TOPICS : Welcome to world peace

One thousand consecutive days were marked the other day with no wars between nations anywhere in the world, since the night in November 2003 when India and Pakistan instituted a ceasefire. This is the longest episode of interstate peace in more than half a century. Other conflicts still rage around the world, but these are not wars of government against government.

In this summer’s bloodletting in Israel and Lebanon, the Lebanese government took no military action to defend its territory. In Iraq, no government in the world has sent troops to support the insurgency. The interstate phase of the war for Iraq ended more than three years ago, when the US and its allies removed Saddam Hussein’s government. Despite the brutality in Darfur and elsewhere, even civil wars have become rarer. The number of civil conflicts dropped by a third or more in the late 1990s. The world is far more peaceful

than a dozen years ago, when slaughters in Rwanda and the Balkans led to gloomy predictions of rampant civil war.

Despite this outbreak of world peace, we remain fixated on international conflict. For example, the UN called for a traditional Olympic truce during the Winter Games in Turin, Italy, despite the fact that no countries were actually fighting one another. It may seem hard to reconcile the concept of world peace with the bloody campaigns of jihad and the war on terror. Yet according to political scientist John Mueller, the political violence that we see today is but the “remnants of war,” generally involving small gangs of thugs, mercenaries, and terrorists.

The main threats to the US, according to the president’s National Security Strategy, are no longer the most powerful countries in the world. Instead, they are weak or isolated states such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria, and non-state groups like Al Qaeda. Yet our sense of insecurity grows even as the threat level diminishes. Appearing tough on security, by contrast, is all the rage, inflating the atmosphere of threat and twisting our nation’s priorities. With the decline of interstate warfare, we have multiplied our metaphorical “wars” against drugs, crime, and terror. Paradoxically, world peace may lead us to turn these non-wars into real wars. Without serious threats from other states, the US is more likely to use military power to address other goals.

Militarising the approach to these problems can lead to conflict with other states, and thus into real wars. The war on drugs has led us to get involved in the civil conflict in Colombia. The war on terror led us to the invasion of Iraq and, more recently, to help start a new civil conflict in Somalia, where we are funding warlords who claim to be fighting affiliates of Al Qaeda. The remnants of war are nasty and brutish, and the world needs to address

collective violence wherever it appears. But let’s keep these concerns in perspective. The global trend is a hopeful one, if we can avoid making wars out of problems that are not. Perhaps it is time to take a deep breath and pause to appreciate world peace. — The Christian Science Monitor