From old wars to new wars and global terrorism

M Spagat, N Johnson, J Restrepo, J Bohórquez, N Suárez, E Restrepo, R Zarama

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper

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Even before 9/11 there were claims that the nature of war had changed fundamentally. The 9/11 attacks created an urgent need to understand contemporary wars and their relationship to older conventional and terrorist wars, both of which exhibit remarkable regularities. The frequency-intensity distribution of fatalities in "old wars", 1968-1980, is a power-law with exponent 1.80(9) 2 . Global terrrist attacks, 1968-present, also follow a power-law with exponent 1.71(3) for G7 countries and 2.5(1) for non-G7 countries. Here we analyze two ongoing, high-profile wars on opposite sides of the globe - Colombia and Iraq. Our analysis uses our own unique dataset for killings and injuries in Colombia, plus publicly available data for civilians killed in Iraq. We show strong evidence for power-law behaviour within each war. Despite substantial differences in contexts and data coverage, the power-law coefficients for both wars are tending toward 2.5, which is a value characteristic of non-G7 terrorism as opposed to old wars. We propose a plausible yet analyticallysolvable model of modern insurgent warfare, which can explain these observations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Terrorism
  • Contemporary warfare
  • Conventional warfare
  • Conflict

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