Thursday, May 26, 2005

Gave a war and nobody came

Dan Drezner follows links to a New Republic article by Gregg Easterbrook that claims that warfare is very much on the decline worldwide.
War has entered a cycle of decline. Combat in Iraq and in a few other places is an exception to a significant global trend that has gone nearly unnoticed--namely that, for about 15 years, there have been steadily fewer armed conflicts worldwide. In fact, it is possible that a person's chance of dying because of war has, in the last decade or more, become the lowest in human history.
The numbers, please.
The University of Maryland studies find the number of wars and armed conflicts worldwide peaked in 1991 at 51, which may represent the most wars happening simultaneously at any point in history. Since 1991, the number has fallen steadily. There were 26 armed conflicts in 2000 and 25 in 2002, even after the Al Qaeda attack on the United States and the U.S. counterattack against Afghanistan. By 2004, Marshall and Gurr's latest study shows, the number of armed conflicts in the world had declined to 20, even after the invasion of Iraq. All told, there were less than half as many wars in 2004 as there were in 1991.
Drezner goes on to say,
Easterbrook spends the rest of the essay postulating the causes of this -- the decline in great power war, the spread of democracies, the growth of economic interdependence, and even the peacekeeping capabilities of the United Nations.

First, he neglects to mention the biggest reason for why war is on the decline -- there's a global hegemon called the United States right now. Easterbrook acknowledges that "the most powerful factor must be the end of the cold war" but he doesn't understand why it's the most powerful factor. Elsewhere in the piece he talks about the growing comity among the great powers, without discussing the elephant in the room: the reason the "great powers" get along is that the United States is much, much more powerful than anyone else. If you quantify power only by relative military capabilities, the U.S. is a great power, there are maybe ten or so middle powers, and then there are a lot of mosquitoes. [If the U.S. is so powerful, why can't it subdue the Iraqi insurgency?--ed. Power is a relative measure -- the U.S. might be having difficulties, but no other country in the world would have fewer problems.]
Drezner has a whole lot more to say and provides supporting links. As they say, read it all.

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