Are we in the middle of a long peace—or on the brink

first_imgA new study suggests that we might not be out of the woods when it comes to large-scale war. Here, a soldier walks through London’s Leicester Square after it was bombed by the Germans during World War II. Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) By Michael PriceFeb. 21, 2018 , 2:00 PM Clauset crunched the data as if they represented any other statistical relationship, looking for trends and calculating the normal range of fluctuation in both battle deaths and years between conflicts. Numbers of battle dead for a given war ranged from 1000—the minimum number in the data set—to the millions killed in World War II. For the purposes of the study, Clauset defined a large war as one whose battle death toll falls within the upper quartile of total battle deaths over the past 2 centuries. Basically, that means anything with more than 26,625 deaths.Then he developed a series of computer models to replay the period from 1823 to 2003, using only statistical likelihood from the data to determine the frequency and severity of imaginary interstate wars. For one thing, Clauset found the unimaginable carnage of World War II was not, in fact, a statistical anomaly; its death toll falls well within the expected range for war deaths.But he also found that, statistically speaking, going several decades without a large war simply isn’t a rare event—and that peace can quickly be upended by another large conflict. From a statistical perspective, there’s nothing special about the current “long peace,” Clauset reports today in Science Advances. In order for our present peaceful era to become meaningfully aberrant—that is, for it to represent a real change in our ability to get along—it would have to last for another 100 to 140 years.What’s the statistical risk that we’re due for another large war sometime soon? “Not small,” Clauset says, though the number of unknowable variables about the future make it difficult to forecast with any confidence.“The so-called ‘long peace’ trend might not be that long, and it might not be a trend,” says anthropologist Rahul Oka of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who was not involved in the study. “This is a great first step for this line of research.” Oka noted that future studies would benefit from running the numbers not only for battle deaths, but also the sizes of the armies involved.There is some reason to be optimistic, however. Across all the models’ runs, a period of great violence (like the two world wars) followed immediately by a long span of relative peace appears to be genuinely rare, occurring in fewer than 1% of simulations. Maybe the peaceniks are onto something, after all.*Correction, 22 February, 10:55 a.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of battle deaths in the Yom Kippur War. Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country ASSOCIATED PRESS center_img Are we in the middle of a long peace—or on the brink of a major war? Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Email Since the close of World War II, humanity has seen few large-scale wars—and battlefield deaths—compared with the past 2 centuries. War scholars refer to our current era as the “long peace.” But are we really getting along any better? A new study argues it will take another 100 years to see whether we are—or whether our relative peace is just the middle of a statistical blip.Anthropologists and political scientists have argued that several 20th century developments have lessened the risk of large-scale interstate conflicts, including the spread of democracy, increased economic interdependence, and the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. From a purely numerical perspective, those arguments carry weight. Only a handful of recent conflicts have boiled over into all-out war, and few have seen the kinds of extraordinary body counts—in the hundreds of thousands—common to wars in the 19th and 20th centuries.To find out whether we are really in the midst of a period of true harmony, computer scientist Aaron Clauset at the University of Colorado in Boulder plotted data from The Correlates of War Project’s data set, widely used in political science. The database includes the year of onset and number of battle deaths for 95 interstate conflicts between 1823 and 2003. The Crimean War, for example, kicked off in 1853 and eventually killed about 264,000 soldiers in battle. World War II killed more than 16.6 million. And the Yom Kippur War killed some 14,400 soldiers in 1973. Data on civil wars and nonstate actors, such as terrorist groups, were not included in this analysis.last_img read more