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Al-Makahleh: Non-state actors and militias, trigger to WWIII

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Dr. Shehab Al-Makahleh

As part of my two-day seminar at a European state on the future of the world if any global war erupts, I talked about the scourge of lawlessness and how militias and non-state actors can trigger WWIII.

The world is currently facing an unprecedented wave of violent conflicts, with the past year marking the highest number of active wars and violent crises since the end of World War II. While Russia -Ukraine war is ongoing and the current Israel-Gaza conflict dominate headlines, many other simmering and escalating conflicts across the globe that receive far less attention are heating up.

A staggering 50 countries are currently engulfed in war or persistent violence. Up to 1 in 6 people globally live in areas affected by conflicts. The past year saw a 27 per cent increase in incidents of political violence worldwide, impacting an estimated 1.7 billion people.

What is driving this alarming rise in global instability and bloodshed? First, geopolitical tensions: The intensifying rivalry between the United States and China is creating ripple effects of tension and potential flashpoints around the world. Longstanding regional disputes, from the Middle East to the South China Sea, are becoming increasingly militarised as great powers jostle for influence. Second, democratic backsliding: The global trend towards democratic erosion is fueling internal conflicts. Countries with “partly free” political systems are particularly prone to violence as new forms of political competition emerge. Authoritarian backsliding leaves little room for peaceful dissent, often provoking crackdowns.

Third, resource scarcity and climate change: Competition over dwindling natural resources like water and arable land, exacerbated by climate change, is sparking conflicts within and between nations. Food insecurity and displacement caused by environmental degradation are powerful drivers of instability. Fourth, unresolved historical grievances: Simmering ethnic, religious and territorial disputes that were never fully resolved continue to erupt into violence, from the Nagorno-Karabakh region to the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. Weak institutions and lack of conflict resolution mechanisms allow these flashpoints to reignite.

These conflicts are exacerbated by global shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, which are straining resources and weakening already fragile states and regions.

The causes of these conflicts are often rooted in political dynamics, with actors using rhetoric and narratives to justify their actions, sometimes through the use of misinformation or lies.

The scale of the humanitarian crises resulting from these conflicts is staggering, with over 340 million people in need of assistance and over 100 million displaced.

The rise of authoritarianism globally is also a significant contributing factor to the proliferation of regional conflicts. Authoritarian regimes are often willing to support and enable the aggressive actions of their allies, further destabilising regional dynamics. The decline of democracy worldwide is a troubling development that undermines the foundations of international cooperation and the rule of law.

Ultimately, addressing the root causes of these regional conflicts, such as territorial disputes, ethnic tensions and the erosion of democratic norms, will require a comprehensive and multilateral approach. Strengthening international institutions, promoting conflict resolution mechanisms, and fostering a global environment that prioritises peaceful dispute settlement will be essential in mitigating the risk of these conflicts spiraling out of control.

While the current global landscape may seem bleak, it is important to remain vigilant and continue advocating for the principles of international cooperation, human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Only through a concerted global effort can we hope to reverse the concerning trends you’ve outlined and work towards a more stable and secure world.

It is clear that the growth of transnational organised crime, particularly related to the illicit drug trade, is a major driver of violence and conflict in many regions. The statistics you provided are alarming — that 83 per cent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high crime rates is a staggering figure.

Ultimately, the growth of transnational organised crime poses a serious threat to global peace and security. It is a complex challenge that requires sustained international cooperation and a willingness to tackle the issue from multiple angles. I appreciate you raising this important topic, and I’m happy to discuss it further or provide any additional information I can.

The world is in the grips of a crisis of lawlessness, as transnational organised crime and the proliferation of non-state armed groups have emerged as two of the primary drivers of conflict and instability across the globe. These malign forces are exploiting political vacuums, eroding state authority, and wreaking havoc on vulnerable populations, with devastating consequences for peace and security.

The data paints a dire picture. A staggering 83 per cent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high rates of organised crime, a 4-percentage point increase just since 2021. Criminal enterprises, particularly those involved in the illicit drug trade, are fuelling violence and chaos from Latin America to the Middle East. In Honduras, gang warfare has sent the murder rate soaring by 119 per cent in the past year. In Mexico, drug cartels have turned vast swaths of the country into war zones, prompting the US to deploy troops to the border.

The situation is equally, if not more, dire when it comes to non-state armed groups. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, there are currently 459 such militias wreaking havoc, a number that has remained stubbornly high for half a decade. These decentralised, heavily-armed factions are concentrated in regions like the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes of Central Africa – carving out fiefdoms, terrorizing civilians, and undermining fragile governments.

The international community must act urgently to address the root causes of these proliferating conflicts. Strengthening democratic norms, investing in climate change mitigation, and prioritising conflict prevention and mediation will be crucial to stemming the tide of global violence. The consequences of inaction will be severe, with millions more lives lost and upheaval continuing to spread. The world cannot afford to look away from this alarming trend.

What is driving this crisis of lawlessness? In large part, it stems from the convergence of political instability, economic desperation, and the availability of weapons — a toxic brew that criminal networks and armed groups have eagerly exploited. Rampant corruption, weak rule of law, and the inability of many states to provide for their citizens have created power vacuums that these malign actors have rushed to fill.

The world stands at a crossroads. If we fail to act decisively to counter the forces of lawlessness, we risk plunging entire regions into perpetual chaos and violence. The stakes could not be higher. It’s time to take back control — before it’s too late.