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Locking up the dogs of war: huge decline in war-related deaths

By Pat Byrne - posted Monday, 18 August 2014


Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, war-related deaths have declined dramatically; and since the Second Gulf War of 2003, war-related deaths have been at the lowest level in modern history.

This may seem counter-intuitive. The media's intensive coverage of the horrors of current conflicts give the impression that war is worse than ever, with more armed conflicts, civilian deaths, rapes and human rights violations.

On this basis, many commentators have argued, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., that the world has been facing a major "clash of civilisations".

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Yet the opposite is true. The hard data on war-related deaths paints a bigger and more encouraging picture than the impressions left by the media's daily coverage of the horror of wars and conflicts.

When current conflicts are instantly reported on our television screens, computers, smart phones and tablets, the saturation coverage obscures the larger picture.

All the while, democracies have been replacing authoritarian and totalitarian old orders (ancien régimes). The development of market economies has lifted peoples out of poverty. The emergence of regional alliances such as the European Union, the huge intermixing of populations, the spread of education, the expansion of peace-keeping and a vigilant media with a globally captive audience - all these have been key factors in reducing armed conflicts.

Joshua S. Goldstein, professor emeritus at the School of International Service at the American University in Washington DC, is the author of an acclaimed study, Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (2011).

In his article, "State of the world's wars," Huffington Post, July 24, 2014) that in 2005 war-related deaths were under 12,000, and typically about 20,000 annually from the end of the Second Gulf War until the recent conflict in Syria.

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This is far below the annual death toll in the millions during the two world wars, and well below the 200,000 deaths a year during the Cold War (which lasted from World War II until the end of Soviet communism in 1989).

After World War II, there were three major wars (in Korea, Indo-China and between Iran and Iraq) that spiked the death toll. Also, numerous Soviet-backed insurgencies led to proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the West in parts of Latin America, South East Asia and Africa.

In 2013, war-related deaths had increased to about 45,000 globally, with the conflicts in Syria and Iraq accounting for about half of these casualties.

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About the Author

Patrick J Byrne is national vice president of the National Civic Council. He writes in the NCC’s magazine News Weekly on foreign affairs, economic, rural and social issues.

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