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The Future of War and Peace

Further Issues

War and Peace

There is no peace without development, no development without peace, and neither peace nor development without human rights – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General.

• A civil war costs a medium-sized developing country (such as Ethiopia) the equivalent of 30 years of GDP growth, and it takes 20 years for business to return to pre-war levels.
• Interpersonal violence kills 1,300 people daily – nine times the number of lives lost in war.
• In 2016 conflict cost the world $14.3tn or 12.6% of global GDP (UN OCHA).
• World military spending in 2011, at $1.7 trillion: USA 40%, China 8%, Russia 4%, UK 3.6%, France 3.6%, Japan 3.4%, India 2.8%, Saudi Arabia 2.8%, Germany 2.7%, Brazil 2%, Italy 2%.
• Of 25 major conflicts in 2017, 10 worsened, 15 were unchanged and none improved.
• In 2016, only Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vietnam were uninvolved in conflict.

War does not directly touch the majority of the world’s population, but indirectly its shadow falls on everyone, everywhere. It represents a serious failure of international relations and accountability. But violence affects many more of us, in our streets and homes. Three key issues are important to examine: the direct effects of conflict and violence on people, communities and landscapes; longterm, trans-generational damage; and indirect effects on the wider world.

According to UN OCHA, of the $14.3 trillion spent on and lost in conflict and violence in 2016, $5.6tn went on military spending, $1.0tn on conflict losses, $4.9tn on domestic security spending and $2.6tn in losses from crime and interpersonal violence. This represents 12.6% of world GDP or nearly $2,000 per person. In the thirty years to 2015 military spending grew by 25% in developed countries and by 240% in developing countries – and developed countries profited most from it.

War-displaced people in 2016 numbered 65.6 million, of whom 40.3m were internally displaced (IDPs), 22.5m were refugees and 2.8m were asylum seekers. Refugees came mainly from Syria 5.5m, Afghanistan 2.5m, South Sudan 1.4m, Somalia 1m and Sudan 650,000. In 2017 the five most militarised countries were Israel, Russia, North Korea, Syria and USA, and the least safe countries were Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The damage and hurt to people, infrastructure, landscapes, communities and nations is crazily big. Even so, deaths in wars have declined, in terms of absolute numbers and as a proportion of the growing world population. Three wars, in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, accounted for 75% of all conflict deaths in the twenty years up to 2016. Major wars, especially those between states, have also declined, concentrating in the Middle East and central Africa – Congo, the Central African Republic, NE Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan.

Globally significant conflicts, escalating after 2010, climbed to fifty in 2015, the most since 1992. Eleven were major and 39 were smaller. The major wars were in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, NE Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Sudan, Palestine and Syria (two wars, involving the Assad regime and ISIS). The increase was caused mainly by social, environmental and climatic change, plenteous weapons availability, foreign interference, proxy-warring, oil and minerals, weakness of governance and (except in South Sudan, Ukraine and Palestine) Islamist extremism. Conflict deaths peaked in 2014 (104,000) and 2015 (97,000), a post-Cold War high. These eleven wars accounted for 92% of battle deaths. But battle deaths are not the whole story, since disruption, displacement, hunger and economic breakdown cause further death, injury, harm and trauma.

Between 2000 and 2014, the main conflict drivers at local level were identified as: regional differences 26, violent ideologies 22, land capture or protection 21, competition for power and disputed elections 20, interethnic stresses 20, conflict spillover from elsewhere 19, resources and minerals 11, population movement and migration 7, and drugs or arms trafficking 6. Key external drivers were foreign military intervention, border-crossing armed groups and refugees, IMF structural adjustment requirements imposed on fragile states, trade in arms, drugs and minerals, the 2008 financial crisis, and the effects of climate change.

War is often used by leaderships and conservative elements to block or divert social change. WW1, the ‘war to end all wars’, was an attempt by a dying order of monarchs and aristocrats to retain power at a time when a new order was emerging – the new order won, but at great human expense. Recent conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen demonstrate a similar resistance to social change.

When social dialogue polarises, perceptions cleave and splinter, tolerance and trust disintegrate and neutrals are obliged to take sides whether or not they wish. In places where there have been tolerance, coexistence and intermarriage, this can be devastating. The dehumanising mentality of conflict kicks in and social consensus is hijacked. Avoiding polarisation during times of change is a critical issue in coming decades – events of the 2010s have served as a warning. Countries and interests that think in terms of antipathy and threat are much more prone to warfare.

