About Us
Global Focus
Visiting Scholars
Postdoctoral Fellows
PhD Students
Networks & Groups
Master of Public Policy
IR Program
Lind Initiative
Room Booking
Lobby Gallery
The Peace Revolution
Remembrance Day is also a time to ponder how far we've come
Description: Peace and stability, fragile but real, are breaking out all over. It may be a revolution. 'War between states is incredibly rare now. Iraq is the exception," says Andrew Mack, head of the University of B.C.'s Human Security Centre.
Date: 07 November 2004
Author: Douglas Todd
Source: The Vancouver Sun
Bombs tear apart Iraqi bodies. People are decapitated on the Internet. In Africa, the frightened people of Darfur are butchered. Horror reigns at a Russian school packed with young children.

The news media shout daily about the bloody wars and terrorists' savage retaliations.

As Remembrance Day approaches, chaos and depravity seem to reign.

On Nov. 11, many Canadians will pin red poppies on their lapels and pause to reflect on the two world wars in which Canada alone lost more than 100,000 soldiers, sailors and flyers We'll be proud and thankful for brave men and women and the sacrifice of the wounded.

But many will also remember wider military conflicts and catastrophes. More than 130 million soldiers have been cut down in battle since the rudimentary automatic weapon, the Gatling gun, was invented in the 1860s.

Some will reflect on all the civilians who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time -- more than 100 million killed in the past century and the number's been rising fast, mostly because of the high-tech military's ever-growing capacity to kill from a distance.

We'll shake our heads in sorrow at the cost of war. Many will feel overwhelmed.

Then most of us will go back to our busy lives.

Is that the end of it?

Or could we also open our minds to an alternative to war: Waging peace.

Remarkable things have been happening beyond the headlines about missile attacks and airplane hijackings. Shift your attention away from the top news, some say, and you'll notice that, with the help of strong-hearted people and institutions, the number of wars is declining.

The number of democracies is rising.

Peace and stability, fragile but real, are breaking out all over.

It may be a revolution.

'War between states is incredibly rare now. Iraq is the exception," says Andrew Mack, head of the University of B.C.'s Human Security Centre.

Military conflicts raged in 28 countries in 2003, killing 30,000 people. And while many people would say one death from war is too many, the positive news is the number of conflicts last year involved the fewest number of nation-states since at least 1987, says Project Ploughshares, an influential Canadian non-profit association that has been tracking global hostility for decades.

"The Iraq invasion was the sole international war in 2003. While it was fought on the territory of a single state, it was nevertheless a war between states -- Iraq against the United States and its coalitions partners. All other armed conflicts in 2003 were internal wars," says Project Ploughshares' annual report (

What about terrorism? Even if war between nation-states is declining, many worry terrorism has replaced it as the world's top scourge.

But fear of terrorism is mainly new only to North America, particularly the U.S., where support for the "war against terror" was key to President George W. Bush's re-election this week. North American anxiety is linked directly to the terrorist attacks on New York of Sept. 11, 2001, which changed the U.S. and maybe Canada, but not the rest of the world.

Roughly 1,000 people around the world are killed each year because of terrorism, says Mack, one of more than 40 professionals working in various departments of UBC's Liu Institute for Global Issues.

Even though those deaths from terrorism are terrible, they're "utterly trivial" compared to deaths from civil wars and other global tragedies, says Mack, who heads a multi-million dollar project, The Human Security Report, that's due out in January. Modeled on the United Nation's high-profile Human Development Report, The Human Security Report will provide comprehensive data on global armed conflict -- showing the relationship of human security to poverty and governance.

Given the relatively minor damage wrought by terrorism, Mack and many other specialists in peace-making keep their focus on the military realm. And they want people to know military conflict is not declining by magic.

The number of wars between states has dropped dramatically in part because the Cold War rivalry ended between the Soviet Union and the U.S., says Ernie Regehr, director of Project Ploughshares, which is affiliated with the University of Waterloo.

Just as important, the United Nations is turning out to be a remarkably effective organization, say Mack and Regehr.

