International conflict isn't declining, new analysis finds

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Contrary to popular belief, war is not declining, according to a new analysis of the last 200 years of international conflict.

In fact, the belief that war is disappearing has lulled us into a false sense of security, said Bear Braumoeller, professor of political science at The Ohio State University.

"We really don't get how big a threat war is—not by a longshot," Braumoeller said.

"The process of escalation that led to two world wars in the last century are still there. Nothing has changed. And that scares the hell out of me."

Any apparent declines in war initiation or severity can be attributed to random luck—and our luck could run out at any time, Braumoeller said.

Braumoeller is the author of the new book Only the Dead: The Persistence of War in the Modern Age. In the book, Braumoeller challenges the argument of recent scholars who claim war is in decline, most notably Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

"I take a comprehensive look at all the different ways you can think about what it means for war to be in decline. And I find no evidence for a long-term decline in any of them," he said.

Maybe most alarmingly, though, Braumoeller finds that the probability that a small war will become a very big one hasn't changed, either.

One grim example: If humans continue to fight 50 wars per century, the probability of seeing a war with battle deaths that exceed 1 percent of the world's population in the next 100 years is about 13 percent, Braumoeller found. That would amount to at least 70 million people killed.

"That's nothing short of horrifying. The escalatory propensity of war is the scariest thing I found in this research," he said.

So what's wrong with the claims that war is declining?

By simply looking at trend lines since World War II, it appears that worldwide conflict has declined. But there have been other periods of history where relative peace has reigned, Braumoeller said.

What you can't tell just by looking at trends is whether they are the result of the normal variation in the amount of conflict, or if something really has changed, he said.

"One of the biggest contributions of the book is that it brings statistical rigor to the question of the decline of war in a way that anyone can understand," said Braumoeller, who is a Faculty in Residence at Ohio State's Translational Data Analytics Institute.

"The data demanded sophisticated tests that I either had to brush up on, discover or create."

Braumoeller used the Correlates of War data set, which scholars from around the world study to measure uses of force up to and including war.

What he found with the statistical analyses was that any decline in the deadliness of war that we think we see in the data is within the normal range of variation—in other words, our period of relative peace right now could easily be occurring simply by chance.

"We do see a decrease in the rate of conflict initiation at the end of the Cold War, but that's about the only good news. Other than that, for the last 200 years at least, I can find no downward trend in the incidence or deadliness of warfare. If anything, the opposite is true," he said.

The role of chance becomes particularly alarming when you consider the probability that any particular conflict will become a huge, catastrophic war, Braumoeller said.

Scholars have found that the deadliness of war follows what is called a . Phenomena that conform to power law distributions have many outcomes that are very small, but a few that are huge. Earthquakes, city sizes and war fatalities are all examples of phenomena that follow power law distributions.

But war fatalities are in a special category. One group of scholars looked at 24 phenomena that expand in proportion to how big they already are and in doing so produce outcomes that follow power law distributions. Only one phenomenon on the list—the intensity of earthquakes—showed a greater tendency to snowball than did war.

"So while some wars are small, some are unbelievably huge," Braumoeller said. "And they are unbelievably huge even by the standards of other unbelievably huge things."

The fact that outcomes of wars are consistent with a power law distribution means that the only difference between a small war and a very large one is random chance, he said.

That may seem hard to believe—don't humans have control over starting and ending wars? Yes, of course, Braumoeller said. But the problem is that leaders don't like to lose wars. So they make a series of decisions, all of which may seem reasonable and maybe even reversible at the time, that can lead to a catastrophic war without any intention to do so.

"People think of huge wars, like the world wars, as something extraordinary, something that has some cause that is distinct from other wars," Braumoeller said.

"The profound tragedy is that the most deadly, catastrophic wars are a lot more ordinary than we would think. They result from a series of decisions by people who don't want to stop fighting. That makes them vastly more dangerous than we realize."

In the book, Braumoeller calculates just how deadly the next war could be, given the power law distribution and the role of random chance.

Once an armed conflict has had more than 1,000 battle deaths (the criteria for being included in the Correlates of War database), there's about a 50 percent chance it will be as devastating to combatants as the 1990 Iraq War, which killed 20,000 to 35,000 fighters.

There's a 2 percent chance—about the probability of drawing three of a kind in a five-card poker game—that such a war could end up being as devastating to combatants as World War I. And there's about a 1 percent chance that its intensity would surpass that of any international war fought in the last two centuries.

"This is pretty bleak. Not only has war not disappeared, but it would be frighteningly easy to have much larger wars than any we have ever seen in history," Braumoeller said.

If there is any good news in the book, it is that some things nations do seem to help reduce the rate of conflict initiation, at least for a while. Braumoeller focuses on the development of international orders, such as the Western liberal order, which has kept the peace in Europe and North America since the end of World War II.

Braumoeller said his analysis suggests that such international orders are mostly effective in keeping the peace among their members. That said, they also increase the chances of war between different orders, such as the clash between the Soviet communist order and the Western liberal order that defined the Cold War.

But these orders don't last. Even the Western liberal order shows signs of fraying now, he said.

Braumoeller points to the peace campaign by John Lennon and Yoko Ono with the slogan "War is Over (if you want it)."

"The problem is we just don't want it," he said. "We care about peace, of course. But we just think other things are more important."

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Is war really disappearing? A new analysis suggests not

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Sep 11, 2019
"The escalatory propensity of war is the scariest thing I found..."

-This is of course due to the fact that population overgrowth remains unabated in third world religion-dominated cultures. And until the stranglehold these religions have over reproductive mores is broken, they will continue to cause conflict, misery, suffering, and death.

The religions that have survived to the present have done so by being better at outgrowing and overrunning their now-extinct forebears. This heinous process of group selection has left us with several doomsday machines capable of doubling their populations in 20 years or less. And they all do this by simply forcing women to make babies until it kills them.

Pregnant as early and as often as possible.

The cycles of starvation and bloodshed in places like kashmir, Afghanistan, rwanda/Burundi, Gaza, and elsewhere will continue to recur until the people are freed from their respective religions, which are all in fact one horrible, worthless malady.

Sep 11, 2019
Liar. Things are better than ever in human history, that includes less war.

Sep 11, 2019
Even with percentage of world population accounted for, Genghis Khan didn't come close to what Stalin and Mao did in the early 20th century. They were atheists to the core. Any populist can be dangerous, whether religiously motivated or not.

Sep 11, 2019
After reading this tripe, the only certainty I have, is that this guy desperately needs THC.

Sep 12, 2019
Nonsense. That article says nothing about the most important things: nukes. Wars between great countries won't occur as often as before, and probably not till a loooong time because anyone starting a fight there would potentially start the End. And even most modern mad leaders are afraid of that eventuality.
Western liberal economy brought some propsperity and many more common ground. But it WOULDN'T stop stupid leaders thinking about wars. The risk of destroying the whole world does.

Sep 12, 2019
Western liberal economy brought some propsperity and many more common ground. But it WOULDN'T stop stupid leaders thinking about wars. The risk of destroying the whole world does.

Stupid leaders don't care about destroying the world, they only think about themselves and power. Just look how Trump and kim jong-un are doing. They'll do anything to show how powerful and great they are. In certain circumstances this will lead to war.

Sep 13, 2019
Things are better than ever in human history, that includes less war
You know, I keep giving you evidence and refs to show you how misguided you are, but you're too old and/or too lazy to follow up on them. You never seem to check anything anyway (asbestos only affects the lungs? Seriously?) so why bother?
In certain circumstances this will lead to war
If war was meant to happen then it has already been engineered and scheduled to achieve a predetermined result. And that result is always a set of conditions more conducive to overall stability and progress.

That's the way it has always been, and always will be. Leaders are instilled to facilitate this. The US and the siviets divided that peninsula for the Express purpose of waging controlled war and destroying the ancient culture that infested it.

The Korean war killed so many people and destroyed so much arable land that it took 50 years for the north to recover.

Sep 14, 2019
"Since the early 2000s, the number of civil wars around the world has significantly increased. There are now more civil wars than at any time since 1999. The average number of armed factions fighting these wars has also grown. In 1950, the average number was 8; in 2010, it was 14. The current wave of civil wars also tends to include more external involvement such as Russia and Iran's extensive intervention in the Syrian civil war. Finally, more civilians are being killed in these wars than in the past."

"...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."

"The pace of population growth is so quick that even draconian restrictions of childbirth, pandemics or a third world war would still leave the world with too many people for the planet to sustain, according to a study."

-Overpop is the reason for all conflict, but spontaneous conflict will never cure overpop.

Sep 14, 2019
Religion-fueled overgrowth makes conflict inevitable. The only way to cure overpop is to destroy the religion-derived cultures that cause it. And then there will no longer be the need to stage preemptive wars in order to manage it.

But the only way to destroy these cultures, is by making war on them. They are designed to outgrow and overwhelm. Constantine was a warrior. Muhammad was a warrior. Joshua was a warrior. All the great religions were forged in war and are designed to FIGHT to preserve themselves and expand their rule.

"Buddha: Enlightened Warrior. By Richard A. Gabriel. In his youth Siddhartha Gautama was a brawny, six-foot warrior prince, trained in the art of war—and perhaps touched by tragedy. It is a curious fact of military history that the founders of three of the world's four major religions were soldiers."

-Make that 4. Jesus did not found the church; Rome did.

Sep 14, 2019
In order to end the endless cycle of overgrowth and war, religion must be destroyed. And that is exactly what these designer wars are designed to do.

The prewar Korean culture was an especially belligerent and caustic one. And just like vietnam, the middle east, and the balkans, it was divided according to Plan so that each side would have a readymade enemy to fight.

This is easy when the leaders of all sides are in fact on the Same Side.

The greatest designer war of history, the the great eurasian war of first half of the 20th century, was just such a feat of engineering. And when it was over the grip of religion had been broken over the entire developed world, allowing for the global institution of family planning, contraception, and ABORTION to the tune of ONE BILLION.

Perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 the worlds population was never born to suffer, and starve, and FIGHT, and destroy.

Victory by any measure. The world endures.

Hail Empire.

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