Summary of "Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century"

Summary of

Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century

By Human Security Centre

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Human Security Centre. Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century. Available at:

The Human Security Report, produced by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia with support from the Canadian, British, Norwegian, Swedish, and Swiss governments as well as the Rockefeller Foundation, is the end result of a three-year research project to examine patterns of armed conflict, human rights abuses, and genocide around the world. Contrary to what one might expect and reversing a trend dating to the end of World War II, the study finds that, with the exception of international terrorism, all forms of political violence have been in dramatic decline since the end of the Cold War. They attribute this positive trend to the rapid rise of United Nations efforts at conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.

Project director Professor Andrew Mack argues that the findings are so surprising due to the fact that data on violence and human rights abuses are typically not collected by international institutions due to their sensitive nature and that the media devotes more attention to war initiation than conflict resolution.

Some of the most surprising findings with respect to the changing nature of political violence include:

  • Since 1992, the number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40%. Conflicts with more than 1000 battle-deaths have declined by 80%. These conflicts are predominantly fought with small arms and light weapons.
  • The number of international crises, which may escalate to something worse, declined by over 70% in the last two decades of the twentieth century.
  • Wars between countries are more rare than in previous eras and now constitute less than 5% of all armed conflicts.
  • Military coups have become less frequent and less likely to be successful. In 1963, there were 25 coups or attempted coups. In 2004, there were 10 none of which were successful.
  • The UK, France, US, and Russia/USSR have been involved in the most interstate wars since the end of WWII. However, they have not fought one another - the period is the longest period without war between major powers in centuries.
  • Since WWII, Burma and India have experienced the greatest number of 'conflict-years'.
  • The 1990s saw a worldwide decline in arms transfers, military spending, and troop levels.
  • Wars kill far fewer people than in the past. In 1950, an average of 38,000 people were killed per conflict per year in was. In 2002, it was just 600--a decline of 98%.
  • Areas of most deadly conflict have shifted historically from East and Southeast Asia in the 1950s through the 1970s to the Middle East, Central and South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. By the end of the century, sub-Saharan Africa alone remained the sight of most of the world's conflicts.
  • The new dataset created for the Report finds that between 2002 and 2003 the number of reported deaths from all forms of political violence fell by 62% in the Americas, 32% in Europe, 35% in Asia and 24 % in Africa. The authors, however, are hopeful that a decline in the number of armed conflicts from 2002 to 2003 will continue in the future.
  • Fighting does not kill most people. As many as 90% of the total war-related deaths result from disease and malnutrition resulting from war conditions.
  • Since the end of the Cold War, the number of genocides and other mass killings has declined by 80%, despite the tragedies of Rwanda and Bosnia.


The Human Security Report attributes these dramatic changes to three major factors. One important trend has been the end of conflicts related to colonialism and its end. Second, many conflicts had been driven by Cold War "proxy wars" in the developing world. Third, the report credits an unprecedented increase in international activities efforts at conflict prevention and resolution. In particular, the UN has engaged in a six-fold increase in preventive diplomacy, a four-fold increase in peacemaking missions, a four-fold increase in peace operations, and an eleven-fold increase in UN sanctions. Less hopefully, they note that the lower death toll is also in part the result of large numbers of refugees and internally displaced peoples over the past two decades.

The study also finds that, in addition to the clear benefit of saving lives, UN activity has other benefits. The yearly cost to the international community for supporting UN efforts cost a mere 1% of global military spending. In fact, according to the press release accompanying the reports release, "the cost of running all of the UN's 17 peace operations around the world for an entire year is less than the United States spends in Iraq in a single month."