Research & Analysis

Hot on the Conflict Trails: Top Ten Conflicts in 2020

Top conflicts from the South, Southeast and East Asian region
India-China border confrontation, Ebb in Hong Kong protests and Thailand’s anti-regime protests
By Teshu Singh, Research Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi; Mallika Devi, PhD Scholar, University of Delhi; and Aparupa Bhattacharjee, PhD Scholar, NIAS

India-China border confrontation
The build-up of infrastructure on Indian territories near the border, China’s insecurity with this development and the aggressive Chinese diplomacy are the primary reasons behind the sudden outburst of the conflict along the LAC. 2020 saw China’s military aggression in various geographical areas other than India’s sovereign territory; this could be China’s attempt at distracting its citizens from other issues. For example,  the government’s handling of the pandemic and the economy. Developments such as the build-up of military and leadership change in the PLA suggest that the LAC may not witness peaceful times in the coming year either.

Ebb in Hong Kong protests
The protests were essentially against the New National Security Law, which would give China more authority over Hong Kong’s citizens in cases of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with a foreign country. China defined these terms to suit its authoritarianism and prevent citizens from dissenting against mainland China. The protests saw the arrests of multiple pro-democracy activists as well as legislators. An important trend is the intensity of the protests, which has increased with every protest since 2003. The protests continue because of the attempt to cut down on the freedoms of Hong-Kongers. Beijing continues to crack down on the protests because it is threatened by chaos, instability and disorder in the city, which is seen as the root for political fragmentation. Return of Hong Kong is seen as a matter of Pride by Mainland China. The protests of 2019, which followed into 2020 may have been stopped by China but at the cost of Hong Kong’s confidence and support.

Thailand’s anti-regime protests
The first phase is the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, and the second phase began in July when the people took to the streets in protest. Six trends highlighted the protests in Thailand. Phase one of the protests called for three demands. The protests were primarily led by the youth and had spread out to most provinces. This was the first time the public had protested against the monarchy, and by the time the protests reached its second phase, the demands increased to ten. Another notable trend of the Thai protests is the overt use of social media and symbolism. The most important reasons behind the outbreak of these protests were the coups, frail democracy, the 2017 Military constitution, military-led governance and more recently Prayut Chan-o-cha’s rise to power which triggered the youth who were hoping for changes in the educational system, Labour rights, abortion rights, etc. The current situation will definitely lead to more anti-monarchy sentiments amongst the youth and will lead to more anti-government protests in the years to come. The present situation may also lead to the Monarch and the government taking control of their hands and tightening the rope around Thai people’s freedoms.

Top Conflicts from the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia
Abraham Accords, Conflict in Ethiopia and Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal
By Lakshmi V Menon, Independent Scholar, Doha; Apoorva Sudhakar, Project Assistant, NIAS; and Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Project Assistant, NIAS

The Abraham Accords
Abraham Accords reveals the breakup of Arab Unity, which was the greatest partnership in the Middle East. Countries may have their own reasons for normalizing their relationship with Israel. Sudan is looking to delist from being a contributor to the State-Sponsored Terrorism while many other countries may simply be looking for the best opportunities to unite against a common enemy; in this case, Iran. The Abraham Accords have special significance because of the consequences that the accord will impose on a Palestinian State’s question. It definitely makes it harder for Palestine to fight for statehood with all the Arab countries joining hands with Israel. The Accord is undeniably an achievement for the US and Donald Trump and will be seen in the future as his legacy. But this has been achieved at the cost of the Palestinians and the Palestinian State.

Conflict in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian conflict broke out when the Tigray Region in Ethiopia went ahead with the elections that had been cancelled by the Federal Government because of the Coronavirus. Ethiopia accuses Tigray of attacking its military bases and has declared a six-month emergency in the country. The government has also ordered military aggression into the region and announced the capture of Tigray’s capital. The crises have risen out of the problems in the Ethnic-Federal system and the general unrest in the country, resulting out of ethnic tensions and media curbs. The implications of these crises saw more than 50,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan and secondary displacement within Ethiopia. This also has a direct effect on the already frail humanitarian aid system. Parallel ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia have led to speculations of a break up within the country. 2021 may witness a spillover of this conflict into the neighbouring countries. Ethiopia and Sudan’s relationship may further worsen as the refugee migration will continue to create pressure on Sudan’s resources.

Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
In Nagorno-Karabakh, the latest conflict broke out on 27th September 2020. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been claiming that the other started the first shot. More than six weeks of fighting and displacement has led to multiple casualties in the Nagorno-Karabakh Region. A Nine-point ceasefire has been signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia to end the six weeks of intense fighting over the disputed region. In 2021, there may be many more unresolved issues that may come to the forefront, such as the status of Ethnic Armenian in the transferred territories. It is also essential to ponder upon the validity and the efficacy of the ceasefire agreement and how external factors such as Russia and Turkey assert themselves in the conflict.

Top Conflicts from The Americas And Europe
Religious Extremism in France, Women and Anti-government protests in Europe, Brexit Talks and The Black Lives Matter Protests.
Sourina Bej, Project Associate at, NIAS; Kamna Tiwary, independent scholar, Paris; Harini Madhusudan, PhD Scholar, NIAS; and Padmashree A, Post-graduate scholar, Stella Maris College

Religious Extremism in France
Three violent attacks rocked France in 2020 with that of the beheading of Samuel Paty, attack near Charlie Hebdo and the attack on a 60-year-old woman in Norte-Dame Cathedral. These attacks were followed by a strong response from the State, and the public stood in Unity with Samuel Paty. The attack also brought the European Union together to find a solution to these attacks. There was an interesting pattern to the attacks in France, which soon followed into Germany and other parts of Europe. Most of these attacks were carried out by a lone individual – The Lone Wolf – and was later claimed by organizations such as the IS. Europe also saw the rise of far-right parties followed by reciprocal radicalization, wherein many felt that the West needs to be “protected” from Islamification. The attacks in France continue because of the challenges to the social integration of Muslim Minorities, the French idea of secularism and its complex relation with Islam and the strong response of the state instead of a policing approach. As the marginalization of minorities continues, the social divisions will continue to widen in 2021. One may also witness an increased radicalization which will lead states to rethink the relationship between religion and state. France is debating what it means to have certain freedoms and has already started reflecting on how a colonial state could adapt to multicultural societies.

Anti-government protests in Europe
The activism in Belarus is completely a people-led movement. There is no clear leadership in these protests. Recently, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya has come up as the face of the protests in Belarus. The EU has also been criticized for not taking a stronger stand on the issue in Belarus. Poland witnessed an Anti-Abortion movement. The Anti-abortion movement is against the strict laws which have recently been brought into the state resulting in the changes to the only three previously existing conditions to Abortion. Bulgaria witnessed an anti-corruption movement against the government. The country is said to have one of the most corrupt governments in Europe. Belgium saw a protest led by the nurses and the doctors against the PM for the weak healthcare system which put the healers in danger of the virus due to lack of PPE kits. Europe also witnessed some bizarre protests such as the anti-lockdown and anti-masks protest in Berlin by citizens who believed the virus was a hoax.

Brexit Transition Talks
The Brexit negotiations have been carrying on for over 10 months now. The anticipation of what may happen at the end of the deal is on a knife-edge. The two sides have reached a political agreement and are working towards the legal text. Even when a deal will be reached, it would still be subject to scrutiny at the parliament. The fundamental issue is that the UK is pressed on retaining sovereignty while the EU wants to ensure that the common rules of the region are upheld. Most issues like aviation links, security and a zero-tariffs pact were signed off months ago. The issues at large are the fishing rights, trade agreements, regulatory alignment, dispute resolution, security and law enforcement, Northern Ireland Protocol and Internal Market Bill. There is a lot at stake in the issue, and thus, any deal would be better than a no-deal.

The Black Lives Matter Protests
The Black Lives Matter movement has its best opportunity to attain social integration in US democracy. The death of George Floyd triggered the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA. The people took to the streets to protest against the police brutality in the midst of a pandemic. The nature of the protests, however, has a different touch to it. The people have been sensible enough to take proper precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. The protests have had a worldwide impact. People of colour all around the world have been encouraged to stand up against discrimination and has also united people against all classes and races. 

 

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