WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush and his team of Cold War warriors face a world of increasing conflict, with military experts counting 68 countries suffering civil unrest, drug wars and other skirmishes. The number is up from 65 last year and nearly twice the average at the sunset of superpower rivalry in the late 1980s.
Of the 193 countries it examined, the National Defense Council Foundation found more than a third were in conflict. The think tank, which has retired military officers among its analysts, concluded the most dangerous strife is in Afghanistan.
"We're more in danger now -- citizens traveling abroad and trade routes are more in jeopardy than ever before," retired Army Maj. F. Andy Messing Jr., executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based foundation, said in an interview.
"There are all these little wars going on and a lot of them are starting to ... restrict marketplaces, resource bases and impact ... our ability to navigate the globe safely," he said, adding that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and increasing world population add to the danger.
The report said the year's "stupidest conflict" is in Cameroon, where the government created and armed paramilitary groups to help stamp out widespread crime. "The militias and paramilitaries have created far more chaos and death than crime ever would have," the report said.
The foundation, which describes itself as a "right-of-center" think tank, is aligned with conservatives who advocate military spending reforms. Like Bush, it advocates limited U.S. intervention abroad.
Retired Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of state, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as vice president and repeat Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will face new dangers, said Messing, who says he briefed Bush on global defense issues in 1998.
"Unless they reconfigure the Department of Defense, they're going to have a lot of superfluous or unnecessary spending. They're going to have to look at what the actual threat is," Messing said.
The report is being sent to Bush, incoming members of Congress and defense officials. The foundation's analysis lists countries where turmoil has disrupted economies, politics or security.
Its count of 68 conflicts contrasts with the 31 counted by the Central Intelligence Agency this year. But CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the CIA list, which is classified, includes only conflicts with "high levels of organized violence between states or between contending groups within a state or with high levels of political or societal tension likely to erupt into violence."
The report cites Afghanistan as the "most dangerous" nation in conflict not only because of civil war there, but also because its ruling Taliban allegedly sponsors terrorists and insurgents elsewhere, such as in China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya.
Fifteen countries were added to the list this year, and 12 were removed.
Among the additions, civil unrest contributed to violence in Albania, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Liberia; terrorism was part of the problem in Spain and Laos; drugs figured in the conflicts in Albania, Bolivia, El Salvador, Kazakstan, Laos and elsewhere.
Among places removed from the list was the Korean peninsula, where warming relations between the Communist North and democratic South meant fewer incursions and provocations.
The report also said there was less violence in Armenia, less terrorist activity in Greece and less civil unrest in Kenya. Civil order in Niger improved after the restoration of democracy, and violence decreased in Congo because of the peace accord, it said.
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