13 October 2010

The End of War

During a college World History course I remember a professor mentioning that deaths from war declined decade by decade over the entire 20th century. I referenced this many times to allay the fears of people complaining about how war is becoming more prevalent and deadly. One of those times I mentioned the trend, a coworker said, "That's not true." To which I responded, "Yes it is." "No it's not." "Yes it is." And so on until I decided to go and look up the reference for myself. This led me to the Human Security Report, and I read the entire 2005 report.

What I found was far beyond a simple graph showing a decline in battle deaths (I was correct, by the way). The report was the first of its kind to document a dramatic global decline in political violence since the end of the Cold War, and the rise of effective peacekeeping missions of the UN. Its conclusions challenge conventional wisdom. Since global media gives coverage to new wars, but pays no attention to conflicts that are ending, nobody was paying attention to the greatest peace the world has ever seen.

Since any individual nation would want to bias the data on wars, genocides, terrorism and other violent abuses, the report was funded by the governments of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK, and the data were compiled from a wide range of scholarly sources. It was directed through an institute of the University of British Columbia.

As it turns out, reliable data for battle-deaths really begin following World War II, and the average number of battle-deaths per conflict per year has been evenly falling since the 1950s. From 1950 to 2002 it dropped from 38,000 to 600. During and prior to World War II, conflicts between major powers resulted in many times more deaths than in the post WWII era. Correspondingly, the number of coup attempts has been declining from 25 in 1963 (highest in post-war period) to 10 failed attempts in 2004. The only form of political violence that is increasing is terrorism, but by its nature terrorism still causes far less casualties than war or genocide.

The Media and Fear

The following are reports from media sources that the Human Security Report proved false.
  • The number of armed conflicts is increasing.
  • Wars are getting deadlier.
  • The number of genocides is increasing.
  • The gravest threat to security is international terrorism.
  • 90% of those killed in today's wars are civilians.
  • 5 million people were killed in wars of the 1990s
In the early 1990s the media began to warn of massive wars in the developing world as the great powers pulled away their support. This assumed that the Cold War actually prevented wars from breaking out due to the undesirability of nuclear warfare. The media also began referring to the post-World War II era as the 'long peace' since there was no conflict between major powers. The opposite is true in both cases. Outside of the US and the USSR political violence increased throughout the Cold War (peaking in 1981), and the number of armed conflicts began to drop in the early 1990s when the Cold War subsided. Although they didn't fight each other, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union were involved in more international wars than any other nations during the last 60 years. The number of genocides also dropped since the end of the Cold War, and twice as fast as the drop in armed conflicts.

United Nations

The end of the cold war also allowed, for the first time, the United Nations to play the role that its founders had intended. "With the Security Council no longer paralysed by Cold War politics, the UN spearheaded a veritable explosion of conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding activities in the early 1990s." The UN also proved to be much more successful in all of the above than similar efforts by the United States (67% success rate for the UN vs 50% success rate for comparable US missions).


The major conflicts in the 1990s and early 2000s mostly took place in sub-Saharan Africa. Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, and everything in between went through a series of violent movements that saw casualties. Those wars were becoming much less active by 2001, but pointing to their existence misses the point. Conflicts before the 1990s involved large armies with heavy weaponry supported by economically powerful nations, involving the deaths of tens of thousands of people. The wars in Africa involved small bands of rebels armed with light conventional weapons and sometimes lacking any official state support. Small skirmishes and attacks on civilians were preferred to major engagements, and these conflicts kill relatively few people compared to the wars of the past. In addition, these wars have and will subside when the mix of poverty, crime, and unstable governments are remedied. Don't get me wrong, the Congo wars were horrible, but by comparison to previous examples they were small and short-lived.


Among its conclusion, the report documents "three remarkable changes" in international politics that have had a major positive impact on global security and caused a sharp decline in international wars.
  • First, by the early 1980s, wars of liberation from colonial rule had virtually ceased... With the demise of colonialism one of the major drivers of international conflict had simply disappeared.
  • Second, the end of the Cold War removed another major cause of armed conflict from the international system. Approximately one-third of all wars in the post-World War II period had been driven wholly, or in part, by the geopolitics of the Cold War... Denied the external assistance that had long sustained them, many of these conflicts simply petered out, or were ended by negotiated settlements.
  • Third, the end of the Cold War set off an explosion of international activism directed toward stopping ongoing wars and preventing wars that had ended from starting up again.
Among other things, the report cites several long-term global trends that have reduced the risk of conflict.
  • A dramatic increase in the number of democracies.
  • An increase in economic interdependence.
  • A decline in the economic utility of war.
  • Growth in international institutions.
  • A gradual normative shift against the use of violence, creating a war-averse world.
In its final conclusion, the report says,
"International wars are extremely rare today and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future... Over the long term, the evidence suggests that the risk of civil conflict is reduced by equitable economic growth, good governance and inclusive democracy."
"The 80% decline in the most deadly civil conflicts numbers that has taken place since the early 1990s owes little to any of the above factors, however. Here the evidence suggests the main driver of change has been the extraordinary upsurge of activism by the international community that has been directed towards conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding."
"The last point is both the most surprising and the least examined. The evidence that international activism has been the main cause of the post-Cold War decline in armed conflict is persuasive, but thus far it is mostly circumstantial. A lot more research is required to determine which specific activities and mechanisms have been most effective in bringing about the recent improvement in global security."
Beyond 2005

The 2005 report was the first of its kind, but what about the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kashmir, Korea, and of course Israel/Palestine? There was another brief in 2006 from the institute claiming that the decline in armed conflict trend continued, and that particularly in Africa there were declines in the number of genocides, refugees, and military coups.

The 2007 brief focused on terrorism and showed a sharp net decline in terrorist violence around the world, and a dramatic collapse in popular support for terror networks throughout the Muslim world. It further noted that sub-Saharan Africa continued to decline in active conflicts and combat related deaths, and the same trend is still seen worldwide.

The 2009 Human Security Report shows that nationwide death rates during wartime have actually been declining due to effective health interventions in poor countries.

Lesser Peace

The greatest peace in all of history has just swept through the world and nobody noticed. What's more, nobody can even explain exactly why it happened.

Baha'is are trying to establish world peace, so a logical question might be, "If peace is being established naturally with no direct influence from Baha'is, then why do we need the Baha'i Faith?"

There are actually two stages of establishing the peace envisioned in the Baha'i Writings, first the Lesser Peace, then the Most Great Peace. The lesser is essentially a pragmatic end of war that comes about on its own, with no direct influence from Baha'is. This was prophesied by Baha'u'llah towards the end of the 19th century at a time when European powers were waging endless war on each other. The Great Peace is a stage that only Baha'is, through the diffusion of spiritual teachings, can establish, and it will represent a Golden Age of mankind. The Lesser Peace is akin to not fighting, while the Greater Peace is akin to loving one another.

