On June 3, 2013, The Asia Foundation released The Contested Corners of Asia: Subnational Conflict and International Development Assistance, a major new study on subnational conflict, and the impact of international assistance to these areas.
This interactive site is a companion to that report. Use it to learn about the history of subnational conflicts, to see how development indicators in subnational conflict regions compare with national totals, and how much international aid is going to these regions. You can also explore responses to select survey questions from individuals living in subnational conflict regions in Aceh, Mindanao, and Southern Thailand.
Click a tab below, or anywhere on screen, to gain new insights on one of the most difficult challenges in developing Asia.
Subnational Conflict: “Armed conflict over control of a subnational territory, where an armed opposition movement uses violence to contest for political authority, and ostensibly, greater self-rule for the local population.”
Subnational conflict is the most widespread, enduring, and deadly form of violent conflict in Asia. These conflicts are among the world’s longest running armed struggles, lasting 40 years on average. Most of these conflicts take place in middle income countries with relatively strong states, regular elections, and capable security forces. Despite this, more people have died in subnational conflicts than fragile states over the past 20 years in Asia.
With more than half of the countries in South and Southeast Asia affected by subnational conflict, this is a story of minority populations lagging behind as most of Asia develops and prospers. While most of these conflicts only affect a small minority (around 6% on average) of the national population, more than 131 million people in Asia are living in these areas of protracted conflict.
The international community has provided nearly US$6 billion in official development assistance to subnational conflict areas in Asia over the past 10 years (excluding natural disaster funding). Despite this, the overall impact of international funding is unclear.
On June 3, 2013, The Asia Foundation released The Contested Corners of Asia: Subnational Conflict and International Development Assistance, a major new study on subnational conflict, and the impact of international assistance to these areas. The study constitutes a critical and comprehensive examination of this enduring form of conflict. The findings suggest that international assistance to these regions is heavily constrained by challenging local conditions and political dynamics, and is sometimes misguided in its assumptions and approaches, but occasionally has made positive contributions. Unfortunately, some of the mainstream development assistance models, including those designed for fragile states, are not well suited for subnational conflict areas. The study identifies the most critical contextual factors, strategic choices, and program characteristics needed for aid programs to be successful in subnational conflict areas, and illustrates some of the more promising approaches used to date.
Research for The Contested Corners of Asia: Subnational Conflict and International Development Assistance included three levels of data collection and analysis. First, the study undertook a regional analysis of conflict, development, and aid in the 26 subnational conflict areas in Asia, largely drawing on secondary data. Second, the research team conducted in-depth case studies in three major subnational conflict areas: Aceh (Indonesia), Mindanao (Philippines), and the southernmost provinces of Thailand, drawing upon original field research and survey data. Third, to draw conclusions on aid effectiveness and key characteristics of subnational conflict areas, the study made some cross-country comparisons, largely between the three country case studies.
The three country cases capture different stages on a continuum between active conflict and peace. In Aceh, the former armed resistance group signed a peace agreement with the Government of Indonesia, and subsequently integrated into provincial politics, taking control of the executive and legislative branches of the local government. In Thailand, by contrast, during the period of field research (2011-12), there were no active, open peace negotiations between the insurgents and the government, and there has never been a formal peace agreement. The Philippines case can be described as perpetual transition, with one peace agreement signed in 1996 and another in 2012, but with violence levels and uncertainty about the peace process remaining high.
For each case study, the project team selected 10 localities from across the conflict area as focal points for ethnographic research and perception surveys. The locality level selected was roughly comparable across the three countries, with an average population of 25,000 to 50,000. The research team used multi-stage, stratified random sampling to select the localities. While the sampling procedure differed slightly between cases, generally the stratification held socio-economic conditions constant, while capturing diversity in violence levels and the intensity (or presence) of international development assistance. To ensure accurate stratification, extensive data on aid flows, violence, and a variety of socio-economic indicators were collected prior to the locality sampling.
The Contested Corners of Asia study was a collaborative effort from The Asia Foundation and The World Bank. Many people and organizations worked together over a period from 2012 to 2013 to make the study come together. The project team consisted of Thomas Parks as Project Manager, Nat Colletta as Lead Expert, and Ben Oppenhiem as Research Specialist and Perception Survey Lead. Yip Hak Kwang was the research methodologist, and Anthea Mulakala acted as a Specialist in ODA to Conflict Areas. The project team’s advisory panel consisted of Judith Dunbar, James Fearon, Nils Gilman, Bruce Jones, Anthony LaVina, Neil Levine, Stephan Massing, James Putzel, Rizal Sukma, and Tom Wingfield. The case study perception surveys were conducted by MI Advisory in Southern Thailand, Polling Centre in Aceh, and Social Weather Stations in Mindanao. Many others were deeply involved in the authorship and publication of the individual reports. Please download the reports for more information on their roles.
The Contested Corners of Asia: A Visual Companion was led by John Karr, Director of the Digital Media & Technology unit at The Asia Foundation, and Senior Producer, Jon Jamieson. Jon Jamieson served as the project manager, and was assisted by ICT Program Coordinator, Michelle Chang Rodriguez. William Wang supervised the web and information design for the project with co-developer Johan Baversjo.
The international community has provided nearly US$ 7.7 billion in official development assistance to subnational conflict areas in Asia from 2001 to 2010, however, most of this assistance has not been explicitly focused on conflict issues. Although aid programs are often justified on the basis of contributing towards long-term peace and security, nearly 88% of aid programs focus on traditional development sectors such as infrastructure, economic development, and service delivery. And many traditional aid programs make little meaningful effort to adapt to conflict conditions.
Despite significant funding, the overall impact of international assistance on subnational conflict is unclear. In Aceh, the international community played a constructive and important role through aid programs that supported the 2005 peace agreement. But in Sri Lanka, Mindanao, Baluchistan, and southern Thailand, it is difficult to tell whether aid programs have made any positive difference at all.
Click on the timeline below to see how aid flows have been directed to subnational conflict regions and their respective countries.
International development assistance can help to end subnational conflict, but doing so requires working in very different ways from the standard approaches.In subnational conflict areas, much of the conventional wisdom on how aid contributes to peace does not reflect reality. Some of the core objectives of development assistance—increasing economic growth, strengthening government capacity, and improving service delivery—do not seem to help reduce or end subnational conflicts. In some cases, they tend to exacerbate the drivers of conflict. Indeed, many of the lessons that the aid community has learned from its engagement in fragile states— most notably the need to strengthen and extend the reach of state institutions—can be counterproductive in subnational conflict areas. Without paying close attention to the dynamics of the conflict, development programs can reinforce conditions that prolong conflict.
The aid data on this page was acquired from a variety of primary sources. The data are conservative estimates of aid flow. For aid flow to subnational conflict regions, we cannot determine how much of that aid goes directly to the peace process and how much goes to other development programs. It is also difficult to determine how much aid flow, if any, is diverted from other regions to the subnational conflict region, and vice versa.
The Heidelberg Conflict Barometer was used to map conflict intensity across the region. This scale ranks conflict intensity on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating a non-violent, low intensity conflict and 5 being a violent, high intensity war. Though conflicts may not be rated for certain years, this does not mean the conflict has ended. Instead, it should be considered as a year when conflict intensity was not measured to be at level 1. For more information on this measurement, please visit The Heidelberg Conflict Barometer website.