By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
January 02, 2006
But a unique study of wars, genocide, military coups and human rights abuses across the globe has found that our planet has actually turned substantially more peaceful over the past decade.
"Over the past dozen years, the global security climate has changed in dramatic, positive, but largely unheralded ways," says the report by the Human Security Centre, located at the University of British Columbia in Canada. "More wars stopped than started" since 1988.
The three-year study - hailed by the International Crisis Group and other experts in the field as a comprehensive compilation of data on world conflict - credits the end of the colonialism and Cold War eras, along with an increase in international peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy, as the factors most responsible for the positive turn of events.
The "Human Security Report," which its authors say will be an annual endeavor, identifies international terrorism as the only form of political violence that is accelerating. In 1987, for instance, there were 17 significant terrorist attacks worldwide. In 2003, that number reached 175 and mushroomed to 651 in 2004.
Even so, the report notes, the actual death toll from terrorist attacks - an average of fewer than 1,000 people a year over the past 30 years - is a dim shadow of the tens of thousands of victims of traditional war.
Andrew Mack, director of the center and a former United Nations official, said the public perception that the world is becoming more war-wracked comes from the media's focus on conflict and the absence of data - until the publication of this study - on the overall prevalence of war.
"Why has this change attracted so little attention?" Mack wrote this week. "In part because the global media give far more coverage to wars that start than to those that quietly end, but also because no international agency collects global or regional data on any form of political violence."
Among the report's other findings:
- The number of armed conflicts has dropped by nearly half since 1992, when more than 50 raged worldwide. In 2003, the last year for which complete data was available, the total was about 30.
- Wars have become dramatically less deadly. In 1972, more than 340,000 died in war. A decade later that number had dropped to about 250,000. In 1992, it fell to 100,000. In 2002, it slid to less than 20,000.
- Military coups are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In 1963, the world saw 25 coups and attempted coups. In 2004, there were just 10 attempts, and all failed.
- Civil wars are also disappearing. In 1991, about 23 internecine conflicts pitted countrymen against countrymen. In 2002, only 11 civil wars raged.
- Autocracies have ebbed. In 1984, 90 countries were ruled by strongmen or authoritarian regimes, while about 42 were considered democracies. By 2002, democracies existed in at least 85 nations while autocracies plummeted to just 30.
The reasons for the peaceful trend are several, according to the Human Security Centre, which is funded by the governments of Canada, United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States.
The collapse of colonialism beginning in the 1950s triggered conflict across the globe as nations previously part of the British, French or other empires revolted against their overseers or fought amongst themselves for power and territory. By the early 1980s, that category of conflict all but disappeared.
The end of the Cold War, which came after the 1991disintegration of the Soviet Union, extinguished another whole category of conflict: proxy wars. For decades, the United States and the Soviets competed for influence in the Third World, backing opposing sides but not actually fighting in wars in Afghanistan, the African nation of Angola and across Central America.
The nature of war also changed in the late 20th century, morphing from big battles fought by large armies wielding tanks and howitzers to primarily low-intensity conflicts characterized by skirmishes and guerrilla attacks. This has translated into far fewer casualties. The rise of major refugee exoduses from war-torn areas also has kept the death toll down by sparing those civilians from becoming "collateral damage" in conflicts.
Another significant factor is the growth of United Nations peacekeeping operations designed to keep hostilities from re-igniting after a truce occurs. In 1988, there were just five such U.N. missions. That number rose to 16 in 2004.
While the study should give the world hope that 2006 will bring a further trend toward peace, the authors cautioned against complacency
"The risk of new wars breaking out - or old ones resuming - is very real in the absence of a sustained and strengthened commitment to conflict prevention and post-conflict peace building," the report said.
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