The Lesser Peace has several distinguishing characteristics from the Baha'i Writings. The issue is treated at length here, but I'll provide a summary and relevant quotes.
"[The Lesser Peace], indeed, is the greatest means for insuring the tranquility of the nations. It is incumbent upon the Sovereigns of the world--may God assist them--unitedly to hold fast unto this Peace, which is the chief instrument for the protection of all mankind. It is Our hope that they will arise to achieve what will be conducive to the well-being of man. It is their duty to convene an all-inclusive assembly, which either they themselves or their ministers will attend, and to enforce whatever measures are required to establish unity and concord amongst men. They must put away the weapons of war, and turn to the instruments of universal reconstruction. Should one king rise up against another, all the other kings must arise to deter him. Arms and armaments will, then, be no more needed beyond that which is necessary to insure the internal security of their respective countries. If they attain unto this all-surpassing blessing, the people of each nation will pursue, with tranquility and contentment, their own occupations, and the groanings and lamentations of most men would be silenced."
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 30-31)
And in another place:
"The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world's Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of tranquility of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories. This will ensure the peace and composure of every people, government and nation."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, CXVII)
Regarding the timing of this stage in world development, there are also several references by `Abdu'l-Baha stating that elements of the Lesser Peace will be established in the 20th century. This is regarded as a process or an era, not an event, nevertheless he assures us that major elements of it will be seen before 2001.
"The first candle is unity in the political realm, the early glimmerings of which can now be discerned. The second candle is unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will ere long be witnessed. The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass. The fourth candle is unity in religion which is the corner-stone of the foundation itself, and which, by the power of God, will be revealed in all its splendour. The fifth candle is the unity of nations -- a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland. The sixth candle is unity of races, making of all that dwell on earth peoples and kindreds of one race. The seventh candle is unity of language, i.e., the choice of a universal tongue in which all peoples will be instructed and converse. Each and every one of these will inevitably come to pass, inasmuch as the power of the Kingdom of God will aid and assist in their realization."
(`Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha, p. 32)
Later Shoghi Effendi confirms that unity among nations will be established in the century:
"This is the stage which the world is now approaching, the stage of world unity, which, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us, will, in this century, be securely established."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 121)
Shoghi Effendi also mentions that the completion of the administrative buildings in an arc on Mount Carmel, whose construction finished in 2001, will "synchronize" with two others developments: "the establishment of the Lesser Peace and the evolution of Bahá’í national and local institutions". The House of Justice clarified in 1987 that the establishment of the Lesser Peace does not depend on the completion of the Arc, and that these are gradual processes, not events.

This process began with the dissolution or decline of the great monarchies during and immediately after World War I. Baha'u'llah wrote to the rulers of the world during his lifetime and gave them a prescription to establish the Most Great Peace. He said that their rejection of his message would result in the loss of their power and the beginning of a long slow process towards peace. Following WWI the League of Nations was formed, representing the first attempt at creating an international organization, being declared by `Abdu'l-Baha "the dawn of the Most Great Peace", while at the same saying "it is incapable of establishing universal peace." At the time of its failure, Shoghi Effendi described "the storm clouds that are gathering may for a time totally eclipse its power and obliterate its machinery, yet the direction in which the institution itself is operating is most significant... triumphs which this presently constituted institution, or any other body that may supersede it, is destined to achieve."

Consider the progress that has been made since this fledgling embryonic institution was formed, since its first decision to impose collective sanctions upon a member that committed an act of aggression. Consider then that the United Nations went on to develop for over 40 years before the it was able to play the role that its founders had intended. The use of its powers to promote peace is now recognized as a remarkable change that contributed towards the inexplicable trend towards peace that the world is now in.

