Day By Day

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Peaceful Planet

Niall Ferguson has read the latest report from the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, (CIDCM) and wonders where have all the wars gone? [download the report here]

The report is a great read and a real eyeopener. Most people believe we live in a world of increasing disorder and look back to a time of relative peace in the 1990's or earlier. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The report states [pay attention now, this is important].
Despite the prevailing sense of global insecurity, the positive trends traced in previous editions of this report have continued into early 2005.

• The decline in the global magnitude of armed conflict, following a peak in the early
1990s, has persisted and few of the many societal [read "civil"] wars contained in the last decade have resumed. Major societal wars are down from twelve at the end of 2002 to eight
in early 2005.

• Most democratic regimes established during the 1980s and 1990s have endured despite political and economic crises. Popular forces have mobilized in many countries, such as Bolivia, Georgia, Philippines, and Ukraine, to promote democratic principles, hold leaders accountable, and thwart the subversion of democratization.

In the Middle East, the region most resistant to democratization, tutelary democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq have gained support and small steps have been taken toward democratic reform in other Arab autocracies. On the down side, movement toward reform in Iran suffered a serious setback.

Ethnonational wars for independence, which were the main threat to civil peace and regional security in the 1990s, have continued to decline to their lowest level since 1960. Deepa Khosla reports that, from 2001 to 2004, thirteen major self-determination conflicts were settled or contained, offset by a half-dozen new or renewed campaigns, the most deadly of which are in Darfur (where a new rebellion began in early 2003) and Indonesia’s Aceh province (where fighting resumed in 2003 after the failure of internationally-brokered negotiations).

Repression and political discrimination against ethnic minorities, surveyed for the first time in this report by Victor Asal and Amy Pate, have declined significantly,
coinciding with the dramatic decline in autocratic regimes since the late 1980s. Since 1950, the number of minorities benefiting from policies aimed at remedying past political discrimination has increased five-fold. These trends are linked to both democratization and containment of separatist wars. Most new democracies have recognized minority rights; almost all ethnonational war settlements give former rebels greater political rights and opportunities.
[emphasis mine]
The report goes on for ninety nine pages, but in short it documents a rapid and continuing decline in conflict of all kinds over the past decade or two. In other words, since the early 1990's the world has become an ever more peaceful place.


The favored explanation focuses on the end of the cold war and the subsequent spread of democracy through much of the world. Ferguson asks why should democracy have flourished recently.

One positive influence, he notes, is the role of the United States. Through occasional military action, but far more often through financial and trade incentives, the US has been spreading democracy throughout the globe. Ferguson writes:
Contrary to popular belief, armed intervention is probably the least effective (and least used) American device for achieving this [democratization]. Trade agreements (in Central America) and financial support for democratic movements (in Eastern Europe) are achieving much more. So the American empire spreads peace by peaceful means. As more and more governments embrace a version of the American model of liberal democracy, so the number of wars declines.
But he also notes that international organizations like the UN and the World Bank have also played an important part in promoting democracy. He writes:
Particularly in Africa, the international agencies, as well as some European governments, have done far more to end wars than the US.
Ultimately he suggests that neither US power nor the actions of international agencies have been decisive. Instead,
Maybe local people, regardless of foreign intervention, are simply opting 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.
He may be right. The upsurge in global violence from the 1960's to the mid-1990's has provided people everywhere with the real experience of war and a real longing for peace. In his travels, Ferguson notes, he encountered people who were living in peace but were also apprehensive, keenly aware that the cycle of violence could resume if the forces of darkness are allowed to recover their former strength.

This, I would argue, is a good thing. The memory of war's horrors is fresh in the minds of people around the planet and has produced a general reluctance to allow its recurrence. If Ferguson is right and this memory is a major inhibitor of conflict we should see a continuing decline in the incidence of war over the next decade or so. The real problem will come in the following generation -- one that will have grown up without the inhibition of such memories.

Read Ferguson's article here.

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