International events in these first years of the twenty-first century have
brought into sharp focus the ideas of conflict and alliance. There is no doubt
that the twentieth century was the most bloody and battle-scarred one hundred
years in recorded history. From the horrific battles of the First World War,
which was called ‘the war to end all wars’, to the conflict that continues in
Afghanistan, never before had so many lives—both of soldiers and civilians—been
lost to war.
Even with the creation of the United Nations in 1945, many conflicts continued
or started around the world. A map of world conflicts since 1945 (see page 182
of the Heinemann Atlas 3rd edn) reveals conflicts of varying intensity
on nearly every continent. The map also shows that particular regions were dominated
by high intensity conflicts, such as central and northern Africa, the Middle
East, the former Yugoslavia, and Sri Lanka.
Page 182 of the Atlas also shows some very positive signs in relation
to conflict. The graph ‘Military expenditure’ indicates decreases in military
spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in many nations. This
was particularly true for nations that had emerged from the period of arms proliferation
during the Cold War, which is now generally agreed to have ended in 1990. Countries
such as Russia, Germany and the United States were spending a smaller proportion
of their GDP on arms in 1996 than they were in 1988.
Page 182 of the Heinemann Atlas 3rd edn shows just some of the world
alliances formed towards the end of the twentieth century. Some of these alliances
are based on shared history, others on economic grounds, and some on geographical
location. All of them promote greater understanding between nations, which is
one of the keys to preventing conflict or resolving them in peaceful ways.
So what of conflict in the twenty-first century? Many of the conflicts featured
on page 182 of the Atlas have continued, while other conflicts have emerged,
some of which will be considered in this Atlas Update. The United Nations has
undertaken new peace-keeping missions to add to those begun in the second half
of the twentieth century, in the hope that this century will not be as bloody
as the last.