restricted access 4. Evaluating the Crystal Balls
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The world is about to conduct a vast test of the theories of war and peace put forward by social scientists. John Mearsheimer, “Why We Will Soon Miss the Cold War” NOT TOO LONG AGO Daniel Bell warned those who would predict the future that “every seer has a sense that an age is ending.”1 The scholars who have announced the end of major war surely have such a sense, as do most who have written about the future of international politics since the end of the Cold War. This chapter examines aggregate data from the last two decades to try to determine whether there is reason to believe that an age actually is ending, or if Angell ’s successors have merely repeated the mistakes of optimistic seers of the past. Along the way it seeks to answer the following kinds of questions: What kinds of conflict patterns emerged in the 1990s and early part of the twenty-first century? What is the current structure of the international system? Has the unipolarity that followed the end of the Cold War begun to give way to multipolarity? Are states balancing the power of the United States, either internally or externally? And, ultimately, which vision of the future seems to be better supported by the evidence from this initial phase of the post–Cold War system? The final section discusses the implications of the findings for the theory of international relations , and for social science in general. Conflict The obsolescence-of-major-war vision of the future differs most drastically from all the others, including the neorealist, in its expectations of the future of conflict in the international system. If the post–Cold War world conformed to neorealist and other pessimistic predictions, warfare ought to continue to be present at all levels of the system, appearing with increasing regularity once the stabilizing influence of bipolarity was removed. If theliberal-constructivist vision is correct, 4 Evaluating the Crystal Balls 84 Chapter 4 then the world ought to have seen not only no major wars, but also a decrease in the volume and intensity of all kinds of conflict in every region as well. The evidence supports the latter. Major wars tend to be rather memorable, so there is little need to demonstrate that there has been no such conflict since the end of the Cold War. But the data seem to support the “trickle-down” theory of stability as well. Empirical analyses of warfare have consistently shown that the number of all types of wars—interstate, civil, ethnic, revolutionary, and so forth—declined throughout the 1990s and into the new century, after a brief surge of postcolonial conflicts in the first few years of that decade.2 Overall levels of conflict tell only part of the story, however. Many other aspects of international behavior, including some that might be considered secondary effects of warfare, are on the decline as well. Some of the more important, if perhaps underreported, aggregate global trends include the following: • Ethnic conflict. Ethnonational wars for independence have declined to their lowest level since 1960, the first year for which we have data.3 • Repression and political discrimination against ethnic minorities. The Minorities at Risk project at the University of Maryland has tracked a decline in the number of minority groups around the world that experience discrimination at the hands of states, from seventy-five in 1991 to forty-one in 2003.4 • War termination versus outbreak. War termination settlements have proven to be more stable over time, and the number of new conflicts is lower than ever before.5 • Magnitude of conflict/battle deaths. The average number of battle deaths per conflict per year has been steadily declining.6 The risk for the average person of dying in battle has been plummeting since World War II—and rather drastically so since the end of the Cold War.7 • Genocide. Since war is usually a necessary condition for genocide,8 perhaps it should be unsurprising that the incidence of genocide and other mass slaughters declined by 90 percent between 1989 and 2005, memorable tragedies notwithstanding.9 • Coups. Armed overthrow of government is becoming increasingly rare, even as the number of national governments is expanding along with the number of states.10 Would-be coup plotters no longer garner the kind of automatic outside support that they could have expected during the Cold War, or at virtually any time of great power tension. • Third party intervention. Those conflicts that...


Subject Headings

  • Angell, Norman, 1874-1967.
  • Great powers.
  • World politics -- 21st century.
  • International relations.
  • Peace.
  • War.
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