Rising death tolls in Syria, brutal massacres in Sudan, horrific sexual violence in the DRC, these are all news headlines we are familiar with. Reports from conflict zones paint a grim picture and you could be forgiven for thinking that our world is a worse place to live in than ever before. But is the world really become more dangerous and deadly?
The truth is no, it’s not.
Professor Joshua Goldstein wrote the book Winning the War on War, and he believes peace in the 21st century is possible.
"If you look at what's happened to war, just over the course of my lifetime, it's been dramatic that we have fewer wars, smaller wars and we have better tools for dealing with conflicts without resort to war,” Professor Goldstein said.
“We have made a lot of progress already, and I am not one to say ‘this is my plan for world peace’, and, ‘everybody's going to be in harmony with each other and all our problems will disappear’, but I am one to say that we have made a lot of progress in managing conflicts, learning how to reduce the size, and number, and location and spread of wars,” he explained.
“If we keep that going, if we learn what's working, we could reduce that close to zero. Maybe we will never have 100% peaceful world, but we could get to 95%, 98% - that would be great."
Professor Steven Pinker has also been following the trends and he agrees that we are making progress. His research shows that while the world has had rough few recent years, overall battle-related deaths in armed conflicts are trending downwards.
"Not only have the numbers come way, way down, since the 1990s, but whole categories of war seem to be either gone or obsolescent. Wars between two great powers, wars between rich countries, wars in Western Europe - the kind of wars that were omnipresent through human history for hundreds and hundreds of years, all of a sudden went to zero."
So, what has to continue to keep war on the decline?
Researchers suggest several key factors:
Continue an increase in human security (that means reducing poverty and supporting development)
Increasing women’s engagement in economic and political life internationally, and
Confronting beliefs that legitimize violence as a tool of conflict resolution
Professor Pinker says this last factor is key.
“The ideal that human flourishing is the greatest good has to crowd out other ideologies,” he said.
“Religious ideologies, nationalist ideologies, dreams of national or ethnic glory, rectifying past injustices, all the kinds of motives that have lead countries to expand their territory, expand their ideology and to justify it by thinking 'well, this is more important than whether people get killed in their 20s or live to a ripe old age'.”
Interviews: Courtesy of One Earth Future