Sunday, December 4, 2005

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It's good to look at the big picture every once in a while I've blogged previously about the fact that there has been a secular trend in the world towards reduced interstate and intrastate violence -- i.e., there's a lot less war going on. Oxblog links to a new endeavour -- the Human Security Report, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.K. The overview is chock-full of heart-warming statistics:
  • The number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80% between 1988 and 2001.
  • The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40% since the early 1990s.
  • International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.
  • The number of refugees dropped by some 45% between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came toan end.
  • The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between the major powers in hundreds of years.
  • The number of actual and attempted military coups has been declining for more than 40 years. In 1963 there were 25 coups and attempted coups around the world, the highest number in the post–World War II period. In 2004 there were only 10 coup attempts--a 60% decline. All of them failed. [I've touched on this point before as well--DD.]
  • [So, is there any bad news?--ed.] Sure -- the rate of reported rapes has more than doubled in the past eight years. [Couldn't that also be, in an odd way, a good thing? Rapes might not be more frequent so much as that they are now reported, which implies a greater acceptance of the notion of rape as acrime?--ed.] The optimist in me would like to agree with this, but the fact that the doubling has taken place in the last seven years makes me very suspicious. One would assume that improved reporting should lead to a slow secular increase (which is the long-term trend) rather than the current spike. Unless a big country like China or India suddenly improved its data collection, that spike is definitely worrisome. UPDATE: Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link. Some of the commenters are suggesting that this peaceful trend ended in 2001. I'm happy to report that this is not true -- it's just that some of the data listed above ended in 2001. Overall, let me quote from Gregg Easterbrook's TNR essay on this subject from six months ago:
    Everyone agrees that the worst moment for human conflict was World War II; but how to rank, say, the current separatist fighting in Indonesia versus, say, the Algerian war of independence is more speculative. Nevertheless, the Peace and Conflict studies name 1991 as the peak post-World War II year for totality of global fighting, giving that year a ranking of 179 on a scale that rates the extent and destructiveness of combat. By 2000, in spite of war in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, the number had fallen to 97; by 2002 to 81; and, at the end of 2004, it stood at 65. This suggests the extent and intensity of global combat is now less than half what it was 15 years ago.
    posted by Dan on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM


    Interesting, and it may be unimaginative of me, but: safer world for whom?
    And, what would the world look like if we had not gone into Iraq?
    The rape question certainly hits closer to home, as there are no DU rounds incoming anywhere near here.
    It's a big, nasty ole. world. Sure wish our American exceptionalism included being a consistent moral guide for the world, the city on the hill people who think we are a Christian nation bill us as.

    posted by: Cassandro on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    I suspect the results might be a lot different if the studies extended into 2005. I am not surprised that the statistics would look good if you only measured up to, in many cases, 2001.

    posted by: DaveGFromNYC on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    I accept the statistics and your optimistic assessment; but there other considerations. On 9/11/01 the US was attacked in a way it had not been since 12/7/41. Those who attacked the US, or their co-ideologues, have also attacked Spain and the UK and are now attacking all and sundry in Iraq. Unlike other terrorist groups, for example, the IRA and ETA, the Islamofascists have demands that cannot be satisfied politically except through complete surrender. Naively I still hope that Bush's approach to the Middle East is changing people's minds and draining the swamp. I did not and would not vote for Bush; but his tough cop act seems to be working.

    posted by: jimbo on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    I think the most interesting question is 'Why?'. Why is this happening now? What factors contribute to it and would their removal mean more war?

    I think the largest factor was the fall of the USSR. The lack of a rival superpower to the US means there is little point in powerful nations fomenting wars on the periphery of the rival superpower. The fall of the USSR made the containment and ultimate removal of Saddam Hussein possible, either of which would have been unthinkable before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The USSR would have backed Hussein, who was their client. That would have been that.

    The second major change is the forming of the EU. More precisely the alliance formed by formerly vicious enemies France and Germany. The border over which both world wars started this century now doesn't even have passport control.

