Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 11:05 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 11:05 | SYDNEY

Good news on wars of the world


Graeme Dobell

22 February 2011 14:10

Those who focus on the gloom, doom and death of war need an occasional dose of Andrew Mack.

The Professor Mack Potion for those depressed about the ways of the world is the evidence that we are becoming less war-like. The director of the Human Security Report Project in Vancouver says the statistics show a 'truly extraordinary change' in the frequency and lethality of war. The figures are delivered with a typical does of Mack mockery: 'We have the best data in the world and it sucks'. Whatever the questions about the data, however, the trends are big. War is happening less and killing fewer people:

  • International conflicts (which include wars of colonial liberation) have declined dramatically over the past 60 years, from an average of 6 per year in the 1950s to less than one in the new millennium.
  • In the 1950s the average war killed some 10,000 people a year; today the figure is less than 1000.
  • While the number of minor conflict numbers has increased since 2003, high-intensity conflicts (those that kill 1000 or more people each year) have declined by almost 80% since then end of the Cold War.

The Project produces The Human Security Report, which tracksĀ trends in armed conflict and other forms of organised violence. In December, it released the Human Security Report 2009/2010: The Causes of Peace and The Shrinking Costs of War. Mack will speak to the Lowy Institute on Wednesday and the audio will be available Thursday.

So why is the world studying Lenin less and humming more of Lennon's 'Give Peace a Chance'' The Professor's Potion on why war is declining:

  • The end of colonialism.
  • The end of the Cold War.
  • A 'tremendous shift' on the norms of war, or a 'war averseness norm'. Along with the traditional right of self-defence, the authority of the UN Security Council is now important in any decision for war among states.
  • Nuclear weapons at least engender caution in the superpowers.
  • The democratic peace. To put the claim cautiously: it is extremely rare for democracies to fight each other, and there's been a 200% increase in democracies since the Cold War expired.
  • Globalisation: economic interdependence creates the 'capitalist peace'.

Just the sort of wide-ranging stuff you'd expect from a wonderful academic who was director of strategic planning in Kofi Annan's office at the UN for nearly four years. In his pre-academic experience, though, the Prof was an engineer and pilot, a deputy base commander in Antarctica, a diamond prospector in Sierre Leone and even spent a couple of years as a hack producing current affairs for the BBC World Service.

You have to be something of an optimist to be most of those things, in the same way that you have to be a bit of an optimist to be a parent, a teacher or a yachtie. And Andrew Mack proves that you can even look deeply at war and find hard evidence that humanity is slowly learning lessons.

Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo.