On The Sharp Drop in Global Violence, Again

April 21, 2009

[First published December 28, 2005] As I’ve pointed out a number of times, the growth in democracies, which now number 122, has reached a tipping point, where their contribution to a global democratic peace has caused a sharp decrease in the extent of global violence. This drop is pointed out by Andrew Mack, the director of the Human Security Center at the University of British Columbia, in a Washington Post article, “Peace on Earth? Increasingly, Yes.”. He says:

By 2003, there were 40 percent fewer conflicts than in 1992. The deadliest conflicts — those with 1,000 or more battle-deaths — fell by some 80 percent. The number of genocides and other mass slaughters of civilians also dropped by 80 percent, while core human rights abuses have declined in five out of six regions of the developing world since the mid-1990s. International terrorism is the only type of political violence that has increased. Although the death toll has jumped sharply over the past three years, terrorists kill only a fraction of the number who die in wars.

This change is extraordinary, and he wonders why it has been given so little attention in the media. His answer is that the media is addicted to reporting global violence. I agree, and in my terms, no violence is no news.

However, the most interesting aspect of Mack’s article is how he accounts for this decline. It is

The end of the Cold War, which had driven at least a third of all conflicts since World War II, appears to have been the single most critical factor.

In the late 1980s, Washington and Moscow stopped fueling “proxy wars” in the developing world, and the United Nations was liberated to play the global security role its founders intended. Freed from the paralyzing stasis of Cold War geopolitics, the Security Council initiated an unprecedented, though sometimes inchoate, explosion of international activism designed to stop ongoing wars and prevent new ones.

He seems unaware of the predictions at the end of the Cold War that conflicts and violence that the Soviets and U.S. kept a lid on so they would not escalate to involve them would now break out. But, lets say that this prediction was wrong, and lets suppose that the end of the Cold War meant less global violence.

As to the UN being also responsible for the drop in violence, this is an understandable claim from Mack, who was director of the Strategic Planning Unit in the executive office of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan between 1998 and 2001. I think he is flatly wrong, and even the UN’s own internal study, “Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations,” says it failed. In any case, Mack gives no credit to the growth of democracies — not a whiff.

Strange, since in personal communication he does recognize this growth also as a cause, and so does his Center’s report, ” War and Peace In The 21st Century,” that I discussed and presented in my blog, “More: The Democratic Peace Causes a Sharp Decline In Violence.” I suspect that among those who have dealt personally with the complexities of international relations and violence, it seems too simplistic, and even too idealistic, to ascribe the drop in violence to . . . democracy. With all its diverse variables and conditions, nations and cultures, and leaders and dictators, the political world seems more complex than that.