Major Episodes of Political Violence
Compiled by Dr. Monty G. Marshall
Director, Center for Systemic Peace
This Web page was last updated on April 30, 2020
State Fragility and Warfare in the Global System 2019
Place cursor on the icons on the map for a brief description of the Warfare EventsClick here for a complete list of 2018 State Fragility Scores The following table lists 334 episodes of armed conflict (including 36 ongoing cases) that comprise a comprehensive accounting of all forms of major armed conflicts in the world over the contemporary period: 1946-2019 (12 cases of foreign direct interventions, "FDI events," are listed separately but not counted as separate episodes; see notes 4 and 6 below). "Major episodes of political violence" involve at least 500 "directly-related" fatalities and reach a level of intensity in which political violence is both systematic and sustained (a base rate of 100 "directly-related deaths per annum"). Episodes may be of any general type: inter-state, intra-state, or communal; they include all episodes of international, civil, ethnic, communal, and genocidal violence and warfare. Episodes are coded on a scale of one to ten according to an assessment of the full impact of their violence on the societies that directly experience their effects. The effects of political violence and warfare include fatalities and casualties, resource depletion, destruction of infrastructure, and population dislocations, among other things such as the psychological trauma to individuals and adverse changes to the social psychology and political culture of affected social identity groups. The resulting categories represent standardized event magnitudes based on levels of societal affect (i.e., a measure of the general magnitude that a society's normal networking and functioning is affected by violent disruption); the scaled categories are considered comparable and standardized units of measurement. Global and regional trends in warfare are visualized graphically by aggregating the coded scores for all ongoing episodes of major armed conflict in a given year; see the CSP Conflict Trends page. For a more detailed explanation of the coding methodology, click here.
Cases highlighted in red were ongoing in early-2020 (25 cases); ongoing cases highlighted inorange have diminished substantially in magnitude during the six months immediately prior to the most recent update and may be ending (11 cases). All episodes that are denoted as having ended within the past five years (i.e., since January 2015) are highlighted in yellow; these cases are considered at high risk of return to warfare (8 cases).
Note that several revisions were made to the list in regard to episodes in Africa. A thorough re-examination of the case list for African countries was conducted under the auspices of a Summer 2005 contract with the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) and the African Conflict Prevention Pool for a study and report on "Conflict Trends in Africa." The final report was delivered in October 2005; a full copy of the report, including seven data annexes, is available on the CSP Web site. Click here to view the CSP Africa analysis or download the report in PDF format.
Note also that several revisions were made to the list in regard to cases that previously had been included with unknown "estimates of directly-related deaths" (denoted "na"). As new sources of information have become available in recent years, and particularly with the expansion of Keesings Online news archives, all episodes listed as "unknown" were investigated in early 2009 to confirm or disconfirm their listing. As a result, several episodes have been delisted and some others were refined. All episodes listed now include an estimate of directly-related deaths (Death). For a detailed accounting of these changes, please contact the Center for Systemic Peace.
The variables listed in the "Major Episodes of Political Violence" table are as follows:
Inclusive years (Begin and End): The beginnings and endings of most political violence episodes are difficult to determine exactly; various researchers "pinpoint" and denote various dates. The "begin" and "end" years listed for each episode (below) are those considered by the author to be those most likely to capture the transformative "moments" (beginning and ending) of the episodes, according to a comparison of the varying claims of the sources noted. No "end" year is listed for episodes that began and ended in the same year.
Episode type (Type): Episode type is listed according to two character codes. The first character denotes either a (C)ivil-intrastate involving rival political groups; (E)thnic-intrastate involving the state agent and a distinct ethnic group; or (I)nternational event-interstate, usually two or more states, but may denote a distinct polity resisting foreign domination (colonialism). The second character connotes either an episode of (V)iolence-the use of instrumental violence without necessarily exclusive goals; (W)ar-violence between distinct, exclusive groups with the intent to impose a unilateral result to the contention; or i(N)dependence-an attempt to forcibly remove an existing foreign domination.
Magnitude of societal-systemic impact (Mag): The rationale and methodology for assessing the societal and systemic impact of warfare episodes is discussed and described in detail in the accompanying text. The number listed represents a scaled indicator of the destructive impact, or magnitude, of the violent episode on the directly-affected society or societies on a scale of 1 (smallest) to 10 (greatest). Magnitude scores reflect multiple factors including state capabilities, interactive intensity (means and goals), area and scope of death and destruction, population displacement, and episode duration. Scores are considered to be consistently assigned (i.e., comparable) across episode types and for all states directly involved. For a more detailed explanation of the coding scheme used, click here.
Episode location (States Directly Involved): Countries listed are only those upon whose territory the political violence episode actually takes place, that is, those state-societies directly affected by the warfare. Countries intervening in the episodes are not listed as the violence does not take place on their territory and, so, these intervening actors are considered to be indirectly, or remotely, affected by the violence.
Estimates of "directly-related" deaths (Deaths): Accountings of the number of deaths resulting directly from an episode of political violence are difficult to determine and estimates often vary widely. This difficulty is especially problematic as the distinction between combatants and non-combatants has grown increasingly obscure as "less formal" civil conflict interactions in less institutionalized societal systems predominate in the contemporary era. As argued in the text, such estimates of "battle-related deaths" should be regarded simply as estimates of the general magnitude of the violence. The numbers listed here reflect the median or mean of often widely disparate estimates listed in the various sources and are provided solely as a referent point. Casualties among non-combatants directly related to the violent conflict are inconsistently estimated (if at all) in the various source estimates. Far more problematic than "battle-related deaths" for societal systems are the much larger numbers of persons directly and indirectly, physically and psychologically, distorted and disturbed by violence during episodes of armed conflict (for this we have no estimation procedure).
Notes and Sources
* The research described in this data-collection project has been sponsored by the Political Instability Task Force (PITF). The PITF is funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. The views expressed herein are the author's/authors' alone and do not represent the views of the US Government.
1. Ethnic separatist resistance in the border regions of Myanmar (Burma) includes several groups, such as the Kachins, Karen, Karreni, Mons, Rohingyas, Shan, Wa, and others. Because information on political activity in Myanmar has been, and continues to be, so poor, it has not been possible to list the rebellions separately despite the fact that there is little evidence of collusion between ethnic-rebel groups.
2. In cases where the sovereignty of a distinct territory is ambiguous and contested by the parties in conflict, the episode is coded as an international conflict until authority has either been successfully imposed or resisted, after which subsequent episodes are coded according to the sovereignty thus established.
3. The case of Malaysian independence and civil violence is continuous and coded IN3 for the period prior to official independence in 1957 (i.e., 1957) and CV3 afterward (i.e., 1958-1960).
4. The United States' and China’s direct involvement in the Korean civil war, France's direct involvement in the Indochinese and Algerian wars of independence, Portugal's direct involvement in the Angola and Mozambique colonial wars, the United States’ direct involvement in the Vietnamese civil war, the Soviet Union’s direct involvement in the civil war in Afghanistan, and Rwanda and Uganda's direct involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) civil war are unique cases of external involvement that surpass the limited and indirect engagement usually accorded to acts of external interventions and, so, are coded as separate listings of international violence or warfare separate from the civil warfare episodes in which they were engaged. These separate listings for "internationalized civil war" involvements are not considered unique "major episodes of political violence" in tabulating event counts.
5. The end of the Angola independence war (1961-1975) coincides with the beginning of the Angola civil war (1975-2002). The Rwanda case is unique in that it involves a sudden and complete transference of political power as the Tutsi insurgency mounts an offensive and seizes power following the Hutu regime-instigated genocide. Former members of the Hutu regime and, especially, those responsible for the genocide then take up arms against the new Tutsi-dominated regime. These contiguous episodes are listed as two separate episodes but are recorded in the data record as though they were continual episodes (i.e., with no overlap of the two contiguous episodes).
6. The Iraq war (2003-2008+) is recorded as an international war (IW6) because the 2003 invasion by US forces triggered an armed resistance by indigenous and foreign militants within Iraq and a communal war involving Sunni, Shia, and Kurd communal groups; in effect, this episode in treated as a "domesticized interstate war." The effect on the United States resulting from its direct invasion of Iraq, its forceful ouster of the Saddam Hussein-led Ba'athist regime, and its continued support for the new, Shia-dominated government in the ensuing civil war is coded separately from the Iraq case; the US case is coded as an international war (IW) with magnitude 2; the US case listing is not counted as a separate event. Similarly, the US direct intervention in Afghanistan (2005-2014) is recorded as a case of international violence (IV1) in an internationalized civil war and not counted as a separate event.
