Picks of the Quarter

The conflicts that gain the most attention and media coverage tend to be those that are most sensational and violent. But there are many other conflicts we do not hear about, and those living through them must struggle to make their voices heard. This column seeks to bring attention to serious events, issues, and conflicts that receive little coverage but deserve our attention, our acknowledgement, and our best efforts in resolving them.


Latin America

A common theme in the news surrounding Latin America is the War on Drugs in Mexico. While the sheer number of people killed during this “war” is astounding (45,000 since 2006), the effects of drugs as well as transnational crime on other countries in Latin America are often overlooked. There are numerous other countries in the region that have been affected by this war and trafficking that are often disregarded and assumed to be immune to the effects of drug violence. However, these countries are suffering as well, even though the problems did not originate there. An example is Costa Rica. President Laura Chinchilla, during a recent visit to Mexico, called attention to the rising insecurity her country faces due to the use of Central America as a transit route for the movement of cocaine. This threat is further intensified because Costa Rica does not have a national army to protect the country from the rising number of traffickers that have moved in since Mexico has cracked down on the activities of drug gangs. The activities of these gangs are particularly worrying: for example, the gangs employ horrendously violent tactics such as kidnapping, threats, torture, and even murder in order to coerce people into working for them. President Chinchilla advocates for the cooperation of regional entities to address the problem, as it is clear that each entity acting independently only serves to move illegal activities to neighboring countries. Costa Rica is an important example of the need to address these problems regionally, as they are not the source of the problem, but have become involved due to the actions of their neighbors.



As part of the recently held World Water Forum, the United States released a report detailing potential conflicts that could arise over the issue of water, and the use of water as a weapon of war (noting that these conflicts would probably not happen for at least the next decade). There are three river basins in India that are flagged as potential areas over which conflict could arise in the next decade. This report raises interesting issues, as water is not widely perceived as a weapon of war. Since 2008, there have been over 1,000 reported conflicts within India over water. One of the problems associated with water in India is scarcity, as well as the availability of clean, sanitary drinking water, as India has the highest level per capita of water borne diseases. As the population of India grows, access to water becomes increasingly limited. With the current situation of water and conflict in India, is it easy to see how water could be used as a weapon of war. Water is already a scarce resource in India, and the potential impact of limiting the resource even further would have drastic negative implications. This also makes it obvious that the United States should be re-examining the potential for conflict surrounding water.


United States

The armed forces of the United States have received increased international media attention because of recent violent acts committed by their members. Most of these acts have been rather horrific and violent, and the loss of life associated with them should not be forgotten. The only beneficial effect of the attention these acts are receiving is that it is finally forcing the United States Armed Forces to examine the mental health of their soldiers as well as the effects of repeated deployments. The most recent event involved Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians. He was on his fourth deployment, and had been stationed at Fort Lewis prior to his deployment, a base that has gained notoriety recently as there have been numerous incidents involving violence with soldiers that were stationed there at some point. If anything, the increased number of incidents should force the Armed Forces to re-examine the effects of conflict on its members as well as the cumulative effects of numerous deployments without sufficient psychological and medical care. This is an important issue for soldiers, but also for civilians, both in the United States and in countries in which the United States has a military presence. If events such as these continue, it will put civilians in harm’s way and will also further deteriorate the reputation of the United States abroad, especially in zones in which they are engaged in a conflict. Mass killings of civilians should not be what needs to occur to encourage the Armed Forces to provide the necessary services to which its members have a right.

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