The capacity of the international community to contain and avoid conflict is limited – conventions are signed on weaponry, humanitarian issues and the laws of war but compliance, especially by major powers and non-state actors, is weak. The UN Security Council is dominated by five permanent members who, between them, happen to be responsible for 70% of global arms production, and the General Assembly and other bodies possess inadequate powers to override them. The UN’s powers to overrule the sovereign right of nations to wage war are limited – mainly taking the form of moral sway, advocacy of restraint and the hosting of peace conferences. Its capacity to regulate the arms industry and private military contractors is constrained, largely by those nations who benefit from arms sales or armed superiority. Conflict has become re-normalised after a brief interlude when a ‘peace dividend’ was hoped for around 1990.

High military expenditure and plenteous weapons availability invite their deployment. Global arms sales are worth over $100bn annually. Even losing a war or just creating mayhem can be profitable, as are postwar rearmament and reconstruction. Some conflicts, such as the 1990 ‘Desert Storm’ Gulf War or the 2014 Israeli ‘Protective Edge’ war on Gaza have been construed by some as promotional military hardware exhibitions – sales of new weapons rose straight afterwards. In Palestine a bitter joke goes that buildings are built with Euros and destroyed with Dollars.

Diplomacy and conflict de-escalation are unprofitable to the military-industrial sector, which thrives on ‘military Keynesianism’ – government investment in arms to pump up economies – and on lucrative demand from billionaires and syndicates, contractors, militias and warlords. Richer countries have outsourced warfare to arenas such as Syria or Yemen, which serve as chessboards for international power manoeuvring and proxy wars. The scale of today’s arms industry will probably mystify people of the future, who might also legitimately wonder why humanity failed to appreciate how much war endangered the world, holding back progress toward better things.

Longterm conflict damage

Psychosocial damage from past conflicts (also repressive regimes) is significant, passing down through the generations. Such deep pain can subside with time, but proactive social healing more properly consigns it to the past. Commonly, wars occur in places where there have been conflicts before. In Palestine there is a 12-15 year intifada (uprising) cycle: when toddlers who experienced violence in one intifada grow to teenage years, hoping for and not getting a better future, the cycle repeats. Meanwhile, Israelis, trans-generationally traumatised by the Holocaust, live in the world’s most militarised society, renowned for its fast and furious military responses to threat – though this is wearing thin with Israeli Millennials, for whom the Holocaust is history.

Psychosocial conflict damage is global, and healing it is one of the 21st Century’s big projects. Some societies have resorted to affluenza – materialism and consumerism – to compensate for past pain, but this acts more like a painkiller than a medicine and itself can cause war, also leading to a global crisis of unsustainable overconsumption. Affluenza suppresses social healing, pushing away uncomfortable truths until another day. Economic downturn can then lead to a re-emergence of old shadows, as has been the case with recently resurgent nationalist and neo-nazi movements.

The tendency to replicate conflict is common – in history, rampant imperialists such as the Romans, Mongols, Ottomans and British were all themselves invaded first. Violence, an infectious virus, is difficult to shake off. But replication is not inevitable. Japan and Germany have studiously avoided conflict since 1945. India and Pakistan, both damaged after their separation and independence in 1948, have pulled back from the brink several times – though each nonetheless carries a heavy military burden. China, with a century of hardships behind it and the world’s largest army, mostly avoids military force, resorting instead to commercial soft power to further its interests – though domestic suppression of Uighurs, Tibetans and dissenters has been a very different story.

War trauma recovery is a key ingredient in peacebuilding and social development. To quote Palestinian educationalist Hussein Issa, “Every act of violence begins with an unhealed wound”. Trauma affects economic development, political and social cohesion, public health, mental health and environmental depletion, and its effects and repercussions are global.

The economic costs of conflict are staggering. In Syria, where 400,000 people have died and 5m refugees have left the country, GDP loss between 2011 and 2016 was $226bn, four times Syria’s pre-war GDP. This does not include loss of trade, migrant costs, military expenditure and costs incurred by other countries, or future reconstruction and rehabilitation costs in Syria, or GDP loss over the decades after the Syrian wars end. These burdens do not disappear when a war ends – they continue for decades, long after the media and world attention have moved on to other things.

Globally in 2017, $12bn was spent on hosting refugees, $12bn on peacekeeping missions, and 141m people in 37 countries needed war-related humanitarian assistance. Conflict prevention could save between $5bn and $70bn per year (low and high estimates). Put another way, perhaps $300-500bn could otherwise be spent in a decade on development, healthcare and education in needy countries. Peace-related investment is durable while conflict investment mostly goes up in smoke.

