Given the massive media coverage of the Iraq War, and the pop-culture fashion of being opposed to it, one could be led to think that this is one of the most major wars ever fought. Therein lies the proof that we are actually living in the most peaceful time ever in human history.
Just a few decades ago, wars and genocides killing upwards of a million people were commonplace, with more than one often underway at once. Remember these?
Second Congo War (1998-2002) : 3.6 million deaths
Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) : 1.5 million deaths
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (1979-89) : 1 million deaths
Khmer Rouge (1975-79) : 1.7 million deaths from genocide
Bangladesh Liberation War (1971) : 1.5 million deaths from genocide
Vietnam War (1957-75) : 2.4 million deaths
Korean War (1950-53) : 3 million deaths
This list is my no means complete, as wars killing fewer than one million people are not even listed. At least 30 other wars killed over 20,000 people each, between 1945 and 1989.
If we go further back to the period from 1900-1945, we can see that multiple wars were being simultaneously fought across the world. Going further back still, the 19th century had virtually no period without at least two major wars being fought.
We can thus conclude that by historical standards, the current Iraq War is tiny, and can barely be found on the list of historical death tolls. That it gets so much attention merely indicates how little warfare is going on in the world.
Why have so many countries quitely adapted to peaceful coexistence? Why is a war between Britain and France, or Russia and Germany, or the US and Japan, nearly impossible today?
We can start with the observation that never have two democratic countries, with per-capita GDPs greater than $10,000/year, gone to war with each other. The decline in warfare in Europe and Asia corelates closely with multiple countries meeting these two conditions over the last few decades, and this can continue as more countries graduate to this standard of freedom and wealth. The chain of logic is as follows :
1) Nations with elected governments and free-market systems tend to be the overwhelming majority of countries that achieve per-capita incomes greater than $10,000/year. Only a few oil-rich monarchies are the exception to this rule.
2) A nation with high per-capita income tends to conduct extensive trade with other nations of high prosperity, resulting in the ever-deepening integration of these economies with each other. A war would disrupt the economies of both participants as well as those of neutral trading partners. Since the citizens of these nations would suffer financially from such a war, it is not considered by elected officials.
3) As more of the world's people gain a vested interest in the stability and health of the interlocking global economic system, fewer and fewer countries will consider international warfare as anything other than a lose-lose proposition.
4) More nations can experience their citizenry moving up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, allowing knowledge-based industries thrive, and thus making international trade continuously easier and more extensive.
5) Since economic growth is continuously accelerating, many countries crossed the $10,000/yr barrier in just the last 20 years, and so the reduction in warfare after 1991 years has been drastic, even if there was little apparent reduction over the 1900-1991 period.
This explains the dramatic decline in war deaths across Europe, East Asia, and even Latin America over the last few decades. Thomas Friedman has a similar theory, called the Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention, wherein no two countries linked by a major supply chain/trade network (such as that of Dell Computer), have ever gone to war with each other, as the cost of war is prohibitive to both parties. But what can we expect in the future? Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.