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SIPRI Yearbook 2014

SIPRI Yearbook 2014

II. Dynamics of peace and conflict

Introduction. International security, armaments and disarmament
SIPRI Yearbook 2014
Ian Anthony

The information presented in successive editions of the SIPRI Yearbook attempting to quantify some of the main tendencies in conflict across the world is the product of collaboration between SIPRI and several important partners, including the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) and the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). The data that is collected and presented through these partnerships has shown some clear tendencies.

First, the aggregate data suggest that the intensity of some intrastate conflicts is increasing, while the number of interstate conflicts, which are being fought at lower intensity, has become smaller (see chapter 1).

In 2013 the longer-term tendencies related to intrastate conflicts appeared to be borne out by reports from specific conflicts—such as those in the Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan and Syria—as well as by reports on the impact of conflict on issues such as the protection of civilians, internal displacement of people and the creation of refugee populations outside countries in conflict. In September 2013 a report by the UN Secretary-General concluded that there was ‘little room for optimism’ in conditions where civilians continue to account for the vast majority of casualties and are regularly targeted and subjected to indiscriminate attacks and other violations by parties to conflict.12

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by late 2013 more than 2 million refugees had fled Syria, illustrating the serious impact of refugee flows on all of Syria's neighbours, while a further 4.25 million were internally displaced, of a total population of about 22 million.13 There are multiple cases in which there is secondary, or multiple, displacement as people are forced to move several times by a combination of disasters that may quickly become interconnected (e.g. armed conflict, safe access to uncontaminated food and water, and resource scarcity).

Parties to armed conflict, as well as violent actors located in fragile states, appear increasingly willing to resort to terrorist methods.14 According to the 2012 Global Terrorism Index, the global impact of terrorism increased significantly from 2002 to 2011 and peaked in 2007, at which point the global trend reached a plateau. The wider regional impact of failing to maintain proper control over small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and explosives in Libya was felt across the whole of North Africa and the Sahel region. Moreover, the impact of ready access to modern weapons, abundant supplies of ammunition and military explosives is not only reflected in conflict intensity, but also in the level of violent crime in conflict locations.

Given the general trend towards urbanization, there may be a disturbing tendency to use area weapons—defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross as ‘weapons whose effects are extended in space’—as well as high explosives inside cities during conflicts.15

In addition, there has been progress in reducing the risk from what former US Secretary of Defense William Perry once labelled ‘Type-A threats’—that is, threats to national survival or threats of global war of the kind that dominated thinking for much of the 20th century.16 The relative lack of concern with Type-A threats could be one factor explaining the relaxation of bloc thinking. In a benign security environment it is safe to take a more independent and critical stance. However, the risk that Type-A threats could re-emerge would be linked to a combination of responsible leaders failing to pay close attention to their relations with one another and significant shifts in military capability.

The data in this year's edition of the SIPRI Yearbook on world military expenditure is interesting to consider from this perspective. SIPRI data indicates that global military expenditure fell in 2013, by 1.9 per cent in real terms, to $1747 billion. This was the second consecutive year in which spending fell, and the rate of decrease was higher than the 0.4 per cent fall in 2012 (see chapter 4). This headline trend largely reflects reductions in spending by a small number of Western countries (first and foremost, the USA) as they extract themselves from over a decade of high-intensity military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Outside the group of Western countries, there are countervailing trends. In absolute terms, measured using constant US dollars, two-thirds of the countries in North America and Western Europe reduced their military spending, while two-thirds of countries in other regions recorded an increase. Perhaps particularly noteworthy is the data for China and Russia, which have both more than doubled their military spending in real terms since 2004.

The SIPRI data on arms transfers also tends to reinforce some of the tendencies revealed in military spending data. For example, over the past decade the flow of major conventional weapons to Europe has fallen. Flows to Asia and Africa, on the other hand, have risen significantly (see chapter 5). Countries in Asia and Oceania, taken together, account for the lion's share of major conventional arms imports. However, in the past five years Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—traditionally significant customers for major conventional weapons that seemed to be reducing their consumption—have rejoined the list of the world's top arms importers.

In many parts of the world, dedicated or systematic efforts to reduce the role of military factors in security are either lacking or poorly developed. However, the demilitarization of European politics, and the dismantling of military capabilities that had reached grotesque proportions, is rightly seen as one of the main accomplishments after the end of the cold war. There may now be an emerging tendency to revisit that achievement.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has often characterized reductions in military spending by the European members of the alliance as a serious problem. In September 2013 Rasmussen was blunt in his assessment: ‘let me be very clear from the start. If we in Europe do not invest more—financially and politically—in our own defence and security, then in the future, we will not speak of our influence in the world, but of the influence of others over our world’.17 Notably, spending in Western Europe fell by 2.4 per cent in 2013. In contract, spending in Eastern Europe rose by more than 5 per cent, and in 2013 the two countries in Europe with the largest year-on-year percentage increases in military spending were Belarus and Ukraine.

The member states of the EU and the European members of NATO actually spend a great deal on defence, together accounting for roughly 15 per cent of world military spending. In contrast, Russian military spending is less than one-third of that of EU members, and roughly equivalent to the combined amount spent by France and Germany. In addition, European states are trying to identify and take advantage of synergies across their respective security and defence acquisition programmes, including at the EU-level through, for example, the identification of relevant civilian research.

In 2011 the outgoing US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, coined the phrase ‘collective military irrelevance’ to describe a significant number of European members of NATO.18 However, Gates was not referring to the volume of military spending (which measures an input) but military capability (which is an output). It has long been recognized that the fragmented way in which resources are used by EU member states creates surpluses in certain kinds of military capability and deficits in others, something that Rasmussen acknowledged in a 2013 speech, in which he said: ‘to be frank, some of the capabilities we have, we don't need. And some of the capabilities we need, we don't have’.19

In the absence of a more integrated approach, a simple increase in national military spending by all European NATO allies would not solve that problem—if anything, it would make it worse—and, in his reflections, Gates was clear that the most important step European countries could take to enhance capability would be the better allocation and coordination of existing resources. A more serious problem is the failure to recognize, analyse and understand the implications of the problems that European states are trying to address with their military spending.

At the European Council in December 2013, EU leaders emphasized the need to re-examine their contribution to security and defence. But they did not link this to a pledge to increase military spending, referring instead to the need to maintain ‘a sufficient level of investment’ in the military while seeking efficiency gains from cooperation and synergies between existing capabilities.20 Perhaps more importantly, the Council promised to prioritize developing the EU's collective comprehensive approach to external conflict.21 The data presented in this volume further illustrates how the EU has become more active in peace operations over time, under the umbrella of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)—in 2013, it conducted 12 peace operations, including 3 with a military component (see chapter 3).

SIPRI's partner, IEP, has mapped the characteristics of peaceful countries in its Pillars of Peace programme by matching a broad set of indicators against levels of conflict and violence. The most peaceful countries have a well-functioning government, a sound business environment and equitable distribution of resources; accept the rights of others, have good relations with neighbours and facilitate the free flow of information; and have high levels of education and low levels of corruption.22 At the opposite end of the spectrum, approximately 35–70 states and territories are either already experiencing armed conflict or are classified as fragile, with a significantly increased risk of conflict and excessive levels of violence.

The EU is present in all of the fragile states and territories in one capacity or another, while CSDP peace operations are only under way in a few locations. While a useful and positive contribution, CSDP missions and operations are far from reflecting the logic of the EU's comprehensive approach to external conflict and crises, which calls for the EU and its member states ‘to combine, in a consistent manner, policies and tools ranging from diplomacy, security and defence to finance, trade, development and justice’.23 The data presented in this edition of the Yearbook suggests that peace operations increasingly emphasize short duration and limited scale. However, it is likely to take a minimum of two decades, and probably closer to four decades, for a country to move from an immediate post-conflict condition to a more peaceful, stable and prosperous condition. The EU is unlikely to be able to sustain its engagement or reach its potential by limiting action to the intergovernmental coordination that underpins the CSDP.


(12) United Nations, Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, S/2013/689, 22 Nov. 2013.

(13) UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ‘Number of Syrian refugees tops 2 million mark with more on the way’, 3 Sep. 2013, <http://www.unhcr.org/522495669.html>.

(14) Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 2012 Global Terrorism Index: Capturing the Impact of Terrorism for the Last Decade, IEP Report no. 19 (IEP: Sydney, 2012), p. 6.

(15) International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Weapons that May Cause Unnecessary Suffering or have Indiscriminate Effects (ICRC: Geneva, 1973), p. 23.

(16) Perry, W., ‘Message from the Chair’, W. Perry et al., ‘An American security policy: challenge, opportunity, commitment’, National Security Advisory Group, July 2003, <http://belfercenter.hks.harvard.edu/publication/3144/american_security_policy.html>.

(17) Fogh Rasmussen, A., ‘Fulfilling Europe's potential’, Speech at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy, 6 Sep. 2013, <http://www.lrs.lt/intl/presidency.show?theme=125&lang=2&doc=1305>.

(18) Gates, R., US Secretary of Defense, ‘Reflections on the status and future of the transatlantic alliance’, Security and Defence Agenda, 10 June, 2011, <http://www.securitydefenceagenda.org/Portals/14/Documents/Publications/2011/GATES_Report_final.pdf>.

(19) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ‘NATO: ready, robust, rebalanced—speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Carnegie Europe’, 19 Sep. 2013, <http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/opinions_103231.htm>.

(20) Council of the European Union, ‘European Council conclusions’, Brussels, 19–20 Dec. 2013, <http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/140214.pdf>.

(21) European Commission, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, ‘The EU's comprehensive approach to external conflict and crises’, Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, JOIN(2013) 30 final, 11 Dec. 2013, <http://www.eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2013/131211_03_en.pdf>.

(22) Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), Pillars of Peace: Understanding the Key Attitudes and Institutions that Underpin Peaceful Societies (IEP: Sydney, 2013).

(23) Council of the European Union (note 20).

Citation (MLA):
Anthony, Ian. "Introduction. International security, armaments and disarmament." SIPRI Yearbook. SIPRI. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2016. Web. 25 Jun. 2019. <https://www.sipriyearbook.org/view/9780198712596/sipri-9780198712596-chapter-1-div1-2.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Anthony, I. (2016). Introduction. International security, armaments and disarmament. In SIPRI, SIPRI Yearbook 2014: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 Jun. 2019, from https://www.sipriyearbook.org/view/9780198712596/sipri-9780198712596-chapter-1-div1-2.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Anthony, Ian. "Introduction. International security, armaments and disarmament." In SIPRI Yearbook 2014: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, SIPRI. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Retrieved 25 Jun. 2019, from https://www.sipriyearbook.org/view/9780198712596/sipri-9780198712596-chapter-1-div1-2.xml