Conflict in High Resolution

When we discover fascinating corners of the internet, we like to shine some light on them.

Follow the Tropic of Cancer from West to East (or East to West, let’s not discriminate), and you’ll encounter many of the ongoing conflicts of our time, or at the very least parties to those conflicts. The factoid that so much conflict occurs between roughly the 50th parallel north and the Equator may seem comparatively unhelpful from a policy perspective (after all, correlation isn’t causation, and the causes of those conflicts range from resource shortages to geopolitical maneuvering to sectarian violence) but this and much more important and relevant information or analysis is an example of the work presented by the online database known as the Global Conflict Tracker (GCT). [1]

This interactive and detailed map is made by the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) and showcases, with commentary to boot, all of the current regions of the world where conflicts which engage US interests in any capacity are happening. The CPA is a subsidiary initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US based think tank that notably publishes the prestigious and influential bi-monthly magazine Foreign Affairs, and purports to help “policymakers devise timely and practical strategies to prevent and mitigate armed conflict around the world, especially in those places where U.S. interests are most at risk.”[2] The information that they provide is far more than just geographical: for instance, CPA estimates that, of the twenty-six ongoing conflicts that are of import to the US, only nine have a limited impact on US interests.

However biased such an approach seems to be for non-US audiences, the Tracker is a remarkable tool for the exploration and comprehension of geopolitical hot spots. It categorizes conflicts according to multiple factors, allows users to explore more specifically according to region and conflict type, and each conflict comes with an extensive complimentary presentation. This includes general information such as when it began, which territories it spans, details pertaining to the affected population (displaced or otherwise). Every data point comes with a relevant source, articles from the CFR, and links to external commentary from institutions ranging from the UN to the US Department of State. Another feature of note is a dedicated feed for the most recent articles about the given conflict.

To be clear, the database is by no means exhaustive in scope, as any cursory look online will show that there are many, many more regions plagued by conflict in this day and age – not to mention frozen conflicts, skirmishes over territorial disputes, internal strife of a comparatively lesser degree, and so on. However, the relevance of the Tracker cannot be understated: It can be seen, for all intents and purposes, as the be-all and end-all in terms of how the US projects its interests abroad, at least in terms of pure geopolitics. As a basis for understanding the current foreign policy zeitgeist, it appears to be nothing short of crucial.

Naturally, when it comes to the added commentary and interpretation of a conflict with regards to US interests, it shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Some of the analyses are surprising and entirely up for debate outside of the database. For instance, the Tracker lists the Yemeni civil war as having a limited impact on US interests, primarily because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia. As a now long-standing US partner in the region, Saudi participation tips the scale heavily in favor of US inaction. This, for one, tends to point to a tactical rather than strategic scope for the CPA’s analysis, i.e. more short than long term. 

Indeed, a growing question for US involvement in the Middle East is its seemingly contradictory partnership with both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Diplomatic relations between the two regional powers have been -publically at least [3]- completely nonexistent, battle lines drawn in part around Palestinian sovereignty (if not, outright, the very existence of Israel as a legitimate nation).  Both having ties with the US seems then only a targeted effort designed to show a consolidated front against Iran and its allies in the region. 

For the US, however, the status quo looks to be a solution by default rather than a tenable position. Take your pick: The almost neverending stream of intelligence pointing to Saudi backing of international terrorism, the clear involvement in 9/11, the dangerous proselytizing and funding of radical religious movements abroad (particularly in Europe, but realistically speaking the phenomenon is much more widespread [4]), not to mention an appalling human rights record and other such troubling behaviour (Jamal Khashoggi)… 

Realistically, the US-Saudi alliance is clearly a holdover from a bygone age and, increasingly, a liability to a country that prides itself on its advocacy of human rights at home and abroad. We can only guess as to how long Western support of the Wahhabi monarchy will endure; because if it’s for the purported stability of the region, you’ll have to explain to me how that’s been working out.

For foreign policy enthusiasts the internet over, this is but one of the deep rabbit holes that the Global Conflict Tracker invites us to explore; and we’ll certainly share whatever we dig up. 

Sources:

  1. Website of the Global Conflict Tracker
  2. Center for Preventive Action, “About the Program”
  3. Marcus, Jonathan, “Israel and Saudi Arabia: What’s shaping the covert ‘alliance'”, BBC, November 24, 2017
  4. Pandith, Farah, “Extremism is Riyadh’s Top Export”, Foreign Policy, March 24, 2018

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