A report funded by Canada, Britain and the Scandinavian countries says that the world is a safer place than it used to be.

The world is a safer place despite people's fears
By Francis Harris in Washington
(Filed: 19/10/2005)

Widespread fears about a world in a perpetual state of war are unfounded, a study says today. It emphasises that the number of conflicts between nations, civil wars, battle deaths, coups and genocides has been falling steeply for more than a decade.

While the authors note that bloody wars continue in Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo, they argue that there are substantial grounds for optimism.

The first Human Security Report, written by academics led by Andrew Mack, of the University of British Columbia, cites popular notions that war is becoming more common and deadlier, that genocide is rising and that terrorism poses the greatest threat to humanity.

"Not one of these claims is based on reliable data," it says. "All are suspect; some are demonstrably false. Yet they are widely believed because they reinforce popular assumptions."

The authors say there are 40 per cent fewer armed conflicts than in the early 1990s. Between 1991 and last year 28 wars for self-determination began but 43 were ended or contained.

In 1992, when the Yugoslav wars of secession began, there were 51 state-based conflicts around the world. The figure dropped to 32 in 2002 and 29 in 2003. The arms trade declined by a third from 1990 to 2003 and the number of refugees fell by 45 per cent between 1992 and 2003.

In 1950 each conflict killed 38,000 people on average. By 2002 that had dropped to 600.

However, the report, which was funded by five nations including Britain, says that the potential for a major upsurge in violence remains.

"The risk of new wars breaking out or old ones resuming is very real in the absence of a sustained and strengthened commitment to conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building," the authors say.

Most of the data gathered ended in 2003, the last full year for which statistics were available. That means that most of the deaths caused by the war in Iraq are not included. But by the standards of the bloodiest conflicts since the end of the Second World War, the deaths in Iraq are relatively few. About 27,000 Iraqis and Americans have died.

Major conflicts of the past 60 years, including Algeria, Korea, Vietnam, Congo and Sudan have killed between 400,000 and two million.

Prof Mack, an Australian former United Nations official, attributes much of the success in ending conflict to UN peacekeeping operations.

The reduction in war is also attributable to the end of the Cold War, he says. From 1945 to 1989, many local conflicts were aggravated by the intervention of the two great power blocs.