- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

The world is winning the war on war.

Despite daily headlines of carnage in Iraq, nuclear saber rattling in Iran, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula, and civil and ethnic clashes across sub-Saharan Africa, researchers Monty Marshall of George Mason University and Ted Robert Gurr of the University of Maryland say the numbers don’t lie: In terms of the number of armed conflicts worldwide and their intensity, the world is living through a period of relative peace not seen in about 40 years.

What’s more, according to the latest global survey the two men co-authored for the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management, the number of democratic regimes has soared while civil and ethnic wars, which peaked with the end of the Cold War, are at their lowest level since 1950.

“You always want to temper the good news with a measure of caution,” Mr. Gurr said at a press briefing this month. “But you should also recognize that there is good news here, good news that we think a lot of policy-makers don’t really appreciate,” he added.

Their report, “Peace and Conflict 2005,” continues the work of two surveys the researchers issued in 2001 and 2003.

The findings have been remarkably consistent: Despite September 11, 2001, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the specter of genocide in Sudan and other crises, the number of wars worldwide topped out with the end of the Cold War in 1991 and since has been in free-fall.

51 conflicts in 1991

According to the center’s findings, there were 51 armed conflicts in 1991, when the Soviet Union broke apart.

That number had fallen in half by 2002, even with the U.S.-led campaign against Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers after the September 11 attacks.

Early this year, there were 20 “major armed conflicts” around the world, with just eight — Iraq, Colombia, Russia/Chechnya, India, Burma, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan — rated medium or high-intensity conflicts.

“The global trend in major armed conflict has continued to decrease markedly in the post-Cold War era both in numbers of states affected by major armed conflicts and in general magnitude,” Mr. Marshall wrote in the 2005 update.

“According to our calculations, the general magnitude of global warfare has decreased by over 60 percent since peaking in the mid-1980s, falling by the end of 2004 to its lowest level since the 1950s.” Since the first report in 2001, researchers have counted five new major conflicts around the world: the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a civil war in Ivory Coast in 2002, and the Darfur clashes in Sudan beginning in 2003.

At the same time, however, 11 wars were resolved or suspended, from the Hutu-Tutsi battles in Rwanda to ethnic and political clashes in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Colonial and “self-determination” wars, often underwritten by superpower rivalries during the Cold War, also are in decline, from a high of 40 in the five-year period ending in 1990 to 25 from 2001 to 2004.

Researchers Victor Asal of the State University of New York at Albany and Amy Pate of the University of Maryland looked at global patterns for discrimination by governments against some ethnic groups and found additional positive news.

The percentage of countries practicing political discrimination against an ethnic group fell from 64.6 percent in 1950 to 38.2 percent today. The percentage of countries employing economic discrimination declined from 59.5 percent in 1950 to 37.3 percent last year, while the number of countries with policies aimed at remedying discriminatory policies quintupled.

“It was a consistent finding throughout every region we looked at,” Miss Pate said.

“There was a peak in ethnic conflict with the breakup of states such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, but that has largely resolved itself,” she said.

Conflict specialists say they are still trying to understand the factors causing the unexpected decline in global conflict, wars and military spending worldwide.

With the number of wars falling steadily since 1990, many think the end of the Cold War was directly responsible for much of the shift. Although the United States and Soviet Union never fought a direct war during the Cold War, many lower-intensity conflicts and civil wars often went unchecked for decades with the tacit encouragement of the superpowers.

New Republic writer Gregg Easterbrook, in a recent essay on the Marshall-Gurr findings, cited the case of Angola, where U.S., Russian, Cuban and regional players helped both the government and a rebel movement stay on the battlefield.

“When all these nations stopped supplying arms to the Angolan combatants, the leaders of the factions grudgingly came to the conference table,” Mr. Easterbrook noted.

Many also credit the European Union and the United Nations with playing significant roles in the decline of war.

While the European Union sorts through some bruising internal organizational and funding issues, the 25-nation bloc still gets credit for making warfare on the continent where both world wars began virtually unthinkable.

The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission also has been attacked for a series of high-profile failures, from failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda and ethnic killings in Bosnia to more recent accusations of rape and abuse by U.N. troops deployed in Africa. But a string of lower-profile U.N. missions, to places such as East Timor and Eritrea, are credited with preserving peace or keeping small conflicts from becoming wars.

Things do change’

John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist, predicted in a 1989 book that the shifting international scene meant the great-power wars of the first half of the 20th century were becoming less and less likely.

“I do not hold that everything is getting better in every way,” Mr. Mueller wrote in an essay published in 1991, “nor do I hold that everything people generally consider bad will vanish from the earth.

“But things do change. Slavery used to be an institution as venerable and apparently as natural and inevitable as war. Formal dueling used to be widely accepted as an effective method for resolving certain kinds of disputes. Both became thoroughly discredited and then obsolete. There is reason to believe the institution of war could eventually join their ranks.”

Mr. Gurr and Mr. Marshall say in the conclusion to their 2005 survey that there is some danger in reporting the good news of the decline of war, with some worrying it “may contribute to complacency and undermine the progress being made.” About a fifth of the world’s countries still face a “serious risk” of civil war or political collapse, according to the survey.

Barbara Harff, who studies trends in genocide at Clark University, wrote in the report that, in addition to Sudan, five countries suffer from a number of the risk factors associated with ethnic or political genocide: Burma, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Asia has three “flash points” that could trigger a broader war: the North-South Korea divide, the China-Taiwan dispute and the India-Pakistan tensions.

The authors have deep reservations about the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, warning that even an American military victory could fuel further Islamist jihad.

But they also note that the Bush administration has chosen multilateral diplomacy in trying to deal with nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran and with the Darfur crisis.

“International cooperation in peace-building, in short, seems to have recovered somewhat from the shock of U.S.-led military intervention in the Middle East,’” Mr. Marshall and Mr. Gurr conclude.

Although “serious disagreements and enormous challenges” remain, “to underestimate the overall progress being made would be a disservice to those who have worked so hard and contributed so much.”

Staff writer Seth Rosen contributed to this report.

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