Could Endless War Be Possible In An Age Of Historic Peace?

A report by a bipartisan panel of several former senior intelligence and military officials expressed concern that US use of drones for long-term targeted killings could lead to perpetual war, especially if adopted by other nations.

Amidst concerns of endless war via drones, however, other studies reveal that there is less violence in the world than ever before. Some analysts, like Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein, have even called the 21st century a time of historic peace.

Is war going away, as some claim, or is it becoming a ceaseless battle of assassinations from afar?

Waning war

It’s largely proven that our world is, in many ways, less violent than it has been in all of human history. This gradual pacification is due to several factors — mainly, the evolution of government, betterment of human rights, and nonviolent solutions to world problems.

The planet is currently experiencing a post-WWII respite from interstate war, called the “New Peace” by some historians: a result of wider democratization, nuclear deterrence, and national sovereignty.

Even the 20th century  — including WWII’s record death toll of 55 million — amounts to less violence than centuries prior when taking population ratios into account, by Pinker’s calculations.

A simulation by Professor Håvard Hegre has come to similar conclusions, and predicts that war will continue to steadily decline in the next 40 years.


Internalized violence

There is, of course, a flip side. Though more nations are embracing democracy and largely respecting other democratic governments, the decline of interstate war post-1947 has been accompanied by an increase in bloody civil wars which we are still seeing today, namely in the Middle East.

There have been 66 civil wars since 1947, with 10 still ongoing, as opposed to just 38 documented between 1800 and 1947.

Religious hostility has also seen a spike in recent years: Pew research shows a doubling in religious terrorist attacks since 2007, when the research began.

This violent internalization, plus a growing tendency of asymmetrical drone attacks, can be seen as threats to a supposedly peaceful age.

Drones at war

Though governance may be improving with the spread of democracy, a simultaneous improvement of technology and move toward high-tech militarization may have unknown effects on the state of war and peace in the world.

The technology that enables US drone attacks might indicate a slippery slope into endless war, some say. Long-term killing operations via drone arguably set a precedent that other countries will follow, which could result in widened instability and conflict worldwide.

The aforementioned panel, which scrutinized the Obama administration’s reliance on drone strikes, emphasized that in spite of having used armed drones for over a decade, there has been no evidence that such use has actually curbed violence or extremism in intended areas.

Some say drones may actually create more violence, as terrorists use the attacks to recruit more terrorists from fearful communities. And as drones becomes cheaper, it won’t be long before other nations acquire similar weapons, perhaps followed by robotized and autonomous military tech.

A report by the UK’s Ministry of Defense also warns of  criminal access to drones and satellites and the possibility of environmental warfare in coming decades.

The case may be that though war is less widespread and bloody than ever before, the simplification of lethal force, its interference in war-struck states, and the example it sets could lead to dangerous bumps along the road to greater peace.

Originally published on July 14, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert