January 5, 2011


Canadian Study Reports New Threats to Global Security but Reveals Encouraging Long-Term Trends (HSRP, 02 Dec 2010)

[P]roject Director, Professor Andrew Mack, a former advisor to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan, argues that a closer analysis of the data leads to a much less pessimistic conclusion. He notes that:

* The recent increase in the number and deadliness of conflicts associated with radical Islamist movements and the US-led “war on terror” is perhaps the single most worrying trend today. But the level of armed conflict in Muslim countries is far lower today than it was two decades ago, and support for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups has declined substantially throughout the Muslim world.
* The 25 percent increase in conflict numbers is largely due to an increase in minor conflicts that kill very few people.
* There has been a modest increase in battle death numbers in recent years, but this needs to be seen in context. The average annual battle-death toll per conflict in the 1950s killed almost 10,000 people; in the new millennium the figure is less than 1,000.
* The doubling of intercommunal and other conflicts that do not involve government forces between 2007 and 2008 is a real concern, but these conflicts rarely last longer than a year and their death tolls are only a small fraction of those of wars that involve a government as a warring party.
* A major study by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in 2005 stressed that many of the remaining armed conflicts were intractable––i.e., very difficult to resolve. But a new measure of intractability created by the Vancouver research team shows that conflicts have actually become steadily less intractable since 1970––and that 40 percent of the conflicts that USIP had identified as intractable in 2005 had ended by 2008.
* A greater number of countries have indeed become involved in armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War than at any time since 1946. But this is not because there have been more conflicts––there have been fewer. The increase arises entirely as a consequence of large numbers of countries sending token forces that have no combat role to three US-led coalition wars––the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan.
* The economic crisis that started in 2008 had a strong negative impact on parts of the developing world, but did not lead to the expected increase in political violence. There was, in fact, one fewer conflict in 2009 than 2008. In 2010, all regions of the developing world were experiencing remarkably robust rates of economic growth.
* Perhaps the most reassuring finding is that high-intensity wars, those that kill at least 1,000 people a year, have declined by 78% since 1988.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 5, 2011 7:32 AM
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