Is War Decreasing?

Are wars really decreasing? Is this a more peaceful era–and do we know it?

Preeminent scholar of international relations Joshua Goldstein tears down one of the greatest myths of modern history. Despite all the hand-wringing, fearmongering, and bad-news headlines, peace is on the rise. Fewer wars are starting, more are ending, and those that remain are smaller and more localized than in past years. Incredibly, no national armies are still fighting one another—all of today’s wars are civil wars. Understanding this worldwide decline in armed conflict is crucially important as America shifts from a decade of war to an era of lower military budgets and operations.

via Winning the War on War | by Joshua S. Goldstein.

If you interested in the topic, take a look at Matthew White’s compendium of big, horrible things (e.g., war and conflict), as well as Steven Pinker–whose argument that war is decreasing generated quite a lot of buzz among the national security observers and many others here and here and here, for example.



10 thoughts on “Is War Decreasing?”

  1. The affirmation “war is decreasing” depends on how war is defined. If one thinks about it as “a state or period of fighting between countries” the affirmative holds true. As the article states
    “incredibly, no national armies are still fighting one another—all of today’s wars are civil wars”. If looked at on a smaller scale, war is only getting worse.

    In passed periods, internal struggles were a sign of weakness and enabled other countries to conquer the suffering country. With each new administration things would start over and problems would usually be overcome. Nowadays, however, countries are “on their own” to find solutions that will bring them peace. They can be assisted by organs like the ones created by the United Nations, but they are responsible for acting for themselves. In our globalized world, more people have the chance to express themselves and fight for what they believe. However, those informed citizens many times have conflicting opinions and interests, reaching the point where solutions are hard to be effectively implemented.

    With so many states collapsing, “war is decreasing” cannot be said. In the polarized international community conflict might have been kept under control. However, what we see empirically is an increase in internal disorder among many nations, which in the long run will only cause a doddering in the global scenario.

  2. I think that this article is really interesting. I would love to read the entire book if I did not have all kinds of midterms pilling up. War is an ugly thing no matter how you look at it. I think the idea that the author is trying to get at is that less people are being affected by wars. I thought it was so interesting that there are no two nations fighting each other. Diplomacy is working. Now the million dollar question is, “How can we do the same for civil wars?” Can there be diplomacy between a government and rebel forces? I would be interested to find out if there have been examples of that in the past. I think that it has been difficult and it will continue to be difficult because of the way that the parties in a civil war see each other. For them, there is no other option but to kill the leader and destroy the infrastructure of the enemy. Unless there is someone to step in and mediate, it seems to me like a civil war can never end peacefully.

  3. Didn’t someone come to BYU in recent semesters and say something very similar to what Goldstein is claiming? Maybe it was Goldstein himself! I should keep up with my BYU devotionals better.
    Anyway, during a time when we seem to talk so much about the lack of peace and the many evils that threaten our world—especially as members of a church that focuses on the need to prepare for the latter days in which there will be wars and rumours of wars—Goldstein’s ideas sound pretty revolutionary. And even though I have not read his entire book, nor am I familiar with all of his arguments, I find myself agreeing with his main idea that today there are less chances of being killed in a war than at any other time. I agree that this claim may sound somewhat preposterous, especially when all we read in the news are tragic stories of ongoing conflicts that have cost us much in terms of lives, and that will likely continue to cost us much until greater compromise is reached. But I don’t think Goldstein is trying to say that we live in a peaceful day and age; I think that he’s saying that, compared to all other ages before this one, THIS particular time is less riddled with nations at direct and open war with other nations, armies attacking other armies, and blatant violations of human rights going utterly unpunished and unquestioned. Sure, current events such as the Syrian crisis seem to prove all the above statements wrong, but if we stop to consider what the world looked like just a century ago, the idea of basic human rights hadn’t even been fully developed yet. If you lived in medieval times, what were the chances of reaching adulthood? I would submit that not that great, especially if you happened to be on the lower end of the serfdom scale, or if you lived under the ruthless monarchy of kings who believed to be deity and could claim your life at the drop of a hat.

    Today, at least in most countries, such unjust and unpunished brutality is unheard of. It is not ok to kill your subjects just because you can. Likewise, it is not ok to simply attack a nation without many preliminary attempts at diplomacy. Today there is no more slavery. Today women have the right to vote. I cannot think of a time in which there is more room for liberal thinking than ever before than today. Perhaps a look at the many goods aspects of living in the modern world can help validate Goldstein’s arguments.

    I’d like to also point out that another revolutionary idea that Goldstein presents in his book is that the ones who deserve the credit for such peace are none others but the organizations that we all love to discredit and criticize: the UN and other international organizations. Really, when was the last time that anyone has said anything good about the UN? Oh, now that’s an efficient organization! said no one, ever. Yet Goldstein praises their efforts despite the challenges of getting nations to cooperate and to work together for a common good.