Wider conflict impacts

The psychosocial consequences of conflict, including to societies not involved, has a seriously disheartening influence on the world in general – it makes us feel bad, losing faith and trust in our fellow humans. Media focus on conflict brings war dramas right into our homes. Violation, destruction, conflict pollution and other effects, as well as sheer expense in taxation, loss of trade, supply-line disruption, migration and threat-infected geopolitics all maintain a fractious, insensitive and brutalistic mindset infecting the world. Conflict contaminates social and international relations, fostering a culture of indifference and compassion fatigue – yet wars arise because we permit them, if only by omission and commission. We shruggingly accept conflict as a perennial fact of life.

Social violence is an integral part of the endemic culture of conflict. According to WHO, half a million people are killed by interpersonal violence every year worldwide (80% of them males), while 23% of adults report physical abuse as children, and 30% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. Interpersonal violence and conflict are interrelated, particularly when civil institutions are weak and society is accustomed to violence. Interpersonal violence is generally decreasing but it remains high in regions such as Central America, Brazil, Colombia, USA, Congo and South Africa.

Meanwhile, 70-90% of current war casualties are civilians. The majority are women and children, compared to a century ago when 90% of those losing their lives were uniformed military personnel. The boundary separating combatants and non-combatants is nowadays blurred: are angry teenagers, radical sympathisers or families sheltering combatant sons themselves combatants?
Then there is civil war. It is often understood that civil war is sparked by grievances such as inequality, political repression or ethnic and religious divisions, but research shows that this is not necessarily so. Economic indicators such as dependence on commodity exports, low incomes, slow economic growth, corruption and large diasporas are all significant predictors of civil war, but these don’t necessarily spark war unless they are whipped up as grievances by ideologues and political leaders, taking advantage of public frustrations to gain or retain power and wealth. Many wars are critically dependent on natural resource predation and political manipulation.

Leaderships motivate their followers to hate the enemy, building longterm ill-will that leaves its mark after they are gone, and this creates future conflict potential. Peacebuilding in civil wars therefore involves addressing the wider preconditions of conflict. This is difficult because non-intervention in the sovereignty of nation states is customarily never overridden in the cause of peace even though it is frequently overridden in war, especially when military powers are involved.
The world wastes vast amounts on war. This is irrational, a perverse luxury we can no longer afford, in which most people are losers. Ending war is not simply a matter of moral choice: in the context of the range of escalating world issues covered in this report, conflict is a very real diversion from our main global priorities, an avoidable expense and a self-harming pattern we need not have.

Technological warfare

Throughout history, military research has been at the cutting edge of technological research and development (computers, for example). Voters in democracies do not like sending their sons to war, so developed countries have resorted to high-tech weaponry as a supposedly clean and precision-targeted means of achieving war aims. More innovations are coming, including directed-energy, electromagnetic, sonic, laser and particle-beam weapons, robots, swarm robots and unmanned autonomous weapons. Nuclear weapons are being upgraded and bio-warfare is possible.

Nuclear capability has been developed since the 1940s by USA, USSR/Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, South Africa, Pakistan and North Korea. The world is currently the proud possessor of around 15,000 nukes, of which roughly 1,800 are primed for immediate use, 90% of which are controlled by USA and Russia – though they are slowly reducing their numbers, partially because new nukes and delivery systems are being developed. Nukes are regarded by possessor countries as a sign of status and deterrence, though few non-nuke countries concur – though they are unlikely to be attacked unless by accident or madness.

The utility of nuclear weapons is limited – the problem being that a first-strike nation is itself likely to be struck in return, thus leading to no-win outcomes. Smaller nuclear weapons for tactical, precision strikes might be cleaner and less devastating yet they nevertheless invite escalation – as well as throwing up so much dust that the world’s climate can be affected. Total nuclear war means the end for most people except perhaps for isolated peoples whose life-possibilities would still be harmed. Nuclear disarmament should have been resolved in the 1980s but military lobbies in all nuclear states except South Africa opposed this on the basis that possession of nuclear arms deters other nuclear powers from offensive action. So despite the risks, the world is stuck in a loop and seemingly incapable of disarming.

Autonomous weapons. While remote-controlled air, undersea and land drones already exist, AI-directed autonomous weapons are yet to be developed and will be able to navigate and fire without human involvement. Target recognition and proportionate use of force are critical issues – how to distinguish a tank from an ambulance or a fighter from a civilian – and some doubt that sufficient accuracy of identification is possible. Machine learning – AI’s capacity to learn from experience – also poses risks since it can form conclusions that humans cannot easily disentangle or override. There is also a legal problem since, in the laws of war, responsibility must be attributable to someone. If no human is involved in firing decisions, only programmers, manufacturers and owners of the weapon can be held accountable, and this is legally complex.