    The major powers seem to be comporting themselves with restraint and reason today. Look at China or France. Both are adversaries and major trading partners of the US. Neither is fomenting wars designed to hurt the US or it's neighbors. The US returns the favor.

    posted by: Don Stadler on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    Absolutely the biggest factor is the decline of Communism, both as an ideology in its own right and as the political program behind a Soviet foreign policy that poisoned everything it touched.

    posted by: Zathras on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    Many of the statistics indicate that 'the number of X' has gone down. While frequency is important, it seems that the intensity of violence lurking behind these numbers should be investigated. What are the human consequences of these event counts?

    posted by: Bob on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    In the United States, however, the rate of reported rape has dropped dramatically:

    Rates of rape per 1,000 population, aged 12 and over:

    Year	Rate
    1973	2.5
    1974	2.6
    1975	2.4
    1976	2.2
    1977	2.3
    1978	2.6
    1979	2.8
    1980	2.5
    1981	2.5
    1982	2.1
    1983	2.1
    1984	2.5
    1985	1.9
    1986	1.7
    1987	2.0
    1988	1.7
    1989	1.8
    1990	1.7
    1991	2.2
    1992	1.8
    1993	1.6
    1994	1.4
    1995	1.2
    1996	0.9
    1997	0.9
    1998	0.9
    1999	0.9
    2000	0.6
    2001	0.6
    2002	0.7
    2003	0.5
    2004	0.4


    Note: this is survey data, rather than police report data.

    posted by: social democrat on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    Of course there were quite a few nice little proxy wars between 1950 and 2000, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan plus the usual bloody coups, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador.

    posted by: Eli Rabett on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    The fall of Soviet Communism was certainly good for the world at large. They no longer financed proxy wars against the West in Asia, Africa the Middle East and Central and South America.

    But at the same time increased global trade has likely contributed to a decrease in wars. It's a lot harder to start a war with a country upon which you depend.

    Something to mull as discussion of free trade continue...

    posted by: Birkel on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]


    Your argument about economic interdependency *seems* to make sense, but it is worth remembering that the same argument was being made in Europe in the first decade of the 20th century. We all know how that turned out.

    posted by: Marc on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    'Peace' may be terribly overrated. There was 'peace' in Rwanda and Sudan, after all.

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    Marc, I thought of the same thing. But the situation in 1914 is much different than it is today, with 3 or 4 relatively equal rival countries in the same relatively small area.

    I have been trying to work out whether China's rise will create a similar dynamic, and all I can come up with is that such rivals need somewhere to fight. I can see two possible places. Korea is the most obvious, but I think the Koreans are going to be a Chinese client state sooner or later. They are trending that way already.

    The most likely war scenario between China and the US is in Russia. A hypothetical Chinese 'land grab' in Siberia could bring in the US and even the EU. Fortunately I don't see this as terribly likely, and only in 20 years or so if that. By that time China may have severe demographic problems with the aging of the current generation. But ominously China has an oversupply of young men.

    posted by: Don Stadler on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    Mark, I don't think peace is overrated. The chart Daniel posted showing the decline in genocides ended with 2001, thus excluding Darfur.

    Compare that with the Iraq-Iran war where perhaps 1.5 million died. Or with what happened in Cambodia (4 million dead), the Great Leap Forward (perhaps 30 million dead), or the partition of India (7 million). Or the civil war in Indonesia during the 60's. The Rwandas and Darfurs were routine occurances 30 years ago. Now they are exceptions, no longer the rule.

    posted by: Don Stadler on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    A) Much of this is happening because of unipolarity

    B) it is not the number of actual crises but the gravity of potential crises that matters. As long as Taiwan remains an issue, serious major war could break out at any time.

    C) If terrorist set of a nuke tommorow the inferences from this data will look stupid.

    Finally, all of inferences are true until they aren't. Meaning, trends break. I wouldn't read too much into it. I'm 31 and am pretty sure that I'll see a major first order crisis war/ crisis in my lifetime. Does anyone feel confident enough to vehemently disagree?

    posted by: anon on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    That is all good news. Overall, things are getting better.

    And one is not sure who is to be lauded: International institutions? The Cold War balance of power followed by the strength of unipolarity? The fear of nukes? Economic interdependence? All of the above?

    But commenters are correct to bring up the potential threat that terrorists + WMD cause.

    And today, China signed a $10 billion deal with Airbus, and a deal is in the works for Eurocopter. Eurasia! Eurasia!

    posted by: brianjphillips on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    In all respect, I'm afraid our actions in Iraq have have been the opposite of "draining the swamp." What we are doing is shooting mosquitoes as they leave the swamp, and making the swamp all the larger in the doing.

    posted by: Cassandro on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    though it is best not to look at historical trends as if we are at the end of something. We are always in the middle of time.

    I saw a vietnam vet amputee today. That war is over for me but not for him.

    posted by: joe mills on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

    The rape rate in the US has most likely declined in recent years because the male population between the ages of 15 and 30 (the demographic most likely to rape) has shrunk. The rate of other violent crimes in the US has also declined.

    posted by: Jess on 12.04.05 at 12:04 AM [permalink]

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