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Sunday
Mar262006

Feel insecure about global security? No need

We have never lived in a more peaceful world than we do today — never.

I know that statement goes against everything you've been told by the mass media, and I realize it contradicts the amazing climate of fear that's gripped this country since 9/11.

But it's absolutely true.

Our world today is more crowded than it's ever been, and yet we've never had a smaller percentage of humanity either engaging in or preparing for mass violence. We're not entering an age of perpetual war, as some would have it. Instead, we're moving into the century that will feature more peace than any before it.

Here are the facts from the "Human Security Report 2005," prepared by University of British Columbia:

 

  • Armed conflicts decreased by more than 40 percent since the early 1990s.
  • Genocide and politically inspired murders have dropped by roughly 80 percent since the late 1980s, with only the Middle East suffering an increase.
  • International crises have decreased to the point where today we suffer roughly one-quarter the number we routinely endured just a generation ago.
  • Secessionist movements and resulting civil wars are at their lowest levels since the mid-1970s.
  • Military coups have steadily decreased over the past four decades, from 25 in 1963 to just 10 in 2004 — and each of those 10 attempts failed.
  • Global defense spending and arms sales peaked in the late 1980s and now sit at roughly one-half of those levels — except in "fear factor" America, of course.
  • Global troop levels are likewise down significantly since the late 1980s, and war-related deaths have decreased to a stunning degree: 50 years ago, the average war killed 38,000 troops, while today's wars average 600 combat casualties.
  • Similarly, global refugees from conflicts dropped by almost half since 1992.
  • Finally, more than 60 dictatorships have disappeared over the past 30 years, which helps explain why human rights abuses are down across the planet.

 

What changed over the past quarter century?

Three things: (1) the Soviets went away; (2) the U.S. stepped up to the plate as global enforcer; and (3) the global economy expanded dramatically, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.

Here's the clincher: International terrorist attacks are down by more than half since the early 1980s. But there's a catch: the number of high-casualty attacks are up several fold, and so, too, are deaths from those attacks.

Some perspective: The world averaged 3,500 annual deaths from international terrorism over the past decade. Compare that to a steady historical global murder rate that's more than 100 times higher, and you have to ask yourself if terrorism truly dominates our human security agenda, as many experts declare.

I've been in the business of international security for almost 20 years, and they've been very good years. I'm not taking credit. I'm just saying it's apparently gotten a whole lot better since I showed up!

When I started in this field, I worked briefly on strategic nuclear missile targeting strategies — in effect, plotting to blow up the entire planet. That's where things still stood at the end of the Cold War. By the middle of my career in the 1990s, I was focused — like most in my field — on thwarting the plans of regional rogue states like Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Yeah, I know, we've still got a few left that we're working on, like North Korea's murderous Kim Jong Il.

But, today, like so many in my business, I spend much of my work day worrying about catastrophic terrorism.

Now, many international security experts would describe my career journey as an accumulation of dangers — as in, nukes plus rogue regimes plus terrorism. But I see it as evidence of the downshifting of global violence from great power wars to regional wars to transnational terrorism, and the Canadian report's historical data clearly support my interpretation.

By drilling down to terrorism, we've gotten ourselves deep into the weeds of global conflict. Sure, it's messy and nasty, but it isn't nuclear global Armageddon by any stretch of the imagination. And, with classic interstate wars going the way of the dinosaur, terrorism rises to the top of the pile solely by default — it's the biggest threat we've got left.

Remember that the next time you hug your kid. We are leaving them a better, safer world.

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