The UN was created to end battling between nation-states -- and it's virtually accomplished that goal, despite the way many people, especially North Americans, continue to deride the 59-year-old institution.

The UN is making headway towards peace on a budget that's just $4 billion US a year.

That's compared to global annual military spending of $843 billion. The United States accounts for $330 of all defence spending, almost seven times more than next biggest spender, China.

Despite limited resources, reduced international aid budgets and political machinations from within and without, the United Nations is helping provide the kind of technical and professional support that makes possible stable societies and elected governments.

"The international community, working together and sponsored by the UN, has been having unprecedented success. There's been an explosion of activities," Mack says.

"The number of democratic states has more than doubled in the past 20 years," says Mack, who has taught at Harvard, the University of Australia and worked closely with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan.

Those fledgling democracies haven't popped on to the scene because outside invaders have brought it in as an import, either. Democracies come into being almost always "as a result of the consequences of internal non-violent change," Mack says.

Regehr cites the "extraordinary" examples of how people in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe threw off the yoke of tyrannical governments in the 1990s without widespread violence.

Now those nations are moving slowly, albeit painfully, toward becoming democracies. It's good news for those countries. And it's good news for their neighbours.

That's because democracies don't go to war against each other, Mack says.

Why not?

It's always totalitarian regimes that inflict the worst damage on their own people, Mack says, citing Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Communist Soviet Union and right-wing dictatorships from Chile to Indonesia.

Most modern, industrial economies are complex organisms that can't operate effectively under dictatorial coercion, says Mack.

Well-off societies need people to freely cooperate.

"Authoritarian regimes can't deliver the goods."

(The odd exception may be China, Mack says. It's a "half-way house," he says, which has one-party rule but expanding freedoms and a booming economy.)

Poor countries are the ones that tend to get embroiled in war, say the specialists.

"But it's not poverty itself that leads to war. It's economic injustice and imbalance," says Regehr. "You have very low incidence of violence in poor countries where people at least think they're being treated fairly."

In developing countries, where citizens are learning to work together, Mack says the expanding middle-class typically gains "leverage" over their leaders. Educated masses can subvert rulers who may have fascist, war-mongering tendencies.

Mack notes how countries like Taiwan and South Korea, which were led by right-wing autocracies until recently, have become much less bellicose since they've grown into vibrant, democratic economies.

The world is not perfect: There's no doubt many modern democracies are corrupt, Mack says.

But history shows even unhealthy democracies ruled by ultra-rich elites don't kill nearly as many of their own citizens, or anyone else, as authoritarian regimes.


Just as medical officials can predict who's likely to succumb to disease, conflict analysts can predict which regions are likely going to descend into military confrontations.

The signs that show a country is heading toward war, says well-travelled Regehr, include:

- People don't have equal access to scarce natural resources

- Multiple ethnic groups carry legitimate grievances

- The central government is weak

- Citizens hold little confidence in their laws and institutions.

- People have easy access to weapons, particularly small arms; including rifles, grenades, mortar launchers and hand-held anti-aircraft missiles.

Some of the troubled countries that show these signs and fall into this explosive category, he says, include the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

But hasn't Regehr left out religion as a cause of war?

Millions of secular North Americans believe more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other force on the planet. But Mack and Regehr say religion, and ethnic hatred, are overrated as root causes of violence.

Once tensions are already ignited by widespread injustice and other pre-conditions of war, Regehr says religion and ethnic differences are mainly seized upon to "mobilize" people against an enemy.

"It's when conflict already exists that religious and ethnic persecution starts to happen, and zealots rise to the fore," Regehr says, pointing to the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. If religion was really able to cause war on its own, Mack adds, the world's entire one-billion Muslim population, not just some of its extremists, would all be attacking the Christian-dominated U.S.

Rather than worrying about religion, Regehr says a country that wants to prevent war must work on a number of fronts: It must start protecting its citizens' human rights, find a way to include political factions in dialogue, emphasize economic equality, sustain the environment and engage in international agreements.

