Europe preparing for war as Ukraine conflict looms large, report finds

Global Peace Index finds Europe’s military spending is rising amid fears the war in Ukraine will expand.

Kharkiv region
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has led Europe to reassess military spending and general combat readiness [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

More than three-fourths of European countries spent more on their militaries in 2023, a report has found, as the world’s most peaceful region fears a possible expansion of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The 18th edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI), produced by the Australia-based Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), warned on Tuesday the world was at a crossroads, with the global number of conflicts reaching 56, the most since World War II.

Ninety-seven countries deteriorated in peacefulness in 2024, more than any year since the inception of the report in 2008.

Wars have also become more international, with 92 countries involved in conflicts outside their borders, the most since the GPI began recording peacefulness.

“Over the past decade, peacefulness has declined in nine out of the 10 years. We are witnessing a record number of conflicts, a rise in militarisation, and heightened international strategic competition,” said Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of IEP.

“It is imperative for governments and businesses worldwide to intensify their efforts to resolve the many minor conflicts before they escalate into larger crises,” Killelea said.

While Europe is home to seven of the 10 most peaceful countries, 23 out of 36 countries in the region have become less peaceful.

Sweden, which became NATO’s newest member in March fearing a conflict with Russia, experienced the largest drop in Europe. It fell 22 places to rank 39th, its lowest level of peacefulness since 2008.

Globally, eight of the world’s nine regions became less peaceful. Russia and Eurasia was the only region to improve on average over the past year, although both Russia and Ukraine deteriorated.

The Russia-Ukraine war has led Europe to reassess military spending levels and combat readiness, with 30 of 39 European countries recording a deterioration in this domain over the past year.

“It’s been 80 years since the end of World War II, and the current crises underscore the urgency for world leaders to commit to investing in resolving these conflicts,” said Killelea.

Militarisation increased in 91 countries, reversing the trend of the prior 15 years, the report found, as the growing number of minor conflicts increased the likelihood of major conflicts in the future.

‘Forever wars’

Increasing complexity and the growing internationalisation of conflicts reduced the likelihood of achieving lasting solutions, leading to “forever conflicts”, such as those raging in Ukraine and Gaza.

Armed conflict was also changing as a result of military technology and increasing geopolitical competition.

With the number of states using drones rising from 16 to 40 – a 150 percent increase between 2018 and 2023 – warfare technology made it easier for non-state groups or smaller and less powerful states to wage conflict.

The human cost of war also reached record-high levels.

In the first four months of 2024, 47,000 people died as a result of global conflicts.

If the same rate continues for the rest of this year, it would be the highest number of conflict deaths since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

By comparison, 2023 recorded 162,000 conflict-related deaths, the second highest toll in the past 30 years. The conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, where more than 37,000 people have been killed in eight months, accounted for nearly three-quarters of deaths.

The economic losses resulting from conflicts are dire, according to the report. The global economic effect of violence in 2023 was $19.1 trillion or $2,380 per person, marking an increase of $158bn, driven largely by a 20 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) losses from conflict.

Ukraine was among the countries that incurred the highest relative economic cost of violence in 2023, equivalent to 68.6 percent of GDP.

“Conflict negatively affects the global economy, and business risk from conflict has never been higher, compounding the current global economic vulnerabilities,” Killelea said.

Source: Al Jazeera