We know that war destroys lives and economies and blights the life chances of millions of people around the world. On this International Day of Peace (21/09) we can celebrate some salient facts about the recent history of global conflict that show the dark side but also give us hope that we are moving towards a more peaceful world:

  • War keeps countries in a permanent state of arrested-development. According to the United Nations Development Program, 22 of the 34 countries furthest away from achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals are affected by current or recent conflicts.
  • While some may think conflict can be restricted to the battlefield and conducted by professional armies according to accepted rules, more than 90% of modern war casualties are actually civilians, mostly women and children.
  • “Collateral damage” masks a human tragedy of apocalyptic proportions: over the last 20 years about two million children have been killed in conflicts.

According to the last edition of the Human Security Report, there is hope: 

  • The number of people involved in armed conflict has risen 25% from 2003-2008 after falling for more than a decade. But the report also finds that in the 1950s, the average death-toll per conflict was nearly 10,000. Fifty years later this figure has dropped to below 1,000.
  • In South East Asia from 1951 to 1979, 12 new conflicts erupted; from 1980 to 2008, there were just three – a 75% drop in violence.
  • Economic interdependence and the gradual shift towards democracy is another long-term trend heralding a potentially more peaceful era. There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. In 2010 there are close to 100.
  • We are getting better a mediating between warring states and being proactive in pre- and post-conflict peacebuilding. There are currently more than 30 UN and non-UN peace operations happening throughout the world, deploying more than 250,000 peacekeepers.
  • Nations are also collaborating more successfully in the imposition of sanctions against rogue states. Human rights abusers are routinely being prosecuted in the Hague.

War and conflict is still the scourge of human progress. But the long-term trends are promising. Our efforts to bring lasting and sustainable peace to the world are working. And we can take this further with new ideas, such as the “Charter for Compassion”, defended by Karen Armstrong as instrumental as introducing compassion onto the political agenda:

 

Photo: A woman holds a flag during a march mark the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun