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Research Report

Global Political Violence:: Explaining the Post-Cold War Decline

Andrew Mack
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2007
Pages: 26

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
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  3. (pp. i-ii)
    Terje Rød-Larsen

    The International Peace Academy (IPA) is pleased to introduce a new series of Working Papers within the program Coping with Crisis, Conflict, and Change:The United Nations and Evolving Capacities for Managing Global Crises, a four-year research and policy-facilitation program designed to generate fresh thinking about global crises and capacities for effective prevention and response.

    In this series of Working Papers, IPA has asked leading experts to undertake a mapping exercise, presenting an assessment of critical challenges to human and international security. A first group of papers provides a horizontal perspective, examining the intersection of multiple challenges in specific regions of...

  4. (pp. 1-1)

    This paper reviews global trends in political violence since the end of World War II, focusing in particular on the decline in conflict numbers that followed the end of the Cold War. It argues that the single most compelling explanation for this decline is found in the upsurge of peacemaking and peacebuilding activities that started in the early 1990s, was spearheaded by the UN, but also involved many other international agencies, donor governments, and NGOs. The paper also examines trends in war fatalities, which have been declining unevenly since the early 1950s and reviews possible explanations for the change. Trends...

  5. (pp. 1-1)

    After the end of the Cold War, the number of violent conflicts being waged around the world began to decline rapidly, dropping by some 40 percent between 1992 and 2005. This startling change followed nearly four decades of inexorable increase.¹ The highest intensity conflicts—those that kill 1,000 or more people a year—declined by 80 percent over the same period.

    The post-Cold War decline in armed conflicts was part of a broader pattern of reduced political violence that has gone largely unnoticed in the media, much of the policy community, and even parts of the research community. Other significant...

  6. (pp. 1-6)

    As Figure 1 clearly indicates, the Cold War and post-Cold War trends in armed conflict numbers are radically different.

    Figure 1 shows the trend in so-called “state-based” armed conflicts—i.e. those in which a government is one of the warring parties. The data are from Uppsala University’s Conflict Data Program and the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. For a conflict to be recorded there must be twenty-five or more battle-deaths in a calendar year and the warring parties must be identifiable. Twenty-five deaths is a lower threshold than other conflict datasets—meaning that the Uppsala/PRIO dataset captures more conflicts than...

  7. (pp. 6-8)

    While some believe that the wars of the post-Cold War era have become more deadly, there is no evidence to support such a belief. In fact, war death numbers have been declining for far longer than have armed conflicts. As Figure 3 shows, the number of people killed in state-based conflicts has declined dramatically, but unevenly, since the beginning of the 1950s. This decline would appear even more striking if the tripling of global population growth during this period were taken into account—i.e., if we focused on battle–deaths as a share of the world’s population.

    The average number...

  8. (pp. 8-13)

    As noted above, none of the battle-death datasets deal with the intentional slaughter of defenseless civilians. Almost all conflict datasets treat such killings as sui generis, not least because some take place outside the context of an armed conflict, but also because “conflict” implies military engagement and fighting, as against simply killing those unable to defend themselves.

    The conventional wisdom in the UN and other international agencies, and among many human rights and humanitarian workers, is that the deliberate targeting of civilians has increased since the end of the Cold War. Indeed one of the most widely-cited statistics in this...

  9. (pp. 13-18)

    During the Cold War the gravest threat to international peace and security was the risk of global nuclear war. In the twenty-first century that threat, together with fears of any war between the major powers, has largely faded. All forms of political violence except international terrorism in the Middle East and South Asia and campaigns of one-sided violence have declined in the past fifteen years, and the wars that are still being fought are far less deadly on average than those of the Cold War era.

    But although there is absolutely no evidence to support claims that we are on...

  10. (pp. 18-18)
  11. (pp. 19-20)
  12. (pp. 21-21)