Removing soldiers from the frontline makes war easier to wage. So autonomous weapons could reinforce public indifference to war – in the eyes of distant viewers, it would make them look like a computer game. Autonomous weapons cut human losses on the side possessing them, but capital costs, often paid by taxpayers, collateral damage sustained by victims and corporate profits could rise. They can be hacked, and penetrating their ‘brains’ will become critical in battles where such weapons are fighting against each other. They could be used by non-state actors, terrorists, or by oppressive regimes for crowd control. They represent a step-change in warfare and pressure is rising to ban them. However, inter-state competition to have them first, and the potential advantage and profit involved, imply that such a ban might be unenforceable.

Bio-weapons can be made relatively easily and cheaply by a biochemist using synthetic viruses and toxins, but their control and delivery presents difficulties, since they are affected by wind and war-chaos. They are easier to develop and implement than nuclear weapons yet their potential for mass horror and destruction is similar. They can infect target populations, spreading pathogens against which there might be no cure – cut-price mass-destruction. The 2013 Syrian breach of international laws over chemical weapons use bodes badly for the future control of bio-weapons, which go far further in effect than chemical weapons since, once victims are infected, especially with pathogens with slow incubation periods, they become walking bombs.

Cyber-war can be waged in various ways – espionage, surveillance, sabotage, propaganda and disruption. Leaders in this field are USA, China, Russia, Israel, UK, Iran and North Korea, plus non-state actors such as ISIS and some hacker groups. In cyber-war attribution is difficult, and operators can use clever ambiguities as a cloak. It can penetrate a nation or organisation at its core, affecting its most strategic assets and control systems.

Espionage and surveillance usually penetrate strategic computers and networks by penetrating targets such as intel and military agencies, banks, corporations or government departments, but they now also exploit public platforms such as Facebook or Google, scraping up data from everyday web-traffic which, when analysed, provides an understanding of the inner workings and details of a nation, zooming in on specific indicators or data-streams to gather intelligence. Following on from this, propaganda and political influencing through major internet platforms has been shown to influence public opinion through fake news, disinformation and targeted messaging, using bots programmed to appear quite convincingly like humans. This is complex and could increase.

In the case of sabotage, malware can be inserted into crucial computers for activation at a chosen time or circumstance, knocking out key systems such as power supplies, hospitals, tech companies, banks or government departments. Denial-of-service attacks can render key online services unavailable by overloading them with incoming data. They can also be done through power outages or even simply the cutting of undersea internet cables. In the case of disruption, malware can disable or hijack systems, and ransomware can raise large sums of money by hijacking websites, services and databases until a ransom is paid or other conditions are met.

Cyber-warfare is cheap and easy compared to armed forces or nuclear arms. It requires a few tens or hundreds of programmers using relatively inexpensive equipment, and its stealthing capacity is considerable. Protection against cyber-war is far more complex and expensive than attack, and the introduction of IOT (the internet of things) makes for serious added vulnerabilities since IOT technologies can be hijacked by malware, then to act as proxies for staging simultaneous multi-source attacks, with the possibility of taking over planes, crashing driverless vehicles, cutting power or interfering in system-critical processes.

Cyber and economic warfare could sideline military warfare. Nuclear arms, navies, air power and military offensives are expensive and complex, while the economics and outcomes of cyber-war have suddenly made offensive actions cheaper and more efficient. Offensive use of artificial intelligence constitutes a risk yet to come – theoretically, a war could be carried out in three minutes without anyone knowing until its consequences are felt.

Economic and financial war

Economic war, involving sanctions, embargoes, blockades, resource price and market manipulation, is a blunt instrument, repeatedly harming wider populations more than the oligarchies they target, and not always resulting in the sought-after outcome. However, it does create effects: economies and currencies can be sabotaged, market crises can be sparked, false economic information can be circulated and key national assets and government treasuries can be hobbled.

Financial war focuses on banks and computer networks, on the principle that if specific targets are blocked electronically or by political pressure – such as USA disallowing a bank or company from trading in USA, or threatening sanctions on banks or companies that trade with them – then money simply stops flowing. This can be targeted accurately and strategically. Money can be confiscated or frozen, oligarchs and companies can be hit and regimes’ leaders can be targeted. This kind of conflict is frequently inter-oligarchic – but then, most military wars are so too.