    Think about it. For a world in which there is no one ruler—in which we truly live in international anarchy—we have managed to achieve and maintain a surprising amount of peace.

  4. I like this idea, maybe because it’s an easy way for me to feel a little more optimistic about the world. Steven Pinker of Harvard University said about “Winning the War on War” that it is, “The greatest untold story of the past two decades. Pinker might have stated this because he too has a book out for sale with a similar story. His book uses data to persuade the reader to believe that not only are there less wars today, but overall people are less violent than before.
    In 2012 during a forum at the JFK center in Cambridge Massachusetts, Monica Toft, a civil war expert from Harvard, called Pinker and Goldstein optimists. She argued that the data they presented in their books were difficult to apply to the whole world. Pinker and Goldstein both rebutted by saying that they are not optimists and that they were surprised by the data trends they found. They both mentioned that trade and exchange incentives are different today then they have been in the past. Furthermore, third party organization have more power and they hold countries to a higher accountability.
    I would argue that recent prosperity among states with real power, has pacified them. For example, Russia is spending huge money on Idaho dairy cows, China is cool after the olympics, and the United States’ is watching the stock market rise on a daily basis. I think that when things crash there will be greater contention. Goldstein said during the forum, this is a trend and that does not mean that the trend will continue, but it could and that depends on our actions today.

  5. I would agree with Nat. Wars, in number are decreasing, but the depth and awfulness of the wars that do exist is getting worse. The chem attacks, the child/slave soldiers in Africa, things like this have grown to horrific size. Now, how do we take what diplomacy has accomplished for nations and use it in civil wars?

  6. I agree with the statement saying “incredibly, no national armies are still fighting one another—all of today’s wars are civil wars”. I also agree with the idea that wars are decreasing but only in scale. However, I cannot help to ignore how many conflicts are still going on around the world. When someone mentions the word “war-zone”, the first region that comes to mind is the Middle East, then I start thinking of countries in Africa, and perhaps some in Asia. But when someone says the word “violence”, the first region that comes to my mind is Latin America. I cannot help to ignore how much crime is going on in this region. I think that Latin America bypasses our thinking in terms of conflict because they are not declared wars, its mostly crime, something every country has.
    The news media certainly contributes to this focus, every day I watch CNN, I see at least one thing come up that is about the Middle East. I will not go into detail for the possible reasons for this but you certainly cannot help to not notice that, hardly have I ever seen them mention Mexico and that is only because of illegal immigration and drug trafficking, issues that affect the US. Therefore, I think world conflict has not changed. It is in society’s nature for there to exist “have and have not’s” so it is people’s nature to find someone to blame. When globalization prohibited that to be other countries, nations started blaming themselves for which civil wars and internal conflicts emerged.

  7. I do not agree with the sentiment that because national wars are decreasing, the US government should take that into an “era of lower military budgets and operations”. The fact is there are still way too many state and non-state actors that would love to see America’s demise. Just because the concept of “war”, in its narrowest definition of conflict between two states, is shifting doesn’t mean that the military needs less money or resources. I believe that it is dangerous to assume that we as Americans are safer now because no states are at war with one another. The threat that al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and many other non-state entities pose is ever-present and must be faced realistically, lest we suffer more horrible terrorist attacks on American soil.

  8. Goldstein’s personal accounts of peacekeeping missions could be interesting, but the Goldstein-Pinker project of analyzing the frequency of wars with statistics seems kind of hopeless.

    The story of war is a story of people ready to kill and die for a cause, a story of the strategic planning of generals and politicians (Clausewitz called war “politics by other means”), and a story of the clash of organized forms of power.

    Reducing wars to dates and casualty numbers on a graph buries these questions of passion, policy, and power. A model that ignores everything important about what drives war is unlikely to give meaningful information.

  9. It would appear as though war is decreasing on a large international scale. States world wide are moving towards democracy and peace. However, this is current. How can one see into the future, and determine the outcome of state actors decisions. Additionally, as previously stated above, to reduce the size and power of the United States military would be highly foolish as there are still many threats to our security and freedom.
    As a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I believe that this is a foreshadowing of prophecies. We are in the latter days, and wars will come and our freedom, the beliefs upheld by the constitution will be attacked. So I agree that war is decreasing currently, however I see and believe that much war will come in the future.

  10. I think it’s very true that peace is on the rise. Even if peacekeeping efforts are not always successful, there are many times that it they work that aren’t as noticed as the conflicts that do still happen. He mentions that wars are not as big, which is a good point. Humans are learning form their mistakes to a certain extent. Just look at the founding alone of organizations as the UN and the European Union that have come a long way since the “world” was at war two times in the same century. World leaders decided those wars were too detrimental and decided there must be a better way. Now the wars are mainly in the developing countries and the powers are trying to help. The UN does keep peace in other ways that preventing war be helping many citizens across the world.

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