Is the world becoming a more peaceful place?

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Congolese soldiers wait at a military base in Rumangabo, Democratic Republic of Congo. Lionel Healing, AFP/Getty Images

Back in 2006 I made mention of the Human Security Report (along with its 2007 update) whose study suggests that armed conflicts around the world, along with genocide and other related fatalities, have been on the decline.

And in spite of current conflicts, including that which involves Islamic militancy and jihad-terrorism, the trend continues. Frankly put, we live on a more civilized, more peaceful globe:

the last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data compiled by researchers Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just over half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War ended have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.

Armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction. Today’s asymmetrical guerrilla wars may be intractable and nasty, but they will never produce anything like the siege of Leningrad. The last conflict between two great powers, the Korean War, effectively ended nearly 60 years ago. The last sustained territorial war between two regular armies, Ethiopia and Eritrea, ended a decade ago. Even civil wars, though a persistent evil, are less common than in the past; there were about a quarter fewer in 2007 than in 1990.

If our perception of this hasn’t changed, or we think things have gotten worse, according to Goldstein, it’s because we live in the information age, inundated by the “if it bleeds, it leads” abundance of news reporting:

If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that’s because there’s more information about wars — not more wars themselves. Once-remote battles and war crimes now regularly make it onto our TV and computer screens, and in more or less real time. Cell-phone cameras have turned citizens into reporters in many war zones.

There’s a lot more and it’s a pretty interesting piece to read, even if you disagree with some (or all) of the author’s conclusions.

Exit question: Is U.S. benevolent global hegemony the key to “keeping the peace” with its exercise of a muscular foreign policy- peace through strength- or is it part of the problem of prevailing violence in the world? Have our engagement with the global jihad movement strengthened or weakened its influence on the Muslim world; and have our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increased or decreased anti-Americanism around the world?

Is America more or less safe today?

8 Responses to “Is the world becoming a more peaceful place?”

  1. 2

    Gary G. Swenchonis

    I would think that war could be outlawed as the liberals wanted it to be back in the 60’s and 70’s. We are now close to that anyway. When was the last declared war for the US? But does that mean that humans will stop butchering each other for dwindling resources, political ideologies, religious differences to name a few points of contention. Maybe the world is a much more peaceful and happier place today, or is it we have just become desensitized to all the killing, plundering raping, etc.. Kinda like how some school shootings don’t even rate prime time in today’s news, as opposed to previous decades. For me if this is an example of peace, prosperity, and love that we humans have for each other, then I don’t think its all that great. And lets not forget all those nukes nice and snug in their silos, enough to obliterate the entire human and animal population of the world 10 times over. If that happens there will be no one left to count how many are dead, and compare to before we were so civilized, because the world will finally be at a dead peace.

  2. 3

    Brother Bob

    @Word: Great post. For all that the world likes to complain about the US being the global police officer, the thought that a war on the scale of WWI or WWII is inconceivable to most people today says a lot for what we’ve actually accomplished. I don’t think that anyone who has been calling for massive cuts to the Defense budget has really thought about what happens next.

  3. 5


    @rumcrook: some intel analysts accept as fact that China is positioning itself for war vs. India in approximately a decade, more or less. Pakistan will be their second-front ally, if they can stomach the ISI’s support for jihadis in their own territory to that point.

  4. 6


    There have always been ambitious powerful and militant egomaniacs willing to use weapons or subterfuge to take over nations, setting themselves up as supreme leader. Once in power, they almost always grind the people down until they fear and obey. It may be “peaceful” but it’s hardly anyone’s utopian dream. My theory is that we are simply not getting the news coverage of world violence reports. The daily body counts stopped once Bush left office. But it was all still going on. The media just didn’t want to mention it under Obama’s watch.

  5. 8


    thank you for the POST, very well written,
    I think we are just waiting for the next ultimate war, the one to involve all NATIONS,
    and again it will be the bloodyest one,
    because all NATION have facilitated the infiltration of the haters with excuse of the money gains,
    PEOPLE are beginning to feel the malaise that something is wrong, but cannot pinpoint the real source,
    many different things errors of judgement to elect the wrong one by the PEOPLE again for gain of statue
    and power which accompany the money gain,
    this war will be the global war, inside the free WORLD COUNTRIES, against the beast waiting it’s hour to be decided, as she proclaimed the message many overlook,
    that they have the time, we don’t.

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