7. Vietnam armed forces invaded Cambodia in November 1978 and ousted the Khmer Rouge regime in December 1978. This episode escalates a prior interstate war between Cambodia and Vietnam (IW2 1975-1978) and overlaps with the prior civil war episode in Cambodia (CW6 1975-1978). In the data record for the year 1978, Cambodia is recorded with an IW2 and CW6; Vietnam is recorded with an IW5.
Information sources (References): There is no general agreement among scholars as to what constitutes a major episode of armed conflict. The most common divisions in the relevant research center on episode type or interstate-intrastate conflict distinctions, further complicating the comprehensive compilation of episodes of all types. The reference numbers list those from the following sixteen sources that include the episode with the purview of their particular classification scheme.
a. Ruth Leger Sivard. 1991. World Military and Social Expenditures 1991. 14th ed. Washington, DC: World Priorities. (Also, consulted 16th ed., 1996, see "m" below.) Criteria: "...armed conflict involving one or more governments and causing the death of 1,000 or more people per year." (Sivard 1991, 25)
b. Patrick Brogan. 1989. World Conflicts: Why and Where They are Happening. London: Bloomsbury. Criteria: "...includes all the major wars and insurrections since 1945, but leaves out many lesser insurrections and riots, many of which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people."
c. Melvin Small and J. David Singer. 1982. Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816-1980. Beverly Hills: Sage. Criteria: Interstate wars during which the total "battle-connected fatalities among military personnel" for all participants was at least 1000 per year; extra-systemic wars during which battle deaths exceeded the 1000 per year threshold for the system-member; civil wars which resulted in at least 1000 deaths per year including both civilian and military personnel. (Small and Singer 1982, 71)
d. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 1968-1993. World Armaments and Disarmament: SIPRI Yearbook. Annual series. Stockholm: SIPRI. Criteria: Major armed conflicts, defined as "prolonged combat between the military forces of two or more governments or of one government and at least one organized armed group, involving the use of weapons and incurring battle-related deaths of at least 1000 persons." (SIPRI 1992, 417)
e. Barbara Harff and Ted Robert Gurr. 1988. "Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since 1945." International Studies Quarterly 32: 359-371. Criteria: Cases of "massive state repression" which are "sustained episodes in which the state or its agents impose on a communal or political group 'conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.'"
f. G. D. Kaye, D. A. Grant, and E. J. Emond. 1985. Major Armed Conflict: A Compendium of Interstate and Intrastate Conflict, 1720 to 1985. Ottawa, Canada: Department of National Defense. Criteria: "In a general sense, the conflict modes involve two or more groups (nations and/or actors) in which the use of force was a significant factor in the event. This includes both internal and international events. At least one nation is involved in every conflict listed."
g. Herbert K. Tillema. 1991. International Armed Conflict Since 1945: A Bibliographic Handbook of Wars and Military Interventions. Boulder: Westview Press. Criteria: "An international armed conflict is operationally defined to include all directly related foreign overt military interventions undertaken by one or more states within one or more foreign political territories....Onset of the first directly related foreign overt military intervention and cessation of the last intervention are taken as the beginning and the end of an international armed conflict." (Tillema 1991, 12 fn.8)
h. J. David Singer and Melvin Small. 1993. The Correlates of War Project: International and Civil War Data, 1816-1992. Computer file. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Criteria: See source reference number 3 above, except that the criteria for "Extra-systemic" wars has been changed from "1000 annual average battle deaths per year" to "1000 battle deaths total for all participating interstate system members and the troop commitment criterion."
i. List of International and Civil Wars Excluded (1980-1988). Personal correspondence with Ricardo R. Rodriguiz, Data Management Assistant, Correlates of War Project, dated May 25, 1993. Criteria: Recognized in the literature as an episode of "armed conflict" but fail to meet minimum criteria for definition as one of the three COW categories; see source reference "c" above.
j. Ted Robert Gurr. 1994. "Peoples Against States: Ethnopolitical Conflict and the Changing World System." International Studies Quarterly 38: 347-377. Criteria: Serious ethnopolitical conflicts involving armed violence and resulting in large numbers of casualties and dislocated populations.