One consequence of America’s various sanctions imposed on Russia and Iran is that, while causing short-term pain, loss of trade, shortages and other pressures, in the longterm it could weaken USA itself. Sanctions have encouraged China, Iran, Russia and other countries, to build an alternative cross-border financial system ready to bypass US dollar predominance in international payments and trade. Use of dollars as a global reserve currency has enabled USA to grow its debt to such an extent that, if dollar payments were switched to currencies such as the yuan or the euro, US treasury debt could become unserviceable. The Shanghai Cooperation Council is thus accruing an option to drive USA toward sovereign bankruptcy. So US sanctions are not without longterm consequence. Dollar predominance will end sometime for many reasons, but a sudden market switch could hobble USA, creating a major crisis. This is potential economic sabotage on a huge scale.

Other countries can do it too if they have valuable assets available. In 2014 Saudi Arabia decided to pump more oil to create a glut, collapsing oil prices. Consumer countries were happy and producer countries were sabotaged. This one move undermined the expanding US fracking industry, it hit Iran, Russia and Venezuela, slowed global conversion to renewables and strengthened Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical position. This strategic move affected the whole world through oil prices.

Economic war has some similarities to nuclear war: there can be tremendous longterm blowback, and the overall effect is devastating. Saudi Arabia’s oil price-fixing measures drained its wealth while creating other unwanted consequences. So economic war is a bet with mixed reverberations yet, as is the case in military battles, once the first shot is fired, the world’s greatest army cannot guarantee the outcome (as USA demonstrated in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan). World wars are no longer useful: a country or alliance can be felled by far more energy-efficient means, and remotely. This might have some virtues: the Cold War ended partially because both sides war-gamed many nuclear scenarios, only to find that neither would win – and this helped end the Cold War. But economic war is not a game, and it affects the lives of billions of people.

Financial and economic war have a future, though they are risky, threatening the world with unforeseeable repercussions. It puts increasing power in the hands of oligarchs, financial institutions and techies, drawing in the private sector and rendering ordinary citizens into unwitting war victims. Cut off supplies of specific components, resources or financial access and you can ruin a nation or a key sector. This capacity for bloodless war makes it politically attractive to potential winners but its wider, longterm consequences could cripple the world economy, hitting the poorest hardest. And there is a bounce-back. Increasingly, in all areas of conflict, overriding global interests and priorities will charge an ever-rising toll on the initial attacker.

Peacebuilding methods

Peacemaking involves calming a conflict and doing whatever is necessary to stop it reigniting – this can involve armed, police and humanitarian intervention. Conflict resolution involves negotiation, mediation, arbitration and diplomacy to deal with the dispute and forge agreement and a cessation of fighting. Peacebuilding invigorates mitigating factors and addresses the longer-term underlying issues driving conflict, before or after a conflict.

Every situation demands uniquely appropriate actions. Following a peace agreement, a number of stages follow, starting with disarmament, demobilisation, pacification and reintegration of soldiers and fighters. Then come rebuilding of homes, facilities, transport and utilities; developing legal and administrative systems; building educational and social infrastructure; institution-building and restoring state accountability. This is followed by work on social trauma recovery and dialogue, justice and restitution, human rights, gender, minority, religious or ethnic tensions, stimulating economic development and environmental repair, and developing civil society, social norms and the private sector. Meanwhile, internationally, other countries, transnational institutions and NGOs need to embed a peace-reinforcing framework surrounding the country. At the time of writing, such measures as these were under way in 32 countries.

There can be problems. Outside intervention can spark local resistance or, alternatively, engender dependency on aid and peacekeeping interventions. Foreign peacebuilders might embody Western liberal or other values bringing forms of cultural hegemony that are not always appropriate. Peacebuilding organisations sometimes impose what they are best at doing, not necessarily what localities actually need. Sometimes they introduce complications such as sexual abuse, disease, corrupt practices or unhelpful foreign money and ways.

Global-scale peacebuilding is important since warfare holds the world back, imposing enormous costs on it. Were such costs levied on belligerents, wars would quickly become less viable. War has customarily been treated as a financial write-off without a full cost-benefit accounting. Costs are borne largely by the Commons – people, environment, victims and losers. The full spectrum of pain and damage is ignored while military-industrial and private gains are also carefully concealed.

