Study: Armed Conflict on Decline Across Globe

International news headlines may suggest that war is becoming more prevalent in modern times. But a new study from the University of British Columbia's Human Security Centre shows a 40-percent drop in armed conflicts since 1992. Corey Flintoff examines the report, and possible reasons for such a decline.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

With the news broadcasts focusing so much on fighting and conflict, you could be forgiven for thinking that wars are becoming more prevalent. But a new study suggests that armed conflicts and international crises have actually declined significantly over the last couple of decades. NPR's Corey Flintoff has a report.

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

The study's lead author, Andrew Mack, says we tend to think that our times are growing more violent because the media focus on the dramatic beginnings of wars rather than their often undramatic endings. He says more wars are ending than starting.

Mr. ANDREW MACK (Director, Human Security Centre): And in fact, if we go back to 1992, which was the high point of the entire post-World War II period, you find there's been a 40 percent decline in the number of all armed conflicts in that period of time and an 80 percent decline in the most severe armed conflicts, those that kill a thousand or more people every year.

FLINTOFF: Mack directs the Human Security Institute at the University of British Columbia. He credits three things for the decline in wars and other kinds of conflict. One was the end of colonialism. The second was the end of the Cold War.

Mr. MACK: And then--this is the single factor that we think is the most important--the end of the Cold War means that the UN is liberated to play the role that it should've played right back in the beginning but wasn't allowed to by Cold War politics. And so you see in the early 1990s, a really extraordinary explosion of activism by the international community directed towards preventing wars, stopping wars, and stopping wars from restarting again once you have peace agreements.

FLINTOFF: Some human rights organizations are ambivalent about the report. Iain Levine, the program director of Human Rights Watch, says his group welcomes the report's approach of applying rigorous analysis to human security problems and the potentially good news in its conclusions.

Mr. IAIN LEVINE (Human Rights Watch): What is worrying is that too many people will look at that and feel that they no longer have to worry so much about armed conflicts, genocides, human rights abuses and so on. I think it's really important that people see this first report as a contribution to an improved analysis of human security, but not that they see it as a justification for backing away from measures to address these issues.

FLINTOFF: Levine also takes issue with the report's conclusion that human rights abuses are declining.

Mr. LEVINE: It may be true that there is a slight decline, but we are certainly living in an era in which there are major assaults on human rights standards.

FLINTOFF: Andrew Mack acknowledges that not all the news in his study is good. He says most wars today take place in poor countries where poorly trained and equipped government soldiers fight lightly armed guerrillas. Because neither side is very well-prepared to fight the other, they tend to attack civilians whom they suspect of supporting their enemies.

Mr. MACK: And what we should also say, and we make very clear in the report, is that the real costs of war in poor countries are war-induced malnutrition and disease. That is the real killer in many cases; that may--killing 10, 20 even 30 times as many people as actually die in battle.

FLINTOFF: Mack says the report's analysis also suggests some factors that reduce armed conflict. He says as countries move away from authoritarianism and toward fully inclusive democracy, they have far lower levels of political violence.

The Human Security Report is to become an annual survey funded by the governments of Canada, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Mack says that next year's report will focus on the indirect costs of war. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Washington.

ADAMS: NPR's DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Noah Adams.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.