Will there be war in the future?

When is the next big war to be expected?

Are we living in a time of the "Long Peace"? A statistical analysis of the interstate wars of the past 200 years cannot confirm this

We know optimists from the corporate and technological sectors; they also exist in politics. There is often a certain pessimism in the social sciences about the future of humanity. One of the best-known optimists at the moment is the American psychologist Steve Pinker, who has already published two extensive books on the subject, in which he shows in a messianic way that the world is getting better and better and why the black painters are wrong.

People would always live better, longer, healthier and happier. In his book on violence, which is 1200 pages long, he tries to demonstrate that violence has declined since the beginning of sedentarism and that a "Long Peace" has broken out since the end of the Second World War.

Since then there have been no more major wars between great powers or more highly developed states, since 1989 the "New Peace" has ruled with a decline in all organized conflicts. The cause is state formation with monopoly power, enlightenment and reason, feminization, globalization, cosmopolitanism and international trade. The last forces are being fought today by the new right-wing nationalists.

According to Pinker, the percentage of years in which great powers were at war has decreased dramatically since 1500, as has the frequency and duration of wars. However, the number of deaths rose in wars, which only declined after the Second World War. At the moment, it is hard to believe that things will become more and more peaceful when the great powers are in the midst of a new arms race, many states are strengthening their military and there is again the danger of nuclear war.

On average, an interstate war broke out every 1.91 years

The computer scientist and statistician Aaron Clauset from the University of Colorado Boulder looked at the interstate wars between 1823 and 2003 against this background of the postulated Long and New Peace after the "time of great violence" in a study published in the journal Science Advances.

His intention was to find out if this was a sustained trend, if the number of interstate wars had actually declined sharply, particularly over the past 30 years. And he wanted to find out whether a statement about the probability of new wars in the course of the next 100 years can be made from the analysis of the past 200 years.

According to Clauset, who refers to historical sources, there were 95 interstate wars in the 180 years examined. The death toll varies from 1,000, the minimum for a war, to the 16 million soldiers believed to have died in World War II.

One trend towards peace would be that the time between wars would be longer. In the period under consideration, the time varies between 0 years, if different wars take place in the same year, and 18 years, the time between the Russo-Turkish War (1828) and the Mexican-American War (1846). Long interruptions are unusual. On average, war broke out every 1.91 years since 1823. In 8 percent of the cases, several wars had broken out in the same year, most wars ended after 2 years.

According to this analysis, the period after the Second World War (1940-2003) does not differ from the previous period (1828-1939). Thereafter there is no trend in the timing of wars after the start of World War II. The "Long Peace" is referred to as the changed frequency of major wars that caused more than 26,000 deaths.

Between 1823 and 1939 there were 19 major wars, on average every 6.2 years, the wars occurred particularly frequently during the period of great violence between 1914 and 1939 with 10 wars and a new war every 2.7 years. In contrast, there were only five major wars after 1940, one every 12.8 years on average.

But then maybe that looks like a decreasing trend. But that is deceptive, says Clauset, who compared the historical pattern with various simulations. There had also been long periods of time with relatively few wars, which is not unusual.

In contrast, the "time of great violence" is more unusual because of the many deaths. 42 percent of the major wars happened here 15 percent of the time. Statistically, the time after the "time of great violence" only corrected or normalized the rash. In order to produce a really plausible trend, the "Long Peace" would have to stay that way for at least another 100 years, with a major war every 12.8 years.

What is the probability of another major war?

If one assumes, like Clauset, that it is statistically a stationary process, then the probability of a huge war with a billion deaths can be derived from this, which would be conceivable through a nuclear war, even if it happened in the past, if only because of the Number of people who have not had such wars.

It is not reassuring if the probability is between 383 and 11,489 years, as the median would then be 1339 years. That would be far away for us, but not so long for human history, especially since it would then be a global catastrophe. The probability of a war with death toll like in the First World War is relatively high with the probability of a war in an average of 1.91 years with p = 0.43.

According to Clauset, the trend suggested by Pinker towards an ever better and more peaceful world looks more like the principle of hope. To put it badly, one could also say that it is an ideology to cover up or to reinforce what is already there, because everything is going well and in the right direction. Perhaps this is an American or Californian ideology and is reminiscent of, for example, the "end of history" declared by Francis Fukuyama in 1992. Totalitarian systems, he prophesied, are doomed, while liberal democracies should prevail. (Florian Rötzer)

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