Countries serious about avoiding military conflagrations also need to reduce the weapons of violence and war, say peace specialists. "There's an old saying: If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, you think every problem can be solved with a nail," Regehr says.

"The danger is, if you've spent huge amounts on missiles or nuclear capability, for instance, you think that's how problems should be solved. That's why disarmament is as much a security measure as a good navy is. They're both part of the security tool box."

In other words, Regehr's reminding us that just because progress is being made toward peace and democracy, it doesn't mean that everyone can relax. There's lots to be done.

It's crucial to prevent war in the first place. Once people start being killed in battle, as hundreds of thousands have been in the Darfur region of Sudan, Regehr says it's not possible to just march in and quickly solve it. There's no quick fix.

Neither big armies nor peace activists can quickly turn the tide in a region in turmoil. Eternal vigilance against cataclysm is necessary now more than ever, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the University of Toronto's Trudeau Centre for Peace Conflict Studies.

Homer-Dixon maintains a vision of coming doom he calls "synchronous failure," where the globe's environmental economic and political systems collapse all at once, leading to untold violence.

Fresh water supplies run out, oil stocks finally deplete, air pollution makes millions sick, ocean levels rise due to climate change, computer networks are wiped out, the monetary system collapses and rogue elements obtain powerful weapons -- leading to vast military conflict as nations try desperately to create security for themselves, at whatever cost.

The author of The Ingenuity Gap says society's leaders have to undergo a paradigm shift in thinking so they can ward off such catastrophe. They not only need to deal with rising economic and environmental disparity, Homer-Dixon says, they need to recognize the complexities of the world's problems, foster ingenuity in constructing more "resilient" societies, encourage decentralized experimentation and promote a switch among the citizens of well-off nations from hedonistic to transcendent values. It may sound next to impossible, but he believes it's part of a necessary revolution in collective problem solving. Otherwise war won't go away.


In the meantime, it's worth remembering progress is still being made on the harsh front lines of international peace-making.

Forget the traditional image of blue-helmeted UN peacekeeping troops moving into a war-torn country to stop battling opponents from different states blowing the hell out of each other. That's the kind of thing that happened to keep apart Greeks and Turks in Cyprus and Syrians and Israelis in the Golan Heights.

UN peace operations now work much differently.

They're basically about nation building.

And Canada has a good reputation at it.

What the UN currently emphasizes is moving into countries that have been torn apart by violence and helping them establish the pillars of a viable community.

"The mantra is you can't have development without security," Mack says. So UN peace missions, including Canadians, assist troubled countries on multiple fronts.

They protect citizens. But the UN also helps provide food and water, gets people back on their farms, creates a trustworthy police force, rebuilds economies, strengthens education, provide health services, support a fair judiciary and help get a democratic government up and running.

As Mack says: "They do all the things George Bush said he'd have nothing to do with, and now he's deeply involved in in Iraq."

The UN is deeply engaged in about 15 global peace operations. NATO and others are involved in several more, including Afghanistan.

When the UN peace operations move into fragile regions recently ripped apart by hostilities, Mack notes another one of its first goals is small-scale disarmament.

"When war comes to an end, and a peace agreement goes into place in a shattered country, the rebels are not usually completely defeated," Mack says.

UN coordinated troops, officials and others not only do the dangerous work of removing land mines, they collect the weapons of rebel forces. And rather than crushing rebels, they try to re-integrate them into the mainstream, otherwise stability will be impossible.

"In war you also get capital flight and people flight," Mack says. "And you won't get those people and that capital back until you provide a safe, secure environment."

The UN also indirectly supports a variety of non-governmental organizations, whether Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, World Vision, Inter Pares, Care International, the Mennonite Central Committee or a host of other effective operations.

Some of those independent aid organizations strength the role of a free media, which is an often-overlooked means for bolstering a country's stability and peacefulness.

