New Internationalist

The facts on War and Peace

Issue 311

WAR

In recorded history since 3600 BC, over 14,500 major wars have killed close to four billion people – two-thirds of the current world population.1

Number of armed conflicts 1946–991

THE CASUALTIES OF CONFLICT

In armed conflicts since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties have been civilians compared to 50 per cent in the Second World War and 10 per cent in the First.2 The planning and execution of war remains controlled by men. But women and children are the main victims of violence in war and peace.

KILLER KIDS

A contribution to the militarization of society is to socialize children into thinking violence and war are justifiable and glorious. From military, defence and weapons-industry recruitment schemes to action-hero toys, society creates killers.

  • There are at least 250,000 child soldiers fighting in armed conflict.
  • Most countries consider young soldiers ‘volunteers’. But often coercion is involved – in Uganda around 8,000 children have been abducted for use as soldiers or prostitutes.3
  • Britain’s Manchester airport has had more than 1,000 security alerts a year caused by children taking toy guns on holiday.4
  • By the age of 16 an American child has seen, on average, 18,000 murders on television.5

WAR ON THE HOMEFRONT

Even in peacetime, women are far more likely to experience violent abuse than men – for example one out of every six pregnant women in the US is battered during pregnancy.7

Percentages of women reporting physical abuse by male partner8

THE WARMONGERS

Governments and national leaders are often the most horrific perpetrators of violence. Torture occurs in more than 100 countries and is carried out as part of government policy in at least 40.6 And governments form a crucial part of the military-industrial complex that is responsible for churning out the weapons and methods of war.

Main Arms Exoporters1

THE WORLD'S BIGGEST WARMONGERS

United States

  • World’s biggest arms exporter – supplies around 40 per cent of the developing world’s arms.1
  • Military budget as large as the next ten top-spending countries combined.
  • 2.4 million troops.
  • Involved in escalating numerous conflicts outside its own borders, on average the US has used arms abroad every year for the past 200 years.
  • Current rationale for high spending on defence includes declaration of ‘war on terrorism’ – since 1980 on average fewer than 10 Americans have been killed by terrorists per year.9

Britain

  • World’s second-largest arms exporter with a 25 per cent share of the legal global market.1
  • Military budget fifth largest in the world.
  • 240,000 troops.
  • Between 1990 and 1994, supplied 13 per cent of total arms exports to sub-Saharan Africa – while at war from 1987 to 1994, Angola received $7.3 billion worth of British arms.10
  • Current leaders in the ‘privatization of war’ – Britain is home to the four largest mercenary companies.

RULE OF LAW

International co-operation and law can support local peace processes.

  • Two Harvard University professors propose an international convention making it a crime for individuals, such as scientists and chief executive officers, to engage in the production of chemical and biological weapons, thus limiting the access of terrorist groups or governments to this capability. Such treaties are already in effect regarding piracy, genocide, aeroplane-hijacking and harming diplomats on duty.9
  • International courts can offer a system of justice across borders. But they must be backed by political will and resources – while the Nuremberg Court at the end of World War Two was given 2,000 prosecutions staff, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has less than 50.6
  • A treaty has been signed to establish an International Criminal Court – a UN body which would be able to hear charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

THE PRICE OF PEACE

Many individual countries spend over the three-per-cent average of GDP that the world spends on defence – more than half of the Cambodian national budget (around 50 per cent of which is supplied by foreign aid) is spent on defence and security.10

Around 85 countries have undergone some sort of disarmament since the end of the Cold War in 1989, but 69 nations have been increasing their stock of weapons – mostly Majority World countries buying from the richer ones.1 Disarmament could potentially release large amounts of money for development.

Military expenditure as percentage of GDP11

THE PEACEMAKERS

Only a third of all civil wars that occurred after 1800 have ended through negotiations. Since 1945 around 25 per cent of conflicts have been solved by negotiations. But recently compromise settlements are becoming more prevalent such as in the cases of Liberia, El Salvador and Guatemala.2

Conflict and Compromise – A World Map

Key:

High-Intensity Conflict (killing over 1,000 people in 1998) Low-Intensity Conflict Negotiations between parties or peace process under way


  1. Any conflict with over 1,000 battlefield-related deaths per year is generally defined as a war. Peace Pledge Union.
  2. Kumar Rupesinghe & Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Civil Wars, Civil Peace (Pluto Press, 1998).
  3. Development Bulletin No 44 1998.
  4. Peace Matters No 22 1998.
  5. US Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, No 423.
  6. Gemini News Service.
  7. International Planned Parenthood Federation.
  8. World Health Organization.
  9. The Nation Vol 267 No 15.
  10. Edmund Cairns, A Safer Future (Oxfam, 1997).
  11. Understanding Global Issues No 4 1998.

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on The facts on War and Peace

Leave your comment