Armed Conflicts in the World, on the Decline


With all the chicken littles running around chirping about how the sky is falling, here’s something that is little known about:

The first Human Security Report documents a dramatic, but largely unknown, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuse over the past decade. The Report argues that the single most compelling explanation for these changes is found in the unprecedented upsurge of international activism, spearheaded by the UN, which took place in the wake of the Cold War.


Patterns of Political Violence Have Changed

The number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40% since 1992. The deadliest conflicts (those with 1000 or more battle-deaths) dropped even more dramatically?by 80%.


With all the negative, tragedy news reporting, you’d think otherwise. This reminds me of a book I picked up last year, called “The Progress Paradox“, where things seem to get worse, when in fact, the opposite is true. Even though people feel worse, life is actually improving.

Here are more statistics to chew on:

The number of international crises, often harbingers of war, fell by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.Wars between countries are more rare than in previous eras and now constitute less than 5% of all armed conflicts.

The number of military coups and attempted coups has declined by some 60% since 1963. In 1963, there were 25 coups or attempted coups; in 2004, there were 10. All failed.

This is also fascinating:

Most armed conflicts now take place in the poorest countries in the world, but as incomes rise the risk of war declines.

The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval without wars between the major powers in hundreds of years.

The UK and France, followed by the US and Russia/USSR have fought most international wars since 1946.

Burma and India have suffered the greatest number of ?conflict-years? since 1946. (If a country fights two separate wars in one calendaryear this counts as two ?conflict-years?.) In 2003, India suffered more ?conflict-years? than any other country in the world.

Most of the world?s conflicts are now concentrated in Africa. But even here there are signs of hope. A new dataset compiled for the Human Security Report finds that between 2002 and 2003 (the last year for which there is data) the number of armed conflicts in Africa dropped from 41 to 35.

The drop in armed conflicts in the 1990s was associated with a worldwide decline in arms transfers, military spending and troop numbers.

Wars have become dramatically less deadly over the past five decades. The average number of people reported killed per conflict per year in 1950 was 38,000; in 2002 it was just 600??a decline of 98%.

In the 1950s, ?60s and ?70s by far the highest battle-death tolls in the world were in the wars in East and Southeast Asia. In the 1970s and 1980s, most of the killing took place in the Middle East, Central and South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. By the end of the 1990s, more people were being killed in sub-Saharan Africa?s wars than the rest of the world put together.

The new dataset created for the Report finds that between 2002 and 2003 the number of reported deaths from all forms of political violence fell by 62% in the Americas, 32% in Europe, 35% in Asia and 24 % in Africa.

The biggest death tolls do not come from the actual fighting, however, but from war-exacerbated disease and malnutrition. These ?indirect? deaths can account for as much as 90% of the total war-related death toll. Currently there are insufficient data to make even rough estimations of global or regional ?indirect? death toll trends.

Not withstanding the horrors of Rwanda and Srebrenica, Bosnia, the number of genocides and other mass killings plummeted by 80% between the 1989 high point and 2001.

International terrorism is the only form of political violence that appears to be getting worse. Some datasets have shown an overall decline in international terrorist incidents of all types since the early 1980s, but the most recent statistics suggest a dramatic increase in the number of high-casualty attacks since the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.The annual death toll from international terrorist attacks is, however, only a tiny fraction of annual war death toll.

Why We Have Fewer Wars

The Human Security Report identifies three major political changes over the past 30 years that, Andrew Mack says, ?have radically altered the global security landscape.?

First, was the end of colonialism. From the early 1950s to the early 1980s, colonial wars made up 60-100% of all international conflicts depending on the year. Today there are no such wars.

Hmm…what about the U.S.? Aren’t we imperialistically taking over Iraq for oil?

Second, was the end of the Cold War, which had driven approximately one-third of all conflicts in the post-World War II. This removed any residual threat of war between the major powers, and Washington and Moscow stopped fueling ?proxy wars? in the developing world.

Third, was the unprecedented upsurge of international activities designed to stop ongoing wars and prevent new ones starting that took place in the wake of the Cold War. Spearheaded by the UN these activities included: A six-fold increase in UN preventive diplomacy missions (to stop wars starting).

A four-fold increase in UN peacemaking missions (to end ongoing conflicts).

A four-fold increase in UN peace operations (to reduce the risk of wars restarting).

An eleven-fold increase in the number of states subject to UN sanctions (which can help pressure warring parties into peace negotiations).

Ok, enough UN-stroking, please. It makes me ill.

The UN did not act alone, of course. [Thank you!-wordsmith] The World Bank, donor states, regional organizations and thousands of NGOs worked closely with UN agencies??and often played independent roles of their own. But the UN, the only international organization with a global security mandate, has been the leading player.

As this upsurge of international activism grew in scope and intensity through the 1990s, the number of crises, wars and genocides declined, despite the much-publicized failures. The evidence that these initiatives worked is not just circumstantial. A recent RAND corporation study, for example, found that two thirds of the UN?s peace building missions had succeeded. In addition, the sharp increase in peacemaking efforts led to a significant increase in the number of conflicts that ended in negotiated settlements. Approximately half of all the peace agreements negotiated between 1946 and 2003 have been signed since the end of the Cold War.

The annual cost of these changes to the international community has been modest??well under 1% of world military spending. In fact, the cost of running all of the UN?s 17 peace operations around the world for an entire year is less than the United States spends in Iraq in a single month.

Hey, sometimes you have to invest in the undesirables, to keep the world safer over the long haul. And I consider the mission in Iraq to be a “peace operation”. We’re trying to end the violence there; what are the terrorists and insurgents doing by blowing up mosques, infrastructures, and Iraqi citizens?

The Report argues that, in the long run, equitable economic development, increased state capacity and the spread of inclusive democracy play a vital role in reducing the risk of political violence. But it also argues that these factors cannot explain the dramatic post-Cold War reduction in armed conflicts.

Rather interesting report, isn’t it? But of course, how silly of me talking about armed conflicts and terrorism. We all know the real threat is global warming. If Vanity Fair reports it, you know it must be true. What a load of ecological excrement they have gracing their May issue cover.

Anyway, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. And George Bush is not the instigator of the violence in the world today. If it weren’t the war in Iraq and global terrorism, people would find something else to bitch about. War and violence came to us. George Bush did not create it; he is effectively dealing with it. Blaming George Bush for the times we live in and the difficult challenges facing us is misguided. If you want to blame anyone, it’s the terrorists and their psychotic ideology which they are masquerading before the world as a religion.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments