Critics of America's frequent military interventions in the post-Cold War era argue that, instead of spreading collective security and reducing conflicts, our "imperial" forces actually destabilize the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The just-released "Mini Atlas of Human Security," published by the World Bank and Canada's Simon Fraser University, details the pacifying impact of globalization's advance. That globalization is a direct descendant of America's post-World War II international liberal trade order that has been consistently defended by U.S. military forces in the decades since, but at unprecedented high frequency since the early 1990s.
Armed conflicts worldwide have decreased 40 percent since then, with casualties decreasing by a stunning 80 percent. Refugee flows are also down, along with number of child soldiers. Note: These are all absolute declines that do not take into account the growing number of states in the world or the continuing growth in global population, so in a relative sense, the drops are even more pronounced.
Globalization's rapid spread around the world has not led to more state-on-state wars. In fact, they've essentially disappeared. Instead, what we are left with falls almost exclusively into the category of intrastate mass violence, including governments battling nonstate actors, civil strife among nonstate actors and civil conflicts that sometimes attract interventions by great powers.
You can call that a more "dangerous" and "unstable" world if you want, but when I got into the business of national security almost two decades ago, one of my first assignments involved thinking through new limited nuclear war strategies for the U.S. military. Today, our most emblematic military strikes involve unmanned aerial vehicles targeting individual bad actors with missiles.
Consider the vast difference between those two scenarios, and you'll realize how far down "in the weeds" we've dropped in terms of our strategic fears: going from contemplating blowing up tens of millions of people in a few minutes to killing one combatant in a few minutes. The first involves great-power war, something we haven't witnessed now for well over six decades, while the latter is more akin to international policing.
So again, are America's efforts to settle globalization's many untamed frontiers working or not?
The "mini Atlas" says they are.
Civil wars have decreased in frequency by 75 percent from 1992 through 2005, while the internationalized version of the same now stands at its lowest levels since the mid-1970s, a trend described by the report's authors as constituting the "most sustained decline in two centuries." The average internal war today kills 1/30th the number of people that state-based conflicts killed half a century ago - again, an absolute measure that doesn't account for today's far larger global population.
Let me be even more blunt here: The Cold War was not a stable period and should not be romanticized as such by those who now try to sell us the image of "perpetual war" and "chaos" caused by some combination of globalization's advance and America's willingness to defend it with military force. State-based conflicts rose steadily from the early years of the Cold War right through its tumultuous collapse, punctuated by the Soviet Union's demise in 1991.
But, as the report highlights, 1992 marked "the beginning of a sharp decline" worldwide, albeit one unevenly divided between those regions with strong connectivity to the global economy and those lacking such stabilizing ties. As I noted in my 2004 book, "The Pentagon's New Map," virtually all of America's overseas military interventions since then have been concentrated in those "disconnected" regions - again, globalization's bloody frontiers.
With 90 percent of these civil conflicts now occurring in those low-income countries that remain largely isolated from globalization's economic networks, America's grand strategic purpose going forward is abundantly clear: Continue to promote globalization's further advance, defending its pacifying connectivity when required.