Table – Britain and global deaths in conflicts
The following table is taken from Mark Curtis’ book, Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses, published in 2004. It gives figures on the estimated number of deaths for which Britain bears ‘significant responsibility’. There are four categories of British responsibility:
- ‘Direct responsibility’ is where British military and/or covert forces have played a direct role.
- ‘Indirect responsibility’ is where Britain has provided strong support (through trade, arms exports, aid and/or diplomatic support) for allies engaged in aggression or killing.
- ‘Active inaction’ is where Britain has specifically helped to block international action to halt killings (Note that this and the second category are different than merely ‘turning a blind eye’, which would include many other cases).
- The ‘others’ category contains a solitary case, that of the Idi Amin regime’s state terror, a description of which is provided below.
Estimates on the number of deaths in any conflict always vary, often very widely. Where there is no footnote below, I have used the most commonly cited estimate. For others I have generally sourced the varying estimates. The overall figure is between 8.6 million and 13.5 million – or ‘around 10 million’. Of these, Britain bears ‘direct responsibility’ for between 4 million to nearly 6 million deaths.
Note that this figure is if anything likely to be an underestimate. For one thing, not all British interventions have been included, such as those in Oman in 1957-9 and in 1964-74 owing to lack of available on the scale of deaths. In the category of ‘indirect responsibility’, I have excluded many repressive regimes that Britain has backed throughout the postwar period; I have tended to include those cases on which I have focused in this and previous books. I have also not included US backing of the Guatemala regime from the 1960s to the 1980s, responsible for around 200,000 deaths. The reason is that while Britain strongly backed US policy in Central America, there is not as much direct and specific support for US policy in Guatemala as there was in the case of El Salvador and Nicaragua, explained in the third column.
The figures generally refer to the number of ‘enemy’ deaths rather than total deaths, where it has been possible to disaggregate the estimates.
Finally, I do not pretend this is a fully scientific analysis – the exclusion of certain episodes, the extent of British responsibility and the estimates on numbers of deaths are of course all open to interpretation, as in any table of this kind. Nevertheless, it gives a reasonably accurate reflection of British responsibility for a very large number of deaths in the postwar world.
|Estimated number of deaths||Britain’s role|
|2003 – invasion of Iraq||10,000-55,000||British forces played secondary role to US in military operations|
|2001 – bombing of Afghanistan||15,000 – 25,000||Ditto|
|1999 – bombing of Yugoslavia||1,000||British forces played secondary role to US in military operations as part of wider NATO campaign|
|1998 – bombing of Iraq||600 – 1,600||British forces played secondary role to US in military operations|
|1991 – Gulf war against Iraq||over 100,000||Ditto|
|1982 – Falklands war||655||British military fought Argentina|
|1961-73 – war against Southeast Asia||2 – 3 million||Britain privately backed US strongly, regularly supported it publicly but also played several direct roles: providing military and ‘counter-insurgency’ advice to South Vietnam; British covert forces took part in the war; intelligence was passed to US military. The British role was therefore more ‘direct’ than ‘indirect’ (see Unpeople, chapter 12)|
|1962-70 – war in Yemen||100,000 – 200,000||British secret operation involving covert action and arms supplies (see Unpeople, chapter 16)|
|1964-7 – British suppression of Aden revolt||300 – 900||British ‘colonial’ government forces responsible|
|1965/6 – Indonesian army slaughters||500,000 – 1 million||Britain provided Indonesian generals with variety of direct, covert support, including ‘information’ operations|
|1952-60 – war in Kenya||up to 150,000||British colonial war and ‘resettlement’ operations|
|1948-60 – war in Malaya||10,000 – 13,000||Ditto|
|1957/8 – rebellion against Indonesian central government||thousands||Covert operation with US to support the rebellion, including arms supplies (see Unpeople, chapter 11)|
|1956 – British invasion of Egypt||1,600 – 3,000||Military intervention with France and Israel|
|1948-55 – Uprising in Baltic states of the USSR||75,000||British covert operation to fund and support uprisings|
|1953 – coup in Iran||300||Covert operation with CIA|
|1950-3 – Korean war||at least 1 million||Military played key role technically as part of UN force, in reality led by US|
|1944-9 – Greek civil war||65,000 – 80,000||Military/covert operations to support Greek government|
|1945-9 – war for Indonesian independence||5,000 – 80,000||Military involvement to suppress independence movement|
|SUB-TOTAL||4.03m – 5.71m|
|2000-present – Israeli killings in occupied territories||2,723||Blair government is strong supporter of Israeli policies, in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 9)|
|1999-present – killings in Nigeria||up to 10,000||Blair government is strong supporter of Nigerian policies, in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 10)|
|1999-present – Second Russian invasion of Chechnya||15,000 – 25,000||Blair government is strong supporter of Russian policies, in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 9)|
|1996-present – Nepal civil war||3,300||Blair government provides military/diplomatic support to Nepal government (see Unpeople, chapter 9)|
|1990- present – Colombia state killings||20,000 – 40,000||Blair and previous governments are strong supporters of Colombian policies, in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 9)|
|1976-present – Indonesian attacks in Aceh province||15,000||Blair and previous governments are strong supporters of Indonesian policies, in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 11)|
|1969-present – Indonesian attacks in West Papua province||100,000||ditto|
|1991-2003 – Sanctions against Iraq||500,000 – 1 million||Technically maintained by the UN; in reality supported virtually solely by Britain and US|
|1999 – Indonesian attacks in East Timor||around 5,000||Blair government continued to support, and arm, Indonesia, throughout violence|
