Day By Day

Friday, November 04, 2005

A More Peaceful World Redux

Last month I noted a report from the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management that traced a global decline in armed conflict, in autocratic regimes, in repression and political discrimination against ethnic minorities, and a marked upsurge of democracy. [My post is here. Download the report here.]

This confirms a study done by the Center for Human Security at the University of British Columbia which found a similar decline in interstate wars, civil conflicts, and deaths attributed to armed conflict. [I blogged the study here, read the report here].

Now comes a discussion of the phenomenon by Paul Rogers at Open Democracy. [here]

He notes two explanations for the decline -- the end of the Cold War [which mistakenly is considered by many to be a period of relative peace] and the end of the decolonization struggles that ensued after the end of WWII.

The BCU study attributes the decline to the effectiveness of the UN and other international organizations in mediating conflicts [snicker].

The Maryland study suggests that the spread of democracy and more specifically, the spread of American power has contributed to stabilizing the world [possible but not proven].

All of these are testable hypotheses and an evaluation of the rival claims could be the basis for a nice doctoral dissertation [hint, hint].

Interestingly, the two most belligerent nations through the second half of the Twentieth Century were Britain and France, followed by the US and the Soviet Union. This lends support to the idea that we are emerging from an abnormal period of extreme violence caused by decolonialization and the Cold War and that the decline in violence we are currently experiencing is a return to normal levels.

And there follows a second, equally important question. Why, in the face of mounting evidence for a more peaceful world, is the general perception, at least througout the West, exactly the opposite? Why do we think the world is getting more violent when in fact it is becoming more peaceful?

There are several possible answers:

1) that old standby, the media which systematically misrepresents the true situation in order to boost ratings and profits [in other words it's the capitalists, stupid].

2) the public is slow to react to new information. It will take time for the good news to sink in [in other words the people are stupid].

3) perpetrators of violence are getting better at attracting attention to themselves, as for instance by targeting aid workers, and this increases the public perception of rising violence. [in other words terrorists are manipulating the media]

4) Or, Rogers suggests, the perception of increasing violence is confined to the "Atlantic" nations of Europe and the Americas -- a global elite that feels insecure becauses of constant media bombardment [uneasy lies the head that rules the world]

5) Or, he suggests, the 9/11 attacks made the US public paranoid and incapable of understanding the true nature of the world. [the people are unhinged]

Hmmm..., another dissertation topic?

Finally, Rogers speculates that the downturn in violence might soon be reversed. He sees three possible reasons for such an upsurge -- an activist US that destabilizes the world; an expanding China that begins to challenge the west for global resources; and global warming which forces massive population movements.

Rogers' analysis is neither particularly rigorous or perceptive, and displays a distinct anti-American bias, but the phenomena he notes are important and worthy of our attention.

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