the Disillusioned kid: Not so bad after all?
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not so bad after all?

With a violent insurgency raging in Iraq; US/UK threatening Iran; government-backed militias ravaging Darfur; rebels launching increasingly audacious assaults on Russian towns; and Islamists bombing tourist hot-spots in Indonesia, suggesting that the world is becoming a more peaceful place seems at best counter intuitive. It turns out, however, that this is exactly what's happening:
Armed conflicts in the 21st century are less deadly than they have been at any time in the past 55 years, according to a three-year survey on warfare and violence.

The Human Security Report, written by a professor at the University of British Columbia, concludes that the number of genocides or mass murders has declined dramatically since the late 1980s, despite the large-scale killing of civilians during the past 11 years in Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan. And it asserts that the number of coups or attempted coups has fallen by 60 percent since 1963. The report's research was funded by Britain, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.


"Warfare in the 21st century is far less deadly than it was half a century ago," wrote the report's author, Andrew Mack. "The wars that dominated the headlines of the 1990s were real -- and brutal -- enough. But the global media have largely ignored the 100-odd conflicts that have quietly ended since 1988. During this period, more wars stopped than started."
Others, too have noted this phenomenon. Niall Ferguson, more famous for his support for the American Empire, noted the apparent decrease in violent conflict in an article for the Telegraph in September. He tentatively attributed this to a decision among local people to opt "for peace because they're sick to death of fighting each other. War, after all, is attractive only to a minority of people: bored young men and the cynical politicians who see violence as a route to power and its perquisites. That's why only a handful of the post-1989 civil wars lasted longer than seven years."

Not everyone's so optimistic though. Counter-terrorist expert and "open source warfare" theorist John Robb opines,
Wars will continue to occur, but in a new form. Future wars will be fought over systems and by networks. The participants won't (or at least, shouldn't) measure the effectiveness of their activity in body counts but rather through their impact on systems. For the West that means efficient systems (or at least resilient systems), for guerrillas it means disruption (which translates into capacity to coerce states or breakdown state function).
Translation: less old fashioned warfare, more Iraq-style insurgency (at least I think that's what he's getting at).

Even with these qualifications it should be clear that a less war-torn world where less people have to die or be seriously injured has got to be a good thing. I think there is much to be said for Ferguson's analysis in this regard, which bodes well for the potential of people power to bring about positive developments. The revolution may not be round the corner, but maybe - just maybe - we're moving in the right direction.

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