A statistical look at the probability of future major wars

February 22, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
(A) Simulated accumulation curves for wars of different sizes under a simple stationary model (model 1; see main text), overlaid by the empirical curves up to 2003 (dark lines) and linear extrapolations of the empirical postwar trends (the long peace) for the next 100 years (dashed lines). Quartile thresholds are derived from empirical severity data. (B) Fraction of simulated conflict time series that contain more large wars (x ≥ x0.75) than observed in the past or than expected in the future relative to a linear extrapolation of the postwar tend. Years at which the postwar trend (the long peace) becomes statistically unlikely under a stationary model, relative to 95% of simulated time series, are marked with open circles. Credit: Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3580

Aaron Clauset, an assistant professor and computer scientist at the University of Colorado, has taken a calculating look at the likelihood of a major war breaking out in the near future. In an article published on the open access site Science Advances, he describes his analysis of the history of human warfare using a large historical dataset, and offers his opinion on whether we are in the midst of a new era of peace, or if it just seems that way.

The world has not seen a major war since the end of WWII, over 70 years ago—a timespan that has some convinced that the human race has finally recognized the futility of large wars and is evolving into a more peaceful future. After all, we now live in an age of widespread democracy along with the knowledge of likely mutual destruction, or perhaps nuclear winter—a rather strong argument against war. But Clauset wondered if such a view based on too little information. To find out, he used data from the Correlates of War Project, a database that holds a massive amount of information regarding wars of the past several hundred years, to see if the current period is an anomaly, or just a blip on history's radar screen.

Clauset used the data to gauge statistical fluctuations over time, looking for trends. He also built several computer models to replay wars from the past and the time periods that followed such wars. He sought periods when people avoided major wars for long periods after prolonged conflicts, and whether other large wars occurred after such peaceful intervals. Sadly, he found that they did—and such wars have occurred often enough to indicate that the current peaceful period is not that rare—there is nothing special about it, he concludes. He therefore suggests that there is nothing in our past or present that might offer a reason to believe that we can avoid such conflicts in the near . But, he also notes, if the current peaceful interval continues for perhaps another century, we might have a compelling argument for claiming we have really changed.

Times between interstate war onsets, 1823–2003. The maximum likelihood geometric model (solid line) is a plausible data-generating process of the empirical delays (Monte Carlo, pKS = 0.13 ± 0.01), implying that the apparent discontinuity at t = 5 is a statistical artifact. Inset: Bootstrap distribution of maximum likelihood parameters Pr, with the empirical estimate (black line). Credit: Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3580

Explore further: Wikipedia 'edit wars' show dynamics of conflict emergence and resolution

More information: Aaron Clauset. Trends and fluctuations in the severity of interstate wars, Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3580

Abstract
Since 1945, there have been relatively few large interstate wars, especially compared to the preceding 30 years, which included both World Wars. This pattern, sometimes called the long peace, is highly controversial. Does it represent an enduring trend caused by a genuine change in the underlying conflict-generating processes? Or is it consistent with a highly variable but otherwise stable system of conflict? Using the empirical distributions of interstate war sizes and onset times from 1823 to 2003, we parameterize stationary models of conflict generation that can distinguish trends from statistical fluctuations in the statistics of war. These models indicate that both the long peace and the period of great violence that preceded it are not statistically uncommon patterns in realistic but stationary conflict time series. This fact does not detract from the importance of the long peace or the proposed mechanisms that explain it. However, the models indicate that the postwar pattern of peace would need to endure at least another 100 to 140 years to become a statistically significant trend. This fact places an implicit upper bound on the magnitude of any change in the true likelihood of a large war after the end of the Second World War. The historical patterns of war thus seem to imply that the long peace may be substantially more fragile than proponents believe, despite recent efforts to identify mechanisms that reduce the likelihood of interstate wars.

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7 comments

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rrwillsj
4.3 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2018
In my opinion, part of the Present False Peace of Chronic Micro-Wars has an economic basis.

All the nations are coddling and protecting and heavily subsidizing their respective industrial base of obsolete military technology.

The politicians and the bureaucrats and the generals are a fraternal collective. Determined to keep Humanity under their polished jackboots.

A Big War, would violently shake apart their house of cards and mutual interests.

Which brings up the question. Small. localized conflicts with minimal casualties? Or, a global-spanning catastrophe? Where we just count the survivors.

The present system is certainly not perfect but what is the alternative?

As a back-handed compliment, at least we are buying Humanity a few more years, maybe another generation or two. That somehow, some miracle, the Human Race chooses to grow up and suppress their self-destructive monkey instincts.

Do I look hopeful?
Turgent
1 / 5 (5) Feb 22, 2018
And I thought only AGW and CC published an occasional work of porn. I prefer Niall Ferguson's explanation which reduces WWI, of which WWII was just a continuation, as caused by a chaotic system which broke out of normal fluctuations. This event within a multipolar world.

MAD is what contains nuclear and cyber warfare armageddon.
julianpenrod
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 22, 2018
Among other things, note that, if the materials for war machines become scarce, many conventional states would end a war. In fact, they may work to end it before they become scarce so they might not be considered as having failed, which can be interpreted as losing. In that interpretation, it can be taken that there are limits such wars might take at least in regions limited in conventional supplies.
And, is several centuries a large enough period to get an actual idea of things like conflict? A thousand years can be too short.
And, note the crucial error, the idea that wars somehow come about almost of their own behest. The stocks market, government do not follow their own laws. They are all controlled by The New World Order, the Deep State, however it is referred to. They decide when they want something to happen and do it only for their own good. Note that there are those who never lose a dime no matter if wars start and who wins.
EyeNStein
5 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2018
Given that the USA which has a vested mutual interest in its own success; cannot agree, even with a fully republican dominated legislature, a compatible pairing of policies and budgets:-
World war is inevitable among countries which are committed to disagreement, conflict, and lies.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2018
I feel that I just stumble around in the dark - in terms of understanding geopolitics and the military. On February 7th/8th - U.S. forces in Syria clearly blasted an attacking force to hell. The details are vague - but it is possible that up to 200 Russians were killed. One account - https://www.googl...ie=UTF-8
Some facts seem clear. Making/selling weapons is one of the biggest businesses in the world - probably second only to oil (and of course interconnected). A full out war would be so catastrophic - the oligarchs satisfy themselves with smaller conflicts. Human suffering and dying means nothing to these oligarchs - it is a giant game of chess to them. Quaint notions such as democracy - and human rights - are just used to placate - while what is happening behind the curtain - remains a mystery.
thingumbobesquire
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2018
War is not some innate characteristic of "human nature," rather it is an infantile psychosis that must be left behind as a true civilization arises as we increasingly move into space: http://thingumbob...-of.html
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2018
World war is inevitable among countries which are committed to disagreement, conflict, and lies.

It really depends on what kind of interests drive wars. Nationalism is something that is created for a purpose: to hype people up into doing things that aren't in their own interest, but in the interest of the few that benefit. In the past this meant gaining control over resources that can be sold for large profit. (Ideology doesn't play a part in anything...that's only a sham argument for blatant money-grabs)

If the importance of oil and gas decreases (and the rest of the resources are more and more recycled) then this avenue of getting-rich-quick becomes less attractive. We may see localized wars over water, though (hopefully only localized).

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