Two Vancouver-based non-profit organizations, IMPACS and the Palos Institute, are international leaders in showing how peace can be brought to conflict zones through responsible media. Vancouverites like Ross Howard and John Tinker travel the globe showing how peace is protected when the media present facts fairly, stand up for human rights and air diverse views.

Raised in Australia, Mack cites how Canada's long history of involvement in such humanitarian efforts has helped citizens of this country retain their enviable international image as trusted peacemakers -- especially in Latin America.

Unlike U.S. troops and agencies, which are often greeted with suspicion around the world and especially in Latin America, Canadian peacemakers are welcomed. As Mack says: "People will look up and say, 'Good. Here come the Canadians!'"

That's why, Mack says, Canadian peace operations are currently being effective in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, where they're helping build the foundations of a poverty-stricken country that's endured a conflict that's killed thousands.


"Iraq is a total, colossal mess," says Mack.

Although the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq is not necessarily doomed, Mack says, almost everything about the U.S. approach to the war has gone wrong.

As the exception to the global trend away from wars between nations, the Iraq conflict is a prime example of why most countries no longer want to attack another. The U.S. went into Iraq "with an effective plan for winning the war, but not for winning the peace," Mack says.

However, backers of the war in Iraq, such as prominent military specialist John Keegan of Britain, say the invasion was necessary to oust the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein.

Although the original reasons given for going to war were revealed to be false -- that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and direct ties with Al Qaida terrorists -- Keegan is among the many who maintains the invasion was still the right thing to do. The country is in chaos now only because the aftermaths to most wars are messy, Keegan says. The invasion was necessary to give Iraqis a chance to become democratic people.

However, many observers point out that battles between Iraqi insurgents and occupation troops continue to rage out of control. A recent report published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, says more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens have died in the 18 months since the war began.

The high civilian casualty rate, Mack says, is mainly a result of the U.S. relying on air strikes to root out insurgents, to avoid casualties among its own troops, who have suffered a relatively small 1,100 deaths.

Meanwhile, because much of Iraq is unstable, Mack says most of the $100 billion that the international community, particularly the U.S., has been prepared to invest for reconstruction cannot be spent.

The United Nations won't go into Iraq until the country is more secure.

As Remembrance Day nears, and Canadians reflect on the catapulting tragedy of war, it seems fitting to ask those who try to wage peace: Was there a better way to deal with Iraq?

Given studies showing most autocratic regimes collapse from internal dissent, Mack believes a far better option would have been to maintain an embargo on the sale of Western military arms to Iraq and control over its oil supply, which is the second richest in the world.

Instead, the wholesale and near-complete economic embargo of Iraq that was in place before the invasion, Mack says, led to food and medicine shortages and the death of 250,000 children under five years of age. "It killed more kids than the war itself."

If the international community had eased up on aspects of the embargo before the U.S.-led invasion and let the Middle Eastern country's economy recover, Mack says prosperity would have slowly re-built the Iraqi middle class -- which would have eventually risen up and ousted Hussein.

War could have been avoided. Mack's final point sounds like a veiled warning to leaders anywhere who would subvert the peaceful will of the people and consistently opt for war.

"It's important to recognize," he says, "the middle class is always the strength of the resistance."

- - -


- Number of men and women of the Commonwealth forces, including Canadians, who are buried in 23,000 cemeteries: 1.7 million

- Per cent of Canadians who think war is "sometimes necessary:" 40. Per cent of Americans who think so: 75

- Per cent of the world's military arms supplied by the U.S.: about 50

- Number of countries in Africa that are experiencing military conflict: 14. Number in the the Middle East: 3. Number in North America: 1 (Haiti)

- Cost to the United States of the current war in Iraq, so far: $143 billion US

- Number of years that $143 billion could fully fund global anti-hunger efforts: 5

Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commmission; Environics 2004 survey; Project Ploughshares' 2004 Armed Conflict Report; U.S. Congress/National Priorities Project (

© The Vancouver Sun 2004
Print Version
Log in
All Rights Reserved© 2007, Liu Institute for Global Issues
Banner Photos by Lindsay Mackenzie
Design by BlendMedia