighting for the exact opposite: the fall of President Assad. Generally speaking, political opponents are in the Free Syrian Army. ISIS rebels are pursuing a different goal. They are focusing primarily on establishing their own domain according to Sharia law, under which the entire Muslim world will be united. Another element is the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The members of this group are fighting in an unstable Syria for their own Kurdish state in the north and northeast. The PYD is especially active against jihadist groups and supporters of ISIS, with the intention of taking over areas to establish their own state. Another group is the jihadist Nusra Front, and much like ISIS, their goal is the expulsion and subjugation of non-believers. The Nusra Front originally belonged to the Al Qaida network and is aiming for global jihad. The last power bloc consists of the rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. They are fighting against the Assad regime and want their own autonomous area according to a Muslim worldview, but one which isn’t as radical as that of ISIS supporters.

The muddled situation and incompatible interests make a political solution difficult. Even if one were agreed upon, it’s doubtful that all of the warring parties would adhere to it. Due to the intervention of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the war, certain groups feel more confident and appear less willing to compromise. Under these conditions, continued warfare is to be expected this year.

The steady stream of refugees is also not likely to let up during the war. This can cause the conflict to seep into the bordering states and destabilize them even more. Good conditions in refugee camps, education and safety are all necessary to keep the conflict from spreading further and endangering neighboring countries.




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