September 12, 2005


Putting the warlords out of business (Jean-Marie Guéhenno, SEPTEMBER 11, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

Around the world, about 25 places - depending how you count them - are now at war, down from a peak of more than 50 in the early 1990s. In terms of the number of people killed in battle, the world is at a hundred-year low. New conflicts sometimes start up, like Nepal's, but for every new conflict, two old ones are going out of business.

There is less war than there used to be.

This month's news from Burundi is the latest example of the trend. Some 200,000 people died in a 10-year civil war that created hundreds of thousands of refugees and destroyed the country's infrastructure. In the past year, however, with help from the United Nations and the international community, a Constitution has been approved, an election has been held, a democratically elected president has been sworn in and power is being transferred.

The UN secretary general has asked the Security Council to keep peacekeeping troops in Burundi to help consolidate peace during disarmament and demobilization. Burundians finally have reason to be optimistic, but the rest of the world must continue to help so that Burundi has a chance for lasting peace.

Half a world away, the Irish Republican Army has declared an end to its armed struggle. Liberia is also at peace now, and more than 100,000 fighters have been demobilized in the past year. In East Timor and Sierra Leone, peacekeepers are packing up and going home, their work finished. Some are heading to Sudan, to help with a peace agreement to end a two-decade war that left two million people dead. The agreement there was generally seen as shaky, but seems to have held despite the death of John Garang, the leader of southern Sudan's long struggle.

Any of these conflicts could again fall back into war, as peace usually takes a decade to take root. And there are still plenty of other places - from Afghanistan to Congo to Haiti - teetering between war and peace. But the numbers are going down, and even in those places, there is real hope.

In Afghanistan, UN workers are helping to prepare for the first parliamentary elections since the overthrow of the Taliban. Congo is preparing for national elections and militia groups in the east are on the run after robust military action by UN peacekeepers. Haiti is moving toward re-establishing a democratic government while UN peacekeepers help the authorities stabilize a dangerous and fragile situation.

What has led to this wider trend away from war?

One of the most important elements, unmentioned here, of course, is unilateral intervention by the U.S. and Britain and the threat of said, Africa's peace seekers (Abraham McLaughlin, 9/12/05, The Christian Science Monitor)
[E]ver since Sept. 11, 2001, Sudan's government was desperate to please the US. Back in the 1990s it had hosted Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. It now feared its "terrorist haven" label and economic pariah status would continue. Or worse, that the US might invade.

Ending the notion that sovereignty is inviolable has required nations to reckon with democratic and humanitarian standards even where conflicts seem purely internal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 12, 2005 6:19 AM

But . . . but . . . but . . . how can this be? How can things be getting better when Bush has misled us into a quagmire and he's breeding more terrorists and destroying our standing in the world and . . . well, damnit, Mr. Soros and Mother Sheehan said so, so it must be true!


Posted by: Mike Morley at September 12, 2005 10:30 AM

I remember back when the Iraq War was being discussed, people would say to me, "There are, right now, 37 [or some such number] armed conflicts going on in the world right now!" Somehow that was supposed to mean something. By that logic 1943 was the most peacful year the world has ever known, because there was only one conflict going on.

Posted by: Governor Breck at September 12, 2005 10:37 AM

Pax Americana. No Soviets shipping arms to client "states". Growing prosperity. Lower birthrates and urbanization making children more expensive, and therefore more valuable as an economic resource than as cannon fodder. Globalization breaking down tribal barriers.

Of course, this could be just the lull before the next storm. The Islamic world is still a mess, which will spill into Europe in the coming decades. Excess males in Asia will make warfare more likely, both intra and international.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 12, 2005 11:16 AM

"Sovereignty" is a legal fiction dating back to 1648, 1815 and some other dates in ancient history. It has to do with balance of power among European states, and had little or no relevance to the present situation.

To see beyond the immediate future is always chancy. We need to keep in mind that mere numbers are a hinderance, creating a bigger target without significantly increasing combat power. War is won now by technology, the key to hedgemony being air and sea power, electronic counter and counter-counter measures, all under a deterrent unbrella of assured destruction.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 12, 2005 12:27 PM

With all the talk of technology, let's not forget the warrior spirit, or the will to fight. I remember thinking immediately after 9/11 that this 'war' would be different - no bomb or cruise missile would be as effective as slitting hundreds of throats (the proper throats, of course). We're not fighting a large army, massed in a threatening posture. We're fighting in the dark alleys and basements. It's not something the public at large understands, or might even support. But it is the one method that will terrify our enemy.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 12, 2005 1:58 PM

jim, you don't think the enemy is terrified of our weapons? They understand a knife and a machine gun, I'd imagine it's our space age weapons that inspire fear.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 4:21 PM


They don't see a JDAM coming. But, a Navy SEAL or someone from Delta, hunting them down, that's when they wet their pants. Both are great (don't get me wrong here), but we have not had enough of the latter in many, many years.

That is why the most effective anit-Syria strategy would not be to bomb Damascus, rather, start killing terrorists and tribal leaders inside Syria. Two or three a week, for about 2 months. Gaslight the bad guys, kill some of them, and the rest will always be looking over their shoulders. It is personnel-intensive, but it's better than waiting a year for the perfect time to launch a cruise missile.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 12, 2005 4:38 PM

The psychological effect of firearms on primitives, while somewhat exaggerated, was nevertheless profound. The effect of modern war on the present day benighted savage is even greater.

A 1990's force against the state of the art cannot shoot, cannot move, cannot communicate. If we target their sanitation system they cannot go to the bathroom. The greater their numbers, the greater their vulnerability.

Against a knife, another knife has a chance. Against overwhelming technological advantage, the enemy's will to resist, the true objective in war, collapses. The world may never see a more fanatic enemy than THE FORMER JAPANESE EMPIRE*, and they got the message. The technological edge is exponential: it keeps growing.

Of course no weapon is of any use without the will to use it, which is exactly why we must maintain and advance our car-gun-sports culture, and why we must continue to speak out against, and teach against, the peace creeps, folk enemies and culture traitors.

*Not to be confused with THE FORMER SOVIET UNION, whose will to resist was overcome by the mere attainment of superior capability.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 12, 2005 5:01 PM

Whatever it takes is fine by me. We should use everything in our armory. I have such great admiration for our military. Their bravery takes my breath away.

God bless and keep them safe.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 7:01 PM