in an era of tranquility. Peace reigns. Sympathy and trust abounding,
if you know what I mean. Look skyward: The moon is in the seventh
house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars.
I know this
not because I have been taking drugs, or watching a revival of
"Hair," but because I just looked through a report from
the Liu Institute for Global Affairs at the University of British
Columbia. Its conclusion -- that the world is an ever more peaceful
place -- is downright startling, coming as it does as we mark
the 2,000th American death in Iraq, as the Pentagon is reviving
its long-discredited Vietnam practice of releasing enemy body
counts, and as there are new stirrings of insurrection in Afghanistan.
I have often
thought that it may be irrational to feel less secure now that
the United States is the lone, unchallenged superpower than we
felt four decades ago, when the Soviet Union was truly a menacing
rival with expansionist designs on three, and maybe four, continents.
The threat to the United States was real then, and it came in
the form of thousands of missiles specifically targeted at American
cities, rather than the specter (no less real, and terrifying
in its own right) that a terrorist group might smuggle a single,
rudimentary atomic device into the center of an American city.
Be that as
it may, this study, funded in part by the governments of Canada,
Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain, argues that the
world is a pretty safe place right now. Armed conflicts are down
by more than 40 percent, and the 25 armed secessionist conflicts
under way last year represent the lowest number in three decades.
International crises are down by more than 70 percent in 20 years;
the number of refugees is down by 45 percent in a decade. Even
genocides are down by 80 percent. My guess is that your doctor
didn't have this kind of report for you the last time you went
for your routine annual physical.
world, which sometimes seems like such a frightening place, needs
a kind of diplomatic Dow Jones average or conflict Consumer Price
Index, something that incorporates such market-basket items as
battle-deaths per conflict per year (down 98 percent in a half-century),
number of actual and attempted coups (60 percent decline in 40
years), and trends in core human rights abuses (down in five out
of six regions in the developing world in the past decade).
of course, would be what to pack into that index. Ronald Reagan
made great hay when he used the so-called misery index, which
for our purposes this morning can be summarized briefly as rate
of inflation plus interest rates equals a really big number and
really big trouble for Jimmy Carter.
But the index
rate would have to include something the Liu folks omitted, which
is the intensity, not the frequency, of conflict. (You could argue
that there was only one conflict between the years 1939 and 1945,
but it sure was a big, intense one.) Then there would be the intractability
coefficient, a phrase I just made up but that certainly has promise
for any graduate students out there rooting around the Internet
in search for a decent dissertation topic.
diplomatic expert Fen Osler Hampson, former assistant secretary
of state Chester A. Crocker and Institute of Peace official Pamela
Aal wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail last week: "The sad
fact is that the 21st century has been left with fewer but more
intractable conflicts. Many are stalemated as antagonists display
an undiminished appetite for continuing with their struggle in
the hopes of eventual military victory. And even where violence
appears to be a thing of the past (in places such as Cyprus, Western
Sahara, North and South Korea), a lasting political settlement
developments occurred after 1945 -- the diminution of Western
colonialism and the growth of civil wars. These two events often
worked together to wreck havoc and to wreck the hopes of newly
freed nations, particularly in Africa and Asia.
many of the conflicts after 1945 were civil wars, the end of the
Cold War is a great boon; the United States and the Soviet Union
unwittingly conspired to intensify these conflicts, and here the
words Korea and Vietnam come to mind. But now that the de-colonization
process is basically complete, there are fewer festering ethnic
problems to bubble to the surface. That helps, too.
Plus it doesn't
hurt that there are more than four times as many democracies sprinkled
across the globe in 2005 than there were in 1946. Globalization,
so reviled on the left, at the very least has created an economic
interdependence that depends on stability, the diplomatic and
economic greatest victim of any war. And for all the criticism
on the right of the United Nations and other international agencies,
these organizations almost certainly deserve credit for acting
as a brake on conflict.
this: There are more than twice as many peacekeeping operations
run by the U.N. today than there were in 1988. The number of international
tribunals examining human-rights violations is at an all-time
high. Both get much ridicule; they also might get results.
we still have to worry about ethnic and nationalist resentments
that smolder like the Centralia fire; indeed, some of them even
predate the Centralia fire, which began in the first year of John
F. Kennedy's presidency. We still have to worry about terrorism;
our own experience and common sense dictate that.
in all of that we also have one fewer thing to worry about: the
big-time international war. Next month, when you are sitting around
the table counting your blessings, add this one. Your ancestors
couldn't count it among theirs.