Since the beginning of recorded history, around 3600 BC, over 14.500 major wars have killed close to four billion people, a number that not so long ago equaled the whole of humanity. Since the Second World War, there have been on average about 30 armed conflicts ongoing every year. 90 per cent of casualties in these conflicts have been civilians, compared to 50 per cent in the Second World War and 10 per cent in the First.
Number of armed conflicts
However, recently there has been a drop in the number of wars and in their intensity in terms of their deadliness. This graph gives the number of armed conflicts since the Second World War, including inter-state wars, intra-state wars (civil wars) and colonial wars:
The exception is, as often, Sub-Saharan Africa, where the trend continues upward.
The following graph splits this out into the three categories of war mentioned before. As one can see, civil wars are by far the most common kind:
The conflicts shown in these figures resulted in at least 25 battle-related deaths a year. In all cases one of the warring parties was a state. The graph does not include ethnic or other conflicts where neither warring party was a state, nor does it include cases of “one-sided” violence such as genocide.
The second figure is a “stacked graph”, meaning that the number of conflicts in each category is indicated by the depth of the band of color. The top line indicates the total of number of conflicts of all types in each year, corresponding to the first figure.
Intensity of war
Also the intensity of wars, measured in terms of their deadliness, has declined, even before the number of conflicts started to fall:
The regional distribution of battle deaths shows a clear concentration in East and South-East Asia, which was the bloodiest region. Recently, however, battle-deaths occur mainly in Africa:
Also when the number of battle-deaths is related to the total of the world’s population do we see a clear improvement over the last decades:
As indicated before, war has many faces:
- traditional inter-state wars
- civil wars within states, between different parts of the population
- war between states on the one hand and insurgents or rebels within their territory fighting with or without external assistance on the other hand
- guerrilla wars
- paramilitary activity
- privatized warfare
- cold war
I’ll come back to some of these issues in future posts, as well as the issue of the arms trade and defense spending. See also previous posts on war, especially posts with regard to ethnic cleansing, refugees, democracy and war, and child soldiers.