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A More Dangerous World? Think Again

Over the past dozen years, virtually every trend in global security has been positive -- dramatically so.

| Mon May 15, 2006 2:00 AM EDT

Article created by the The Century Foundation.

Since 9/11 and the global war on terror, the world is a much more dangerous place. Right?

Dead wrong, according to a recent in-depth study, which found that virtually every trend in global security in the past dozen years has been positive, and dramatically so.

The world is today a safer place, according to the Human Security Report, a project funded by five nations and published by Oxford University Press. The study, which is the culmination of three years of research, offers a comprehensive look at the data on political violence from 1988–2005, and reaches some arresting conclusions:

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  • Fewer armed conflicts. Armed conflicts declined by more than 40 percent since the early 1990s. During this period, fifteen more armed struggles for self-determination ended than started. Today there are fewer armed secessionist conflicts than at any point since 1976.

  • Less genocide. Notwithstanding the horrors of Rwanda , Bosnia , and Sudan, the number of genocides and “politicides” fell by 80 percent between the high point in 1988 and 2001.

  • Fewer international crises. The number of “international crises” declined by more than 70 percent between 1981 and 2001.

  • Fewer arms deals. International arms transfers, in real dollar values, fell by 33 percent between 1990 and 2003. This accompanied a sharp decline in total military expenditure and troop numbers as well.

  • Fewer refugees. The number of refugees dropped by some 45 percent between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end.

  • The longest peace between major powers. The period from World War II to today is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between great powers for hundreds of years.

  • The rise of the United Nations after the cold war. The years since the end of the cold war have seen the related emergence of the United Nations as an effective actor in conflict resolution.
  • (See the figures here .)

    It seems the past decade’s global security sea change has gone virtually unnoticed outside of political science departments. The dominant narrative in America—echoed by the media, politicians, and the security establishment—is that we today live in a more dangerous world with endemic conflict, clashing civilizations, and new threats.

    There is, of course, some truth nested within these beliefs, especially with regard to the threat posed by nuclear proliferation and catastrophic terrorism. But they hardly paint a complete picture or explain why the myth of a more dangerous world has become so widespread.

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