Why World Peace Has a Fighting Chance



I’m not sure whether or not beauty pageant contestants wish for world peace these days, but lately the very idea, like Miss America herself, seems both antiquated and absurd. Including the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are 18 wars being waged at this very moment. And given America’s open-ended “war on terror,” the racial climate in Europe, the economic strife in Africa, and the globe’s seemingly endless supply of stubborn dictators, you couldn’t blame a person for concluding that things are going to get a lot worse. In fact, it’s easy to write-off anyone who dares to question the prevailing doom-and-gloom as a bleary-eyed idealist.

In a Foreign Policy piece that even the most cynical of realists will find hard to blithely dismiss, however, Joshua Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at American University, concludes that “President Barack Obama was telling the truth in June when he said, ‘The tide of war is receding.’ ” And Goldstein, who authored Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide, has the data to back up his optimism.

“The last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data compiled by researchers . . . of the Peace Research Institute Oslo,” Goldstein points out.

Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.

Goldstein’s overall argument—that the end of war is “downright thinkable”—is structured around what he sees as a related series of commonly held misconceptions: war has gotten more brutal for civilians; wars will get worse in the future; a more democratic world will be a more peaceful one; peacekeeping doesn’t work; and some conflicts will never end. In each of these sections he artfully combines historical comparisons, recent data, and analysis to either counter the stated assertion or, at the very least, encourage a reassessment.

At times, Goldstein conflates his data or becomes almost too mathematical, forgetting to factor in the subtleties of human behavior and the vagaries of fate. But for the most part, he forces the reader to rethink current history and question the chaotic narrative that distorts our expectations.

El poeta
9/3/2011 6:51:00 PM

Ah!, There is always hope, as Share International Magazine has been telling for a few years to date; the old order, that which profits from war and fear, has been loosing steam, LOL, the media, one of it's many arms, has been trying to hide such facts to continue it's promotion of war, no more,there is a new world awakening and it's principal colors are: sharing, justice, right relationship, love and unity. http://www.share-international.org/magazine/old_issues/2011/2011-07.htm#Mestari and it can not be stopped !

9/1/2011 10:19:00 PM

There are good advances, but we need an interdisciplinary mash-up to get these ideas all on the same table. Ponerology.com points to valuable new theories about sociopathy in our institutions and corporations which lead to war. William Pepper "An Act of State" and Russ Baker "Family of Secrets" shed light on the clandestine work of operatives who usurp democratic authority for these business forces who use war, especially oil. In addition to Central Asia, which we've only glimpsed partial truth about for 10 yrs, the use of violence to drive people off land is increasing in India and Sub-Saharan Africa where Hedge funds want mineral rights, solar energy, and agribusiness. They use AK47s to get what they want. AK47 traffic which was assured by John Bolton's sabotage during his time appointed to the UN. This is "private war" of mercenaries and militias, the kind growing in Afghanistan and Iraq, not official war, but once the provocations heat up and the business men need bailed out, that's when US forces get moved in. We need to apply what the ponerologists learned, and establish constitutional amendments that protect us by curtailling these prerogatives of big business shareholders to use us and our military as a doormat and calling card for their businesses around the world as they see fit.

steve eatenson
8/31/2011 11:31:13 AM

We don't seem to be a species of absolutes. Absolute peace is probably as unattainable as absolute war. It's a pendulum that swings one way and then the other. If you swing it too far in one direction, it will inevitably swing back to an extreme in the other direction. If we could just calm the swing to a narrow band of brutality towards each other we would be much improved.

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