[Paleopsych] open Democracy: Paul Rogers: A world becoming more peaceful?

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Paul Rogers: A world becoming more peaceful?
    17 - 10 - 2005

    The first annual Human Security Report finds despite evidence from
    Afghanistan to Iraq, Chechnya to Congo that violent conflict around
    the world is declining. Can this be true?

    There appear good reasons for most people to think that the world is
    becoming a more dangerous place. In the four years since the 9/11
    attacks, the George W Bush administration has pursued a vigorous
    counter-terrorism policy that has already terminated two regimes and
    has, at a conservative estimate, seen at least 40,000 people killed,
    most of them civilians. United States forces are mired in a deep and
    bitter insurgency in Iraq, and almost 20,000 more troops are active
    against a determined Taliban guerrilla force in Afghanistan; they have
    also engaged in border clashes with Syria, and are involved in a tense
    standoff with Iran over the latters nuclear developments.

    If you find Paul Rogerss weekly [90]column on global security
    valuable, please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a
    [91]donation so that we can continue our work and keep it free for all

    Despite this vigorous US strategy, the al-Qaida movement is able to
    sustain its activities by launching numerous attacks around the world
    (see the list of incidents in last week's column, [92]America, Iraq,
    and al-Qaida).

    This series of large-scale problems surely provide ample evidence for
    the feeling that global security is threatened. In such circumstances,
    for a substantial and carefully researched report to claim otherwise
    seems a nonsense yet that is exactly the conclusion of the first
    annual [93]human security report published today, 17 October, by the
    [94]Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British
    Columbia, Vancouver (and launched at the United Nations in New York).

    The Human Security Report (HSR) co-financed by five [95]governments,
    including Canada and Britain is modelled on that indispensable guide
    to issues of development, the [96]United Nations Human Development
    Report, though it is not itself a product of the UN system. It argues
    that there has in fact been a marked decrease in political violence
    since the end of the cold war. The number of armed conflicts has
    decreased by more than 40%, and the number of major conflicts (which
    it defines as resulting in 1,000 or more "battle-deaths") has declined
    by 80%.

    Among its other conclusions, it finds that interstate wars now
    comprise only 5% of all armed conflicts, far less than in previous
    eras; that the numbers of people killed in individual wars have
    declined dramatically in the past five decades; and that the number of
    international crises fell by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001. The
    report also says that the number of autocratic regimes, noted for
    their systematic attacks on human rights, is decreasing.

    At first sight, the conclusions of the report seem to fly in the face
    of everyday, tangible experience. However, the report is well
    researched, carefully constructed and offers explanations for its
    results. Moreover, it is not alone in its findings. For the past five
    years, comparable if smaller-scale work by the [97]Center for
    International Development and Conflict Management, University of
    Maryland, has generated broadly similar conclusions. Its latest
    biennial survey, [98]Peace and Conflict 2005, co-authored by veteran
    peace researcher Ted Robert Gurr, also finds a marked decline in major
    conflicts since the early 1990s.

    One explanation these reports offer for the overall decrease in wars
    in the last two decades is the ending of two of the main "drivers" of
    conflict: decolonisation and the cold war. Both historical cycles were
    marked by endemic conflict. The thirty years after 1945 saw numerous
    small wars regarded as insurgencies or revolutionary threats by
    colonial powers, and as wars of national liberation by the combatants
    and their supporters in southeast Asia, Kenya, Cyprus, Algeria,
    Angola, Mozambique, and many other places. There was also massive
    internal violence surrounding other transitions to independence,
    including the partition of India in 1947 and the birth of Bangladesh
    in 1970-71.

    Many of these conflicts had a [99]wider geopolitical aspect as proxy
    wars between the United States and its allies and the Soviet bloc. It
    was characteristic of this cold-war era that these wars, which killed
    at least 10 million people and wounded 30 million, were fought in the
    third world including Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Ethiopia/Somalia
    rather than Europe.

    When the two types of conflict, decolonisation and cold war, are taken
    together, it is not surprising that (as the Human Security Report
    points out) the two countries that have been most involved in
    international wars since 1946 are Britain and France; the United
    States and Soviet Union/Russia are next on the list.

    The [100]cold war drew to its end in 1989-91 with the fall of the
    Berlin wall, revolutions across east-central Europe and the collapse
    of the Soviet Union. This period coincided with the first Gulf war in
    1991 to expel Saddam Husseins forces from Kuwait, and was closely
    followed by bitter conflicts in the [101]Caucasus (Abkhazia,
    Nagorno-Karabakh, and Chechnya) and the [102]Balkans, as well as one
    of the worst conflicts of the past century in the Great Lakes region
    of Africa.

    Alongside such violent and destructive events was a huge expansion in
    peacekeeping and conflict-prevention initiatives, principally but not
    only by the United Nations and its agencies. The Human Security Report
    argues strongly that these initiatives have had a direct effect in
    defusing some potential conflicts and easing others.

    The [103]UN dimension is significant in anticipating possible
    reactions to the report. The HSR is not an official UN product, but it
    is very clearly sympathetic with that organisation, and this is likely
    to induce cynicism from the UNs critics like US ambassador John Bolton
    and others in American politics and media. At the same time, the
    evidence the report gathers and the arguments it proposes are not
    ideologically one-sided: it includes major caveats and is very far
    from claiming that an era of universal peace is dawning.

    The invisible casualties

    The current political context makes the Human Security Report a rare
    document that provides a more hopeful picture about current indicators
    of conflict in the world. But a close reading of the HSRs detailed
    analysis suggests two issues in particular that deserve closer

    The first is the marked tendency it notes for people to flee from
    major areas of conflict, seeking security either in neighbouring
    countries or even further afield. This means that large numbers of
    people are being exposed to sustained and often extreme dislocation
    and hardship a trend that may well result in an underestimation of the
    actual numbers killed and wounded in current conflicts.

    The second issue is that in any case, the crude counting of casualties
    can be hugely misleading, especially when conflicts are happening in
    weak and impoverished societies. Most wars of the modern era take
    place in just such societies, with sub-Saharan Africa being
    particularly badly affected. In such circumstances, the effects of war
    can take years or even decades to overcome.

    The destruction of schools, hospitals and clinics, damage to farming
    systems, marketing networks, ports and even bridges will have a far
    greater effect in poorer countries where most people already live
    close to the margins. The net effect frequently is to add to
    malnutrition, susceptibility to disease and, especially, infant
    mortality and death in childbirth in a manner that is almost entirely
    missing from the simple, direct statistics of war.

    Such impacts have, needless to say, been part of conflicts for decades
    if not centuries. They should be of great concern today, because
    alongside the great wealth and comfort of rich 21st-century societies
    a huge proportion of the global human community lives on very basic
    incomes with no guarantee of a stable future, while hundreds of
    millions more barely manage to survive at all. It is arguable that no
    social order that tolerates such vast inequalities can long endure.

    Two sources of insecurity

    These qualifications to the optimistic thrust of the HSR still leave a
    conundrum: why can this report and other similar research suggest that
    the world is becoming less violent and dangerous when so many analysts
    and citizens find daily evidence to offer the opposite view?

    There are perhaps two main explanations. The first is that it is
    mainly people in the "Atlantic" countries especially the United States
    and Canada, and western European countries such as Britain and Germany
    who perceive a world of increasing violence. For this (in world terms)
    elite group, which includes people directly involved in George W
    Bush's "global war on terror", media coverage of Iraq and of al-Qaida
    attacks helps create a pervasive view of global insecurity. But most
    people in other parts of the world are more directly concerned with
    immediate worries jobs, health and education, and even water, food and
    shelter and any larger worries about war may well have diminished in
    the past two decades.

    The second explanation is that the 9/11 attacks really did have a
    profound effect on the United States, by challenging a self-perception
    of invulnerability that had previously been disturbed as long ago as
    1941. The threat to the USs superpower dominance, leading to a war on
    terror now approaching its fifth year, may actually be distorting its
    understanding of the global picture of increasing security.

    In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an
    international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group;
    for details, click [104]here

    A collection of Paul Rogerss Oxford Research Group briefings, Iraq and
    the War on Terror: Twelve Months of Insurgency, 2004-05 is published
    by IB Tauris ([105]October 2005)

    These two arguments require careful attention, but also two strong
    notes of caution in turn. First, the very vigour of the American
    response to 9/11 may be creating the conditions for increased
    instability and conflict. These counter-currents are most evident in
    the middle east, whose rapidly growing energy resource significance
    coupled with the [106]advent of China as a competitive agent reinforce
    existing political tensions.

    Second, the assessment of whether or not the world has become more
    peaceful needs to accommodate the greatest human test of all the
    response to climate change and all the many new insecurities that will
    come in its wake if it is not brought under control. The "drying out"
    of the tropics and the impact of global warming on the polar icecaps,
    which now look increasingly possible, will overshadow every other
    issue of [107]international security in the coming decades. The huge
    pressure to migrate they are likely to bring is only one of their
    likely effects.

    These two cautions refer to problems that will dominate the coming
    years and which can still just be addressed by making necessary policy
    changes. It is in this political context that the Human Security
    Report is a salutary reminder of what is possible. In many different
    ways over the past fifteen years there really has been a
    much-increased effort to prevent conflict, to resolve it when it
    happens and to improve the worlds capacity for post-conflict
    peace-building. In the context of so many forces and dynamics of
    insecurity, that is a powerful message.

    [108]Human Security Report

    [109]"Peace and Conflict 2005" report


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