k. Daniel C. Esty, Jack A. Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, Marc Levy, Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Pamela T. Surko, Alan N. Unger. 1998. State Failure Task Force Report: Phase II Findings. McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation. Criteria: The State Failure Problem Set includes four types of events: Ethnic Wars, Revolutionary Wars, Geno/Politicides, and Abrupt or Disruptive Regime Transitions. Only the first three types of events meet the general criteria to be considered a major armed conflict for cross-referencing here. Ethnic Wars are "episodes of violent conflict between governments and national, ethnic, religious, or other communal minorities (ethnic challengers) in which the challengers seek major changes in their status." Revolutionary Wars are "episodes of violent conflict between governments and politically organized groups (political challengers) that seek to overthrow the central government, to replace its leaders, or to seize power in one region." Geno/politicide is "the promotion, execution, and/or implied consent of sustained policies by governing elites or their agents-or, in the case of civil war, either of the contending authorities-that result in the deaths of a substantial portion of a communal and/or politicized communal group." Episodes of Geno/Politicide must have lasted six months or more to be included. Revolutionary and Ethnic Wars are included if they pass a minimum threshold wherein each party must mobilize 1000 or more people (armed agents, demonstrators, troops) and average 100 or more fatalities per year during the episode. The State Failure Problem Set is updated annually for the Political Instability Task Force by Societal-Systems Research Inc; the most recent version of the data is available on the CSP/INSCR Data Page.
l. Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg (and others). 2008-2012. "Armed Conflict and Regional Conflict Complexes."Annual report in Journal of Peace Research. Criteria: Wallensteen and Sollenberg include three types of events in their study: minor armed conflict, intermediate armed conflict, and war. Only the latter two types meet the general criteria for inclusion here. Intermediate armed conflicts have "more than 1,000 battle-related deaths recorded during the course of the conflict, but fewer than 1,000 in any given year." Wars have "more than 1,000 battle-related deaths during any given year." (Wallensteen and Sollenberg 1998, 621)
m. Ruth Leger Sivard. 1996. World Military and Social Expenditures 1996. 16th ed. Washington, DC: World Priorities. Criteria: "...armed conflict involving one or more governments and causing the death of 1,000 or more people per year." (Updates "a" above.)
n. Correlates of War. 1994. Militarized Interstate Disputes. Computer File. ICPSR version. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Criteria: Fatality category 5 and 6 cases were chosen for cross-referencing; category 5 includes disputes where fatalities range from 501 to 999 (1 case) and category 6 includes disputes with over 999 fatalities (24 cases).
o. Patrick M. Regan 1996. "Conditions of Successful Third-Party Intervention in Intrastate Conflicts." Journal of Conflict Resolution 40: 336-359. Criteria: Regan defines episodes of intrastate conflict as "armed, sustained combat between groups within state boundaries in which there are at least 200 fatalities." (Regan 1996, 338) Appendix lists only the 85 conflicts that had at least one intervention (of 138 total), only three of the conflicts listed fall below the standard 1000 fatalities threshold.
p. Monty G. Marshall. 1998-2020. "Current Status of the World's Major Episodes of Political Violence." Monthly reports to US Government's Political Instability Task Force, most recent report February 29, 2020.
This comprehensive compilation is a substantial revision and update of earlier works published in the following sources (each are available in the CSP Virtual Library as electronic documents):Monty G. Marshall. 1999. Third World War: System, Process, and Conflict Dynamics. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Monty G. Marshall. 2002. "Measuring the Societal Impact of War," chapter 4 in Fen Osler Hampson and David M. Malone, eds., From Reaction to Conflict Prevention: Opportunities for the UN System. A project of the International Peace Academy. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publisher.Monty G. Marshall and Ted Robert Gurr. 2005. Peace and Conflict 2005: A Global Survey of Armed Conflicts, Democracy, and Self-Determination Movements. College Park, MD: Center for International Development and Conflict Management. Biennial report series; also published in 2001 and 2003.Monty G. Marshall and Benjamin R. Cole. 2014. Global Report 2014: Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility. Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace. Serial report; also published in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011.Monty G. Marshall and Gabrielle Elzinga-Marshall. 2017. Global Report 2017: Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility. Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace. This web page was last updated on April 30, 2020.To return to the CSP Home Page, click on the CSP logo below.