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September 9, 2004

The Impact of Democracy--
Peace Breaks Out

R.J. Rummel

In an AP August 30, 2004, article by Charles J. Hanley, "War Making Headlines, but Peace Breaks Out," he referenced recent stocktaking on the amount and severity of war:

[T]he number killed in battle has fallen to its lowest point in the post-World War II period, dipping below 20,000 a year by one measure.
. . . .
The authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in a 2004 Yearbook report obtained by The Associated Press in advance of publication, says 19 major armed conflicts were under way worldwide in 2003, a sharp drop from 33 wars counted in 1991.

The Canadian organization Project Ploughshares, using broader criteria to define armed conflict, says in its new annual report that the number of conflicts declined to 36 in 2003, from a peak of 44 in 1995.
. . . .
"Not only are the numbers declining, but the intensity" - the bloodshed in each conflict - "is declining," said [Monty G.] Marshall, founder of a University of Maryland program studying political violence.

One explanation for this striking downturn is the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War the United States and Soviet Union tried to prevent wars among their allies or neutrals that would risk escalation to a nuclear war between them. With the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union, it is said, there was a consequent spike in wars, especially separatist and civil wars. However, this explanation seems to ignore the many wars that occurred before the fall of the Soviet Union, such as the Korean, Vietnam, Vietnam-Cambodian, Sino-Vietnamese, Sino-Indian, Pakistan-Indian, Ethiopia-Somalian, Israel and her Neighbors, Iraq-Iran, etc. Moreover, the total killed in war has fallen to its lowest since 1945, before the Cold War.

Another explanation is that with the end of the Cold War, the United Nations and regional bodies have undertaken more effective peacekeeping. True, there may be more missions, more special advisors, more diplomats running around to assess on-going wars and recommending or trying to negotiate solutions. But, they hardly are more effective. For one thing, the United Nations has itself declared its failure in peace keeping. For another, there are the horrendous failures of the UN regarding Israel-Arab violence; in Somalia, North Korea, Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan; and concerning terrorism. The many millions that have thus died in wars and democide since the end of the Cold War in 1991 attests to the inadequacy of the UN and regional agencies.

If the Cold War's end and UN peacekeeping are inadequate explanations, what might better explain peace breaking out in the world? An answer that is well supported empirically and theoretically is:

the growth of democratic governments in the world.

At the end of 2002 there were 121 democracies governing over 60 percent of the world's population, of which 89 of these governments were liberal democracies. This number of democracies has reached such a critical level (there were no liberal democracies in 1900, and 22 in 1950) as to catalyze a reduction in the number of wars and battle dead. In short, the explanation for the downturn in violence is the growth in democracies.

I have subjected this explanation for violence up to the year 2000 to a number of tests, and these are on the Democratic Peace Clock page. I plan to do the tests at five-year intervals, but the sharp drop in wars after 2001-2003 anticipates future results and adds further empirical evidence to that given on the webpage.

Why should the growth in democracies explain the sharp drop in wars? This whole website provides the answer. It is because democracies don't make war on each other (the democratic peace) and have by far the least foreign and domestic violence and democide. Therefore, the greater the number of democracies, the greater the zone of peace in the world.

That this explanation is missed in the peace research community shows how far we have yet to go in the communication and acceptance of this law of nations.

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