Attrition: Discipline and Death Rates


December25, 2006: The recently concluded civil war in Nepal had, by current world standards, a rather low body count. Nepal has a population of some 25 million, and the total deaths from ten years of fighting came to about 14,000. The rebellion was treated as a police matter until 2001, when the violence escalated considerably.

Some 74 percent of those killed were Maoist rebels, who fought to establish a communist dictatorship. The security forces suffered 17 percent of the deaths, and civilians the remaining nine percent. The war got very violent in 2001, with 1,051 dead. That rose to nearly 5,000 in 2002 (38 percent of all deaths for the war). The annual deaths fell to less than half that for the next three years, until a ceasefire and peace deal was worked out earlier this year. There were only 480 dead in 2006. Although the Maoists took a beating on the battlefield, they were able to mobilize a lot of popular discontent. Nepal is a monarchy that only recently became a constitutional monarchy.

King Gyanendra came to power in 2001, when his brother, the previous king, was killed by the drug addicted crown prince, who then committed suicide. King Gyanendra was not as popular as his late brother, and the Maoists thought they could take advantage of that by increasing the level of violence. While only a thousand people had died from Maoist violence in the last four years of the 1990s, that number was doubled in 2001. The king and parliament argued over what should be done, without much result. In 2005, the king took direct control of the government. The politicians considered this illegal, but the king controlled the army, and the loyalty of many, if not most, Nepalese. But the kings more vigorous approach didn't eliminate the Maoists, which led to many Nepalese turning against the king. So earlier this year, the king returned control of the government to the political parties, and the Maoists (who had forged an alliance with political parties, and renounced their goal of establishing a communist dictatorship.)

The Nepal war was more one of posturing, than mass slaughter. The death rate, while high for Nepal, was less than what many other parts of the world (including some U.S. cities) suffer from murders each year. The more disruptive wars, like those in Africa that create many refugees, kill 5-10 times as many people. The Maoists in Nepal were disciplined, and did not seek to create a lot of refugees. Many rebel movements don't have that kind of discipline, and the result is chaos, and a much higher death rate.


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