Friday, November 23, 2012

Peace In Our Time?

The Daily Mail reports on a study suggesting that we are heading toward a peaceful world:
Futurologists from the University of Oslo in Norway and the Peace Research Institute Oslo have predicted that global conflict will halve in the next 40 years.
Their study claims the combination of higher education, lower infant mortality, smaller youth cohorts, and lower population growth are a few of the reasons why the world can expect a more peaceful future.

That will mean in the next five years the current conflicts in Libya, Tajikistan, Syria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Iraq will probably be over, the research suggests.
As the risk of war decreases worldwide, by 2017 it will be greatest in India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Uganda and Burma.
And by 2050, as the number of countries at war falls from one in six to one in 12, the risk of conflict will be greatest in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
The authors of the study also contend that part of the influence is one of costs:
'It has become too expensive to kill people. Modern society is dependent on economic development. It is too expensive to use violence to destroy this network. It has also become harder to take financial capital by force.
'It is easy to move capital across national borders. Therefore, a cynical leader will be less likely to choose violence as a strategy.'
It is hard to discern the most important reason why the future will be more peaceful, but some studies suggest that education is the crucial factor.
'Education may be a fundamental causal explanation, but this is difficult to show with our methods. Demographers believe that more education leads to fewer children. There are fewer mouths to feed.'
Another explanation is the UN's peacekeeping operations. The world has become better at employing means of preventing states using violence.
'The UN operations in Bosnia and Somalia failed. But the UN's operations have been more successful since 2000. Of course, the UN cannot prevent conflicts, but fewer die and the intensity is lower when they intervene.'
We've been hearing the "its too expensive to wage war" since before WWI, so I don't think it is relevant. 

I don't believe that the authors are incorrect. Violence and warfare have been declining, and the odds of dying from violence are, overall, lower now than at any time in human history. However, if you look at the factors relied on in this study, and other books and articles on the subject, the overall trend toward less warfare is due to civilization. That is, one of the primary benefits of civilization is less violence. Hence, to gauge whether our future is going to be one of violence or peace, one actually has to examine whether civilization will continue. However, as noted in Why Civilizations Die, we are seeing the death of Islamic and European civilizations. Europe may die peacefully, but Islamic civilizations probably will not.

Another factor is whether there will be frictions that could lead to war. WWII eliminated many frictions because Europe specifically, and the world more generally, was dominated by the two superpowers. Now we have new frictions developing. War between India and Pakistan is likely a matter of time. We will probably see increased friction between India and China, and China and its other neighbors. Another source of friction is that the artificial borders imposed by the European powers are beginning to break down, and various tribal and ethnic groups are beginning to push for autonomy in Asia, the Middle-East, and Africa.

In short, I'm not discounting that we are headed toward fewer wars based on the data from the past 50, 100, or even 1000 years. However, can we extrapolate this forward? The past 1000 years have seen the advance of civilization. But what if we are on the edge of seeing civilization retreat, as at the end of the Western Roman Empire?

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