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Armed Conflicts Fewer, Smaller Since Cold War's End, Study Finds

October 18, 2005|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — After nearly five decades of steady increase, all forms of violent conflict except terrorism have dropped rapidly since the end of the Cold War, according to a three-year study released Monday by a Canadian think tank.

The report attributes the decline to the end of both colonialism and the Cold War, and an upsurge in international peacebuilding activities.

"The conventional wisdom is that conflict is increasing, but more wars have ended than started since 1992," said Andrew Mack, a former U.N. official who is director of the Human Security Center in Vancouver. "We pay attention to the wars that are starting, but not the wars that quietly end."

The Human Security Report, funded by the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Britain, says that indirect effects of warfare, such as disease and displacement, can take a far greater toll than fighting.

The report shows dramatic changes in the patterns of political violence. The number of armed conflicts has dropped by more than 40% since 1992, it says, and conflicts with 1,000 or more battle deaths dropped by 80%.

In 1950, the average number of people killed per conflict per year was 38,000; in 2002, it was 600. That is partly because of the move from large-scale battles to targeted bombings. The figures, however, do not include those killed in genocides, Mack said.

The nature of conflict is also changing. Wars between countries make up only 5% of all armed conflicts now, whereas conflicts between governments and rebels constitute the overwhelming majority.

Mack said the idea to measure trends in global political violence arose when he was working in the strategic planning unit of the U.N. secretary-general's office and was surprised that the office had no reliable data.

"We had no idea on whether wars were increasing or decreasing, or whether our efforts to maintain peace were working," he said.

Mack said the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations in the 1990s had spearheaded a surge in efforts to prevent fighting around the world that was paying off. But the positive results of the study were unexpected, even to policymakers within the U.N., well aware of the organization's failure to prevent conflicts and massacres in Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s.

Although the U.N.'s resources are often inadequate and "horrible politics" in the Security Council often result in an inappropriate mandate for peacekeepers, the U.N.'s successes have provided the stability that helps stem future conflicts in many areas, Mack said.

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