War is on the Decline

You read that right.War is on the decline.

One would find it hard to believe that such a decline exists if they turned on the news today. However, 2016 is continuing the downward trend of war and violence. 


Since the end of WWII until 2011, war had been in steep decline according to a study done by two Harvard professors: Steven Pinkerton and Joshua Goldstein. The global death rate had fallen from 22 per 100,000 people to 0.3. Despite the turbulent Arab Spring, and subsequent Syrian civil war in 2011, the trend is still moving downward compared to pre-1945 measures. That's not to take away from the fact that the Syrian Civil War has become the worst catastrophe of the new millennium with hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, and multiple outside actors joining the fight or supporting their proxies. The US presidential administration and the UN Security Council has faltered in addressing Syrian president Assad's grotesque human rights violations while ISIS carved out a territory from Syria and expanded into Iraq.

image_thumb3Following the Arab Spring, there were pop-up wars that had similar catalysts as their MENA neighbors. The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, fell into grotesque tribal violence. Nigeria lost territory to Boko Haram. A Christian-Muslim divide in the Central African Republic devolved into a horrific civil war. Russia grabbed Crimea from Ukraine in flagrant violation of international law. A merciless Saudi bombing campaign has obliterated Yemen and resulted in massive civilian casualties. All the while Libya has become a lawless state controlled by different armed groups including ISIS. By 2014 (the most recent year with complete data), the death rate had climbed to 1.4 per 100,000 — still far lower than in the Cold War years, but a troubling U-turn from the world’s path to a more peaceful world.

Most of these wars have not ended, and terrorism still poses a threat to the world. Thus, the downward trend of violence has gone largely unnoticed during the first quarter of 2016. But there are reasons to be hopeful; fighting between ISIS and al-Nusra continues, but humanitarian access is now able to penetrate desperate regions. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rate of killing has dropped by nearly half since the cease-fire began. Since Syria is currently the world’s largest war, this reduction takes a big bite out of the global rate of war deaths as well.

In Ukraine, a cease-fire in effect since last year has been violated regularly, but on a small scale, far below the earlier levels of conflict. In South Sudan, the recent formation of a unity government brings hope, even if some fighting still continues. In the Central African Republic, the civil war has ended and a presidential election was completed successfully. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has been driven from its main territories, though it continues to perpetrate smaller-scale attacks. In Pakistan, despite ongoing terrorism, the major fighting of a few years ago has abated. And a cease-fire in Yemen just took effect, with a prisoner exchange already accomplished and peace talks scheduled for the coming weeks.

All of this progress is shaky and incomplete. Even longstanding cease-fires can break down, as we have recently seen in Mozambique and Azerbaijan. An apparent decrease in Iraqi deaths this year is too uncertain to celebrate, while the war in Afghanistan drags on with no signs of respite.

According to Steven Pinkerton, "The geography of war is also shrinking. This year’s cease-fire between Colombia and the FARC guerrillas ended the last active political armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere. The Americas have now joined Western Europe and East Asia as major regions of the globe that have moved from pervasive war to enduring peace. In fact, the concentrations of conflict are now confined to an arc ranging from Nigeria to Pakistan."

Pinkerton concludes by stating that, "Today’s glimmers of hope might fade as fast as they emerged. But the recent cease-fires and peace talks are, as mathematicians like to say, an existence proof that the violence of war can be reduced. By redoubling our efforts to make them stick, the international community just might make 2016 the year when the war fever of the past half-decade finally breaks."

Featured image: politicalviolenceataglance.orgBlog hero image: consciouslifenews.comFirst graph: Human Security Report from Uppsala UniversitySecond graph: ibid.