The Peace Epidemic: The world isn’t so dangerous after all. (Timothy Noah, Dec. 29, 2005, Slate)

Although it’s widely believed that the long standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union brought peace, that wasn’t really true. Mutual deterrence successfully prevented war between the two great powers, and we can all be very grateful that humankind avoided nuclear annihilation. But the Cold War turned hot in a variety of proxy wars in which the United States supported one side and the Soviet Union supported the other. The human cost was enormous. By the report’s reckoning, the number of “state-based armed conflicts” in the world increased by a factor of three between 1946 and 1991. Dire predictions that the Cold War’s end would bequeath a long epoch of tribal anarchy may have seemed plausible in the early 1990s, as the Balkans were beset with ethnic violence. But in the end the jeremiads weren’t borne out. The death of Soviet communism didn’t just make the West safer; it made the entire world safer. (The report says the end of Western colonialism also played a role; because of anticolonial conflict, the greatest number of wars fought between 1946 and 2003 were waged by the United Kingdom, which fought 21, and France, which fought 19. The United States ranks next with 16, and the Soviet Union brings up the great-power rear with 9. Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union until 1953, was no slouch in the killing department, but he tended to prefer murdering his own countrymen.)

One region must be excepted from this calculus. Interestingly, it isn’t the Middle East (though certainly that region is a violent one). It’s Africa. According to the Human Security Report, more people are being killed in wars in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined. […]

If you go by the numbers, our planet is becoming less violent, not more so. Francis Fukuyama (who himself faltered slightly after 9/11) looks fairly prescient right now for predicting back in 1989 the “end of history,” with “history” defined as “the evolution of human societies through different forms of government.” In effect, Fukuyama was predicting an end to global armed ideological conflict, since “the evolution of human societies” is almost always achieved through warfare. The Human Security Report 2005 bears Fukuyama out. History may come back, but at the moment it’s blessedly on the wane.

There was still a bit of clean-up left to do–disabusing the Islamnicists of the notion their system was a serious alternative–but it was always a dubious proposition that when parliamentarty democracy won the Long War it would lead to a less orderly world.

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