Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The world is getting safer

Another story from today's Ottawa Citizen. And a good news story at that! The world is a more secure place than many of us imagine it to be:
A startling new Canadian study has found that all forms of political violence, except terrorism, have plummeted 40 per cent since the early 1990s.

The first Human Security Report, by the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, which is being dubbed the most comprehensive survey to date of trends in warfare, genocide and human rights abuses, has also found that the gravity of armed conflicts has dropped dramatically since 1992.

In 1950, the study found, an average of 38,000 people were killed in each conflict; by 2002, that number had dropped to 600 — a decline of 98 per cent.

While the number of deadly terrorist strikes has increased sharply since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., terrorism still accounts for a fraction of the annual death toll from war, the report points out.

The study's findings "run very much against the grain of today's conventional wisdom," says Andrew Mack, director of the University of British Columbia's Human Security Centre and author of the study.

Mr. Mack blames the popular misconception that we live in an increasingly violent world on the media, which "gives far more coverage to wars that start than the greater number that quietly end."

Until now, he adds, there was little data to combat such myths because "no international agency collects data on wars, genocides, terrorist acts or core human rights abuses," not even the UN, where Mr. Mack served as an adviser to Secretary General Kofi Annan from 1998 to 2001. "The issues are just too politically sensitive," he explains.
The report, which was funded by Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain, is to be published by Oxford University Press next month. It identifies trends in world violence:
In spite of massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia, the total number of genocides and other mass killings worldwide plunged by 80 per cent between 1988 and 2001, Mr. Mack says.

Reports of human-rights abuses have fallen in five of six regions in the developing world since the mid-1990s, and the number of attempted coups has declined by about 60 per cent since 1963, the study says.

The generations born after the end of the Second World War have enjoyed the longest interval without wars between major powers in hundreds of years, the report says.
Mr. Mack cites a number of factors which contribute to the reduced loss of life. If you are a critic of the United Nations, you'll be taken aback by the first item on his list:
  • Mr. Mack traces the trend to a more peaceful resolution of conflicts to the United Nations, which, despite high-profile failures, has been quietly leading "a remarkable explosion" in conflict prevention since the end of the Cold War. The report notes that, since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, UN diplomatic missions to head off conflicts have risen six-fold; the number of peacemaking missions has quadrupled.

    He also cites a study by the RAND Corp., a U.S. policy think-tank, that found that two-thirds of the UN's peacebuilding missions had succeeded.
Other factors, according to Mr. Mack:
  • So-called proxy wars, where the major powers bankrolled conflicts in other countries to undermine each other, ground to a halt in the late 1980s when the Cold War ended.

  • The end of colonialism also brought a sharp decrease in violence, as the wars of liberation that raged around the world from the 1940s to the 1980s finally wound down.

  • The nature of conflict has changed. While Cold War-era clashes often led to major wars involving large armies, today's clashes typically pit weak governments against ragtag rebels.

  • Many more civilians now flee conflict zones, so fewer wind up in the line of fire.

    Mr. Mack says displacement, while it has reduced battlefield casualties, is a "humanitarian tragedy," and stresses that the study did not take into account millions of indirect deaths related to conflict, such as disease and malnutrition.
As for terrorism:
Despite its relatively low death toll so far, terrorism remains a significant threat, Mr. Mack says, pointing out that the "war on terror" has sparked major conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and "almost certainly increased the number of potential terrorist recruits."

Even more chilling is the lingering fear that terrorists may acquire weapons of mass destruction, he says.

6 Comments:

At 7:20 AM, October 19, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

First question:

If - "no international agency collects data on wars, genocides, terrorist acts or core human rights abuses"

Then how were the figures compiled... and how it it possible to compare figures from 1950 with today if accurate data is/was unavailable?

Also - even if the total number of casualties per conflict have indeed reduced... what of the total number killed each year. Is that going up or down. It's nice to think that the world is a safer place (excepting terrorism) but is it really........?

 
At 8:37 AM, October 19, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

Yeah, Q, what do you mean sharing good news? What's with that? Don't you know we're all much happier believing only the worst??

 
At 8:55 AM, October 19, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

I tried posting good news once.... You should've seen the amount of flack I got...

Not doing THAT again...... (grin)

 
At 1:04 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Cyberkitten:
You raise a good question. The newspaper article doesn't provide an answer, but I expect the actual study will, when it is published.

I'm not sure what the statement means, actually. Amnesty International, for example, monitors human rights abuses around the world. I imagine there are other sources which track wars around the globe as they begin and end.

So I think the statement means only that no one has put together a comprehensive study of this sort, which considers warfare, terrorist acts, genocide, and human rights abuses around the globe over the past century or longer.

I suspect that, to some extent, the data are speculative. How many people died in World War II, for example — I think estimates will vary from one historian to the next. Wars cause social and political upheaval; no one is counting each and every death at the time.

The study attempts to track broad trends. I've edited the post a bit to bring that point out more clearly.

Do you agree that there haven't been any wars between major powers since WWII? Do you agree that the number of "proxy wars" has fallen since the end of the Cold War? Do you agree that colonialism has largely gone by the wayside, so subjugated nations no longer have to fight for their liberation?

It's harder for me to assess some of the other claims: a decrease in attempts at genocide and human rights abuses, for example.

But I agree with Mr. Mack on another important point: terrorism doesn't result in large numbers of deaths. A few deaths by terrorism can attract a lot of media coverage and generate a lot of fear. But the impact is primarily psychological — hence the name, terrorism. If people kept that in mind, they'd stress about it a lot less.

So I think the study is plausible — the current trend is, the world is getting safer.

Yay, good news for once!
Q

 
At 1:30 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: Do you agree that there haven't been any wars between major powers since WWII? Do you agree that the number of "proxy wars" has fallen since the end of the Cold War? Do you agree that colonialism has largely gone by the wayside, so subjugated nations no longer have to fight for their liberation?

Yes. I agree with all of the above.

Q also said: A few deaths by terrorism can attract a lot of media coverage and generate a lot of fear. But the impact is primarily psychological — hence the name, terrorism. If people kept that in mind, they'd stress about it a lot less.

Probably more people die from falling down stairs than from terrorism (and just think how many people die in car accidents each & every year?). The numbers killed by terrorism are vanishingly small - but the publicity (and terror caused thereby) blows things out of proportion.

I think the article is typical newspaper stuff. A very broad idea backed up by very little hard evidence - though it does look like the decline in war etc related deaths would've dropped quite a bit since 1950, I just wouldn't have the guts to put any kind of figure on it.

 
At 1:37 PM, October 19, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Cyberkitten:
I think that's a reasonable assessment. Broad strokes — plausible. Specific numbers — highly questionable.
Q

 

Post a Comment

<< Home