This false accounting is becoming inappropriate since, in the 21st Century context, narrower interests are slowly being outweighed by global priorities. This is not in the end a political matter, more a matter of cost-benefit accounting: costs imposed on the world as a whole are high and benefits to the world as a whole need to improve. Conflict destruction is becoming unsustainable and uneconomic. This might have been true since WW1.

The Institute for Economics and Peace identifies eight pillars of positive peace: well-functioning government, equitable distribution of resources, free-flow of communications and open media, good neighbourly relations, good educational and knowledge levels, acceptance of the rights of others, low levels of corruption and a sound business environment. Positive peace is a sound framework by which a society embeds peace both domestically and internationally. It is systemic and society-wide, formal and informal, a self-reinforcing virtuous circle that builds resilience and adaptability and generally conforms to global sustainable development aims.

The Institute talks of peace transitions, assessed by examining changes in key indicators that reflect the eight pillars. By this reckoning, between 2008 and 2016 seven countries moved down from high to medium levels of peace – Argentina, Costa Rica, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Uruguay and Vietnam. Only two improved – Botswana and Serbia. These two had lower access to small arms and light weapons, rising incomes, increasing media freedom, an improving business environment and a higher number of security and police officers. Deteriorating countries had greater access to small arms and light weapons, and weakening standards in all of the eight pillars of peace.

Conflict-prone countries sinking from medium to low levels of peace were Bahrain, Cameroon, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Niger, Rwanda, El Salvador, Syria and Ukraine. Key indicators were a rise of security officers and police and rising inter-group grievances. Those rising from low to medium were Algeria, Ecuador, Georgia, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Peru and Uganda, all former conflict zones where key signs of progress were reduced access to arms, rosing economic freedom, improving neighbour relations, less hostility to foreign ownership of private property, and higher youth development.

Building and embedding peace parallels the UN sustainable development goals. Global peacebuilding and sustainable development are thus branches of the same global project. The critical issue for the future is: when and how will such positive objectives will become the top priority in the global agenda, outweighing the factors that create conflict and unsustainability?

The Future

It is possible that warfare ramps up in the future. With nations becoming more insular, competitive and vying for influence, and with non-state actors acting as a wild card in international affairs, there is a risk of a new level of warfare building up. But even if today’s conflicts quieten, diplomacy improves and global conciliation and cooperation somehow break out, there will still be a transitional role for armed services. As highly organised operational entities, they have a role in disaster and emergency relief, humanitarian interventions, dealing with piracy, looting, disrupters, critical resource, transport, aid and social protection, disarmament, logistical challenges or warlords seeking to undermine globally important functions or to oppress ordinary people.

Too often armed forces have been exploited in the furtherance of the aims of oligarchies, specific interests or questionable political perspectives – the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a good example. The goodwill and dedication of sincere, capable volunteers, reservists and professionals has at times been abused. This arouses questions around the politics of warfare. What is the distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? Do armed forces exist to protect illegitimate oligarchs and governments? Do nations, however big, have a prerogative to impose their will on other nations, ethnic groups or regions because they have the military resources to do so? These are tricky questions without easy answers, but many of the geopolitical decisions behind the conflicts of the post-Cold War period have been unsatisfactory. Something needs to change.

If the world reduced violence by just 10%, this would generate $1.4tn, says the Institute for Economics and Peace. This is ten times the development aid given by rich countries to poorer ones and three times the earnings of the bottom 1.1bn of the world’s poor people. Meanwhile, if war continues as today, it will hamper the possibility of resolving other major global issues such as migration, inequality, poverty, pandemic risk, population growth, food security, ecological repair, climate change adaptation and the whole range of issues covered in this report.

This is no small matter. War and ‘defence’ play a key role in determining our collective future. Seen in the round, this is ceasing to be a prerogative of individual countries: it is a critical global issue. A world populated by enemies is rent with hazards. It makes for non-cooperating worlds co-located on one planet, busily arming themselves against their fellow inhabitants.

While US president Ronald Reagan liked banging war drums, he played a key part in ending the Cold War. In a 1987 speech to the UN he said, “Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with the antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognise this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”.

Interesting links
War and Peace (statistics and trends), Max Roser, 2018.
Data Insights: World Conflict, Knoema.
Conflict, Governance and State Fragility, Centre for Systemic Peace, 2017.
Pathways for Peace, UN/World Bank, 2018.
Drivers of Violent Conflict, Kett & Rowson, J Royal Soc Medicine, 2007.
Global Peace Index – measuring peace in a complex world, Inst for Economics & Peace, 2017.
Conflict Trends and Drivers, Szayna et al, Rand Corp, 2017.

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