Consider how several processes converged just leading up to the year 2001. The effective functioning of the UN, the normative shift against violence and towards a war-averse world, the rapid rise in democracy around the world, the collapse of the threat of nuclear war, the winding down of the last great war in the Congo, the fall of institutionalized racism, the rapid and diffuse use of the English language as a universal language, the proliferation of access to the internet and with it all available human knowledge, the opening up of China to the world and its joining the World Trade Organization, the adoption of the Euro, the rise in free trade organizations, the large number of humanitarian organizations formed, the formation of the International Criminal Court, the rapid response of news networks to ongoing conflict, the growing presence of women in positions of authority, and the increasing reliance on the Security Council for legitimacy, all collectively fulfill the requirements of the unity of nations and the lesser peace set out by `Abdu'l-Baha that would be fulfilled in the 20th century. Compare the current condition to the 1920s, or even just the early 1980s, and you can see the contrast.
While the rest of the world wasn't paying attention, Baha'is were. The Universal House of Justice published a document in 1985 called The Promise of World Peace that outlined favorable steps toward world order that had taken place up to that time and declared peace inevitable. The same wrote in 1996 about world leaders taking collective actions,
"that, to a Bahá'í observer, signify a tendency towards a common approach by nations to solving world problems. Consider, for instance, the unusual frequency of the global occasions on which these leaders have gathered since the Holy Year four years ago, such as the one in observance of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations, at which the attending heads of state and heads of government asserted their commitment to world peace. Noteworthy, too, are the promptitude and spontaneity with which these government leaders have been acting together in responding to a variety of crises in different parts of the world. Such trends coincide with the increasing cries from enlightened circles for attention to be given to the feasibility of achieving some form of global governance. Might we not see in these swiftly developing occurrences the workings of the Hand of Providence, indeed the very harbinger of the monumental occasion forecast in our Writings?"
Just two years later in 1998 they wrote again,
"... amid the din of a society in turmoil can be discerned an unmistakable trend towards the Lesser Peace. An intriguing inkling is provided by the greater involvement of the United Nations, with the backing of powerful governments, in attending to long-standing and urgent world problems; another derives from the dramatic recognition by world leaders in only recent months of what the interconnectedness of all nations in the matter of trade and finance really implies--a condition which Shoghi Effendi anticipated as an essential aspect of an organically unified world."
Then in the year 2000,
"... attempts at implementing and elaborating the methods of collective security were earnestly made, bringing to mind one of Bahá'u'lláh's prescriptions for maintaining peace; a call was raised for an international criminal court to be established, another action that accords with Bahá'í expectations; to focus attention on the imperative need for an adequate system to deal with global issues, world leaders are scheduled to meet in a Millennium Summit; new methods of communications have opened the way for everyone to communicate with anyone on the planet."
There is, however, one or two points mentioned about the Lesser Peace that have not explicitly come about. A binding constitution has not yet been formed involving all the nations of the earth, the reduction in armaments has only been a token, an international criminal court does not have universal jurisdiction, and the security council must be drastically reformed before it can achieve its true purpose. These will come with time as appropriate, maybe after more catastrophes or conflicts erupt around the world. There are still serious conflicts raging in the world, like Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, Pakistan/India, or North/South Korea, and of course the United States is trying to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conflicts may flare up, but the Lesser Peace has already advanced to such a point that any step back will be followed by two steps forward.

The first well-documented recognition of the end of war by the Human Security Report verifies the fulfillment of a great Baha'i prophecy.


  1. A very thorough analysis! It's often difficult to sort through the impressions that pass as information these days to figure out what's actually going on. Since recent wars have tended to be intrastate and involve skirmishes rather than battles, they have less decisive endings than the massive international conflicts. This may be one reason why the media doesn't report their endings as often as their beginnings.

  2. In the stacked graph, it's striking how the intensity of wars in different places seems to peak and level off at the same times. Did it say more about this correlation in your research, Bryan?

  3. I don't recall anything about the correlation. I recommend reading through the report if you're interested. It's very thorough and it's full of more graphs and data.

  4. Brilliant write up Bryan. It is really amazing how unacceptable it is these days for a nation to raise arms against another nation...especially after Iraq. Most wars do indeed seem to be within nations that are still stricken with extreme poverty and poor governance. There are of course those larger potential conflicts on the horizon of which you mentioned, Iran/Israel, Pakistan/India, and North/South Korea being the most salient to me.

  5. While war may be changing, and the way war is fought is also very different than from how it has been, the thought of war is not over.

    If one was knowledgeable of the World Wars, one would understand that we are due for another large conflict. Not one century has gone without major warfare of some sort.

  6. Anonymous, I think you missed something. The report documents "three remarkable changes" in international politics and several long-term global trends that have reduced the risk of conflict, so that war is less and less likely to occur or take the toll that it took in the past. Your supposition is that if someone objectively views our place in history a person would conclude that we're about to have another massive war on the scale of World War II. The report documents in incredible detail a conclusion that is exactly the opposite. There are institutions, technology, and cultural norms in place now that reduce the occurrence and impact of war, and those have never existed in past centuries, so I don't see how you can compare our current state to the past and conclude that war is inescapable.