THE BELIEF THAT WAR is disappearing has lulled us into a false sense of security, maintains Bear F. Braumoeller, professor of political science at Ohio State University. "We really don't get how big a threat war is--not by a longshot. The process of escalation that led to two world wars in the last century is still there. Nothing has changed...."
Any apparent declines in war initiation or severity can be attributed to random luck--and our luck could run out at any time, claims Braumoeller, author of Only the Dead: The Persistence of War in the Modern Age. In the book, Braumoeller challenges the argument of recent scholars who maintain war is in decline. "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."
Perhaps most alarmingly, Braumoeller indicates that the probability that a small war will become a very big one has not changed. For instance, if humans continue to fight 50 wars per century, the probability of seeing a war with battle deaths that exceed one percent of the world's population in the next 100 years is about 13%, which would amount to at least 70,000,000 people killed. "That's nothing short of horrifying. The escalatory propensity of war is the scariest thing I found in this research."
While it is true that by simply looking at trend lines since World War II it appears that worldwide conflict has declined. However, there have been other periods of history where relative peace has reigned. What you cannot 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.
"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," says 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 employed the Correlates of War data set, which scholars 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 easily could be occurring simply by chance.
"We do see a decrease...