|1984-1999 – Turkey’s campaign against Kurds||around 30,000||Blair and previous governments are strong supporters of Turkish policies, in various ways|
|1998 – US bombing of Sudan||perhaps tens of thousands||Britain strongly supported US attack that destroyed pharmaceutical factor producing most of Sudan’s life-saving drugs|
|1994-6 – Russian invasion of Chechnya||60,000 – 100,000||Major government provided strong support to Russia, in various ways|
|1948-94 – Apartheid South Africa state killings||10,000 – 20,000||British governments consistently backed South African regimes, in various ways|
|1989 – US invasion of Panama||350 – 3,000||Britain provided strong diplomatic support|
|1980-88 – Iran/Iraq war||1 million||Thatcher government effectively supported Iraq’s attack on Iran, supplying it with military equipment and financial aid|
|1987-8 – Iraq’s campaign against Kurds||100,000||Ditto|
|1984/5 – Ugandan civil war||100,000 – 300,000||Britain provided strong support to Ugandan government and maintained military training programme|
|1984/5 – Indonesian state killings||5,000||Thatcher government was strong supporter of Indonesia, in various ways|
|Early 1980s – El Salvador civil war||75,000-80,000||Thatcher government provided strong diplomatic backing to US strategy supporting Salvadoran regime|
|1980s – US aggression against Nicaragua||30,000||Thatcher government provided strong diplomatic and other backing, including covert support, to US strategy|
|1953-79 – Shah’s regime in Iran||10,000||British governments provided strong support to Shah’s regime, in various ways|
|1975 – Indonesian invasion of East Timor||200,000||Wilson/Callaghan governments provided strong backing to Indonesia in various ways|
|1973 – coup in Chile||at least 3,000||Heath government welcomed coup and backed Pinochet regime, as did subsequent British governments (see Unpeople, chapter 14)|
|1967-70 – Nigeria/Biafra civil war||1 – 3 million||Wilson government gave strong backing to Nigeria in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 10)|
|1963 – Iraq killings||5,000||Macmillan government in effect supported massacres and welcomed new military government (see Unpeople, chapter 5)|
|1960s – Iraq campaigns against Kurds||12,000 – 100,000||British governments gave strong backing to Iraq in various ways (see Unpeople, chapter 5)|
|SUB-TOTAL||3.32m – 6.20m|
|1990s – Yugoslav civil wars||200,000 – 250,000||Major government played key role to prevent international action against Milosevic regime|
|1994 – Rwanda genocide||800,000 – 1 million||Major government played key role at the UN to prevent international action to prevent or stop genocide|
|SUB-TOTAL||1m – 1.25m|
|1971-9 – Ugandan state terror (Idi Amin era)||300,000||Heath government welcomed and supported Amin’s rule in its first year. Most atrocities were committed after this period but Britain bears significant responsibility in enabling Amin regime to consolidate its rule.|
|TOTAL||8.65m – 13.47m|
REFERENCES (See Unpeople book for full references)
 See chapter 1
 Figures vary widely. The Guardian estimated 10,000-20,000 civilian deaths as an indirect result of the bombing. Estimates of the military deaths are usually in the 3,000-6,000 range. Web of Deceit, p.49
 Human Rights Watch estimates 500 civilian deaths (‘Civilian deaths in the NATO air campaign’, February 2000, www.hrw.org). Some estimates, which include military deaths, are often over 1,000. 20th Century Atlas: Alphabetical list of war, massacre, tyranny and genocide, www.users.erols.com
 20th Century Atlas
 Figures vary very widely; see 20th Century Atlas. Immediately after the war the US government estimated 100,000 deaths. Other independent estimates are much lower, others much higher.
 Figures vary very widely, from hundreds of thousands to 4 million. Most deaths were those of Vietnamese, with figures usually ranging from 1 – 3 million. Hundreds of thousands were also killed in Cambodia and Laos.
 Some estimates are as low as 300,000 but most credible figures are much higher and some estimate over a million.
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 20
 estimated number of deaths due principally to the brutal ‘resettlement’ operations. Estimates of number of Mau Mau killed in actual fighting vary from 10,000-13,000.
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 15
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 16
 Figures unknown
 20th Century Atlas
 Prados, p.43
 See Dorril, chapter 16
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 14
 Figures vary very widely. This is approximate figure for North Korean and Chinese deaths
 This is approximate figure for deaths on the rebels (ie, EAM/ELAS) side.
 Figures vary extremely widely. See 20th Century Atlas
 Figure from September 2000 (beginning of second intifada) to March 2004; Palestinian Red Crescent Society, www.palestinercs.org
 Nigerian police and army are complicit in many of these killings; See chapter 10
 Russia provided an official number of 15,000 Chechen deaths by August 2003 (AFP, ‘Russia underplays Chechnya deaths’, 8 August 2003). This is likely to be a severe underestimate, especially in light of the ferocious attack on Grozny in 1999/2000.
 Number of deaths by government forces from 1996-2002; Web of Deceit, p.81
 Figures vary. 35,000 – 40,000 is a commonly cited figure since 1990; some current estimates, however, state 15,000 in the past 10 years.
 The UN estimated half a million deaths of children under five as a result of the 1991 war and sanctions. Former UN Coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, has given a figure, including adults, of over a million. Web of Deceit, p.29
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 21
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 1
 see Web of Deceit, p.111; Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, p,206
 See Ambiguities of Power, pp.119-29
 The Central American Human Rights Commission estimates 2,000-3,000; Physicians for Human Rights estimates 300 civilian deaths and 50 military deaths (‘Panama: Operation Just Cause’, December 1990)
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 1
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 4
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 14
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 21
 Figures vary widely; 20th Century Atlas
 See especially Brendan Simms, Unfinest hour: Britain and the destruction of Bosnia, Allen Lane, London, 2001
 See Web of Deceit, chapter 18