Olympic Truce: Can the World Stop All Wars?

Ban Ki Moon called for a restoration of the “Olympic Truce” in which warring parties lay down their arms for the duration of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Here’s what he said:

As the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver draw near, the United Nations and the Olympic Movement are once again calling for a worldwide cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Games.

The Olympic Truce brings hope of at least a temporary respite from violence and armed conflict. It also draws attention to a terrible paradox. At the Olympics and throughout the year, we rightly honour the outstanding achievements of the human body and the positive social values of competitive sport, including team spirit and fairness. Yet all too often, through the carnage of war, we do terrible damage to that same human body, and to our shared values.

Peace and stability are essential for people to reach their true potential. The Olympic Truce is based on that yearning, and on ideals shared by the United Nations and the Olympic movement alike: global friendship; harmony; non-violence; and non-discrimination.

I therefore join the United Nations General Assembly, the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Movement in urging warring parties all over the world to lay down their weapons during the XXI Olympic Winter Games. Let us start with the Olympic Truce, and continue even after the games are played and the medals awarded.

So what would a world wide truce look like in practice?  “Wars” are generally defined as conflicts that result in excess of 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, which is a university-based research organ that tracks global conflicts, there were 5 conflicts that met this threshold in 2008, the latest year for which data was available.  However, taking a look at these five places — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Sri Lanka — it’s probably fair to say that they remained in a state of “war” in 2009 as well.  

Ban Ki Moon, though, did not limit his recommendation to countries at war, per se.  Rather, he used the broader phrase “cessation of hostilities.” The Uppsala Conflict Data Program defines “armed conflict” as conflicts that result in at least 25 battlefield deaths in a given year.  Again, the last available data they have is from 2008.  In it, they note, “the 36 armed conflicts that were active in 2008 took place in 26 different locations around the globe. The majority of conflicts were intrastate (30), with 5 being intrastate with foreign involvement. One interstate conflict was registered, the minor armed conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea.”

Here is the 2008 list of countries and places that fit this definition of armed conflict.


Georgia (territory: South Ossetia)

Russia (territory: Caucasus Emirate)

Middle East

Iran (government)

Iraq (government)

Israel (territory: Palestine)

Turkey (territory: Kurdistan)


Afghanistan (government)

India (territory: Assam)

India (territory: Dimaraji)

India (territory: Islamic State)

India (territory: Kashmir)

India (territory: Manipur)

India (government)

Myanmar (territory: Karen)

Myanmar (territory: Shan)

Pakistan (territory: Baluchistan)

Pakistan (government)

Philippines (territory: Mindanao)

Philippines (government)

Sri Lanka (territory: Eelam)

Thailand (territory: Patani)


Algeria (government)

Burundi (government)

Chad (government)

Democratic Republic of Congo (territory: Kongo Kingdom)

Democratic Republic of Congo (government)

Djbouti-Eritrea (territory: common border)

Ethiopia (territory: Ogaden)

Ethiopia (territory: Oromiya)

Mali (territory: Azawad)

Niger (government)

Somalia (government)

Sudan (government)

Somalia (government)

Sudan (government)


Colombia (government)

Peru (government)

USA (government)

A few of these conflicts probably no longer qualify as active conflicts in 2009.   The South Ossetia conflict did not flare up again in 2009.  Neither did the Djibouti-Eritrea conflict. On the other hand the Yemen conflict erupted again at the end of last year.  

So, readers, can you think of other places that would qualify as a “conflict” for the purposes of an Olympic Truce?   To whom else might Ban Ki Moon direct his call?