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Non-War News

November 11, 2005

“Violent conflict on wane since Cold War era.” That headline appeared recently on page 12 of the New Jersey newspaper where I work. The Washington Post ran this historic account on page 21.

War is big news. A decline in war is back-page filler. Yet consider the import of this bit of news. “A new report shows a decline in almost all forms of political violence since the end of the Cold War,” the Voice of America said in the lead of its October 18 broadcast on the release at United Nations headquarters of the 2005 Human Security Report.

The BBC cut right to the bottom line: “It found the number of armed conflicts had fallen by more than 40% in the past 13 years, while the number of very deadly wars had fallen by 80%.” The Associated Press neatly captured the human drama: “The first Human Security Report paints a surprising picture of war and peace in the 21st century: a dramatic decline in battlefield deaths, plummeting instances of genocide, and a drop in human rights abuses.”

Do we live on the same planet as CNN and Fox News, where it’s death and destruction 24/7? As former Senator Bill Bradley once caustically said of American television news priorities: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Yet unlike American news organizations, a Canadian-lead team of international researchers went out and studied what has actually been going on in the world in recent years. The result is a report, produced by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia, that explodes a lot of what a British security expert quoted by the BBC calls “political-cum-urban myths.”

One myth is that terrorism is akin to World War III. “In fact, international terrorism kills only a tiny number of people each year compared to the number killed in wars,” said Andrew Mack, a Canadian political scientist who directed the study. Horrendous as such attacks are, the report suggests, they mask the powerful counter-tide towards peace that has been sweeping the globe.

War casualties have dropped steadily since the end of the Cold War halted Third World proxy wars between the US and Soviet Union, the study found. “Take the biggest claim about Iraq—60,000 battle deaths per year. Compare that with 700,000 battle deaths worldwide in 1950,” Mack said.

Other big factors, the study found, were the end of colonialism, which accounted for the majority of wars from the 1950s into the 1980s; a steep decline in “the numbers of genocides and other mass killings”; and “the unprecedented upsurge of international activities designed to stop ongoing wars and prevent new ones.”

The report cites a recent RAND Corporation study that found “two-thirds of the UN’s peace building missions had succeeded.” And it noted that UN agencies were greatly aided by regional organizations and NGO citizen peace groups around the world.

The report also warns that there are “still some 60 armed conflicts raging around the globe’’ that need to be seriously addressed. But that’s a drop of more than 40 percent since 1992, it found. Bet you didn’t hear that report blared on CNN or FOX all day.

For more information: www.humansecurityreport.info.

Selected Works

Poetry
A tonic spray of poetry, verses that a Vietnam war veteran lives by.
Prose
A pragmatic, common-sense handbook for civic action at the community and international levels.