A new report shows a decline in almost all forms of political violence since the end of the Cold War. The only exception is international terrorism. The number and frequency of armed conflicts, genocides, human rights violations, military coups and international crises are all down.
The 2005 Human Security Report shows that many commonly held beliefs about wars are wrong. The report's principal author, Canada-based political scientist Andrew Mack, listed a few at Monday news conference at U.N. headquarters
For instance, he says figures show there are fewer wars involving nations and the number of genocides and other politically-motivated killings is dropping. Mr. Mack says his findings came as a big surprise to U.N. officials.
"For many people in the U.N., the 1990s was the worst decade the organization experienced. This was the decade of Somalia, Srebrenica, of Rwanda and so forth, and yet the reality is, during this period, although there were these awful conflicts, the overall number of wars had gone down," Mr. Mack says.
He says the number of people killed as a result of armed conflicts is at its lowest since the Korean War era.
"People say to us, look, it may well be the case that there are fewer wars and fewer genocides, but surely more people are being killed," Mr. Mack says. "But when we look at this, the number of people killed in wars involving a state every year, all the wars, and you can see there's a high point, that's the Korean war, and it keeps on going down and down and down. If you look at the average number of people killed per conflict per year, it goes from 37-thousand in 1950 to just 600 in 2002."
Mr. Mack says there are several reasons for the decline in number of wars and genocides. Among them are the increased U.N. role in conflict prevention, the end of the Cold War, and the end of colonialism.
But the main cause is simply that the nature of war is changing.
"We no longer have huge wars with huge armies, major engagements, heavy conventional weapons, most of today's wars are low-intensity wars fought with light weapons, small arms, often in very poor countries, they are extremely brutal but they don't kill that many people," Mr. Mack says.
The report notes that international terrorism is on the rise. The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center shows a jump from 175 significant terrorist incidents in 2003 to 651 last year, most of them linked to Kashmir. But Mr. Mack says that while terrorism is on the rise, it is not as grave a security threat as it is often portrayed.
"Among the myths we look at and explode are the idea that international terrorism is the greatest threat to global security. In face, international terrorism kills only a tiny number of people each year compared to the number killed in wars," Mr. Mack says.
The Human Security Report concludes that while the world may be getting more peaceful, that is no consolation for people in places such as Darfur, Iraq, Congo, or Nepal.
The study was sponsored by the governments of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. It can be found online at www.humansecuritycenter.org.