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Why There Are So Many Conflicts Happening Right Now

Friday, July 18, 2014
Ukraine. Gaza. Iraq. Syria.

The list of places erupting in conflict seems to grow each month, as unstable countries become entangled in wars over territory, power, resources and other reasons.

"We're in a cycle where international conflicts are becoming more the norm than the exception," Ilan Berman, vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council, told ABC News today. "In Iraq, in Palestinian territories, in Ukraine, there are a lot of hot spots in the world that are heating up."

Each conflict is unique in its origin, Berman and other foreign experts pointed out today when asked about the sudden surge in global conflicts. But there are underlying reasons we are seeing so many come to the surface now.

"The takeaway is that when you have global instability of this kind, it's usually a signal that the existing order is beginning to break down. The things that kept hostilities in check for a long time, those rules, those stabilizing powers, aren't really there anymore. Things are changing," Berman said.

A good example of this, he said, is when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula in March despite protests from Western nations and the threat of punishment.

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Photos: Ukraine Crisis: Independence Movement Spreads East

"It was done, quite frankly, because the Russians thought they could get away with it without consequences from the U.S., and they were right. And that adventurism is more common today," Berman said.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has escalated, and was highlighted Thursday when a missile struck down a commercial jet over Ukraine.

The rising tide of conflicts around the globe "isn't necessarily somebody's fault," he said, though America's withdrawal from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other foreign affairs has played a role. "There's far fewer variables for bad guys to worry about, let's say."

Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, disagreed, noting that the most severe conflicts in the world today have to be taken individually on their own terms.

"There are four or five key determinants or causes," he said.

O'Hanlon outlined the distinctive threads, which included what he called "violent rejectionism," as seen in various extremist Islamist groups, interstate competition for resources, historical grudges, and the quest to limit nuclear proliferation, such as in Iran and North Korea.

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The Syrian Conflict in Photos

"There's Sunni Islamist extremism, there's a Shia Islamist extremist component, the Iranian nuclear weapons components, Iran's willingness to help extremist groups," O'Hanlon said, offering examples of different types of causes for conflicts. "The Chinese-Taiwanese issue, which has more dimensions of ongoing civil war, and the Japanese-Chinese as well as other regional issues which are more old fashioned competition for resources."

"I don't think they reduce to one cause that's distinctive to this moment in history", O'Hanlon said.

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