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The State of Global Conflict

October 13, 2008

Are armed conflicts more deadlier than during the cold war? Are internal violent conflicts increasing in number? Is the threat of war increasing around the world?

If you answered yes to all these questions, you are wrong. Certainly, there are shades of gray with respect to the first and third question. If you living in Darfur, Iraq or Afghanistan, the conflict in your backyard seems pretty deadly. And if you are living in Bolivia or Guinea Bissau, an increased or resumed violent conflict might be just around the corner.

But, according to a new report by the Human Security Report Project – a Canadian think tank – the number and intensity of violent conflicts has declined substantially since the end of the cold war.

The number of violent conflicts has dropped by 40 percent, according to the Canadian think tank. And fewer people are being killed in conflicts. For instance, in 1950, armed conflicts killed 38,000 people on average. In 2005, the number of deaths from violent conflict was only 700 on average.

Yet, haven’t pundits and international affairs commentators told us for years that the number and intensity of internal violent conflicts increased after the cold war? Rubbish. Certainly, internal conflicts were greater in number than state-to-state military engagements. But, overall, the number and intensity of violent conflicts have decreased.

Why the drop in global violent conflicts?

The increasing influence of NGO’s, advocacy groups and the media, as well as more activist governments and international organizations are a few reasons. Peacekeeping operations are at an all time high. There is also a greater awareness of the need for effective tools to prevent wars or consolidate the peace after conflict ends.

Yet, as the Human Security Project (as well as a new report by FCNL) warns, there is no guarantee this trend will continue. Climate change, increasing competition over scarce resources, the rise of populous countries like China and India, as well as the increasing socio-economic gap between rich countries and lesser developed countries could all increase the number and intensity of violent conflicts in the near future.

But, the U.S. can build on past successes and lead the world in securing the future by making significant investments in tools to prevent violent conflict. Not only would a “prevention paradigm” help restore U.S. standing in the world, but it would be far cheaper than using the military as tool to keep a lid on instability and violence.

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