Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Most of the World Is at Peace

The public is exposed to countless stories of disaster and chaos and relatively few that reflect the real state of affairs in most places.
peace sign

Michael Cohen reminded us last week that most of the world is at peace:

While intrastate wars have seemingly become more deadly, interstate war still remains an almost unheard-of occurrence. The Russian “invasion” of Crimea would seem to undercut that notion, but it is actually the exception that proves the rule. Indeed, in broad swaths of the world—North America, East Asia, South America, Europe and much of Africa—peace and stability remain the norm.

This is true, and yet judging from the panic and fear dominating our foreign policy debates one would reach the opposite conclusion. Fear-mongering hawks absurdly declare that WWIII is upon us, pundits routinely exaggerate instability overseas and the fragility of the “international order” to make events seem more menacing and significant than they are, and advocates of U.S. “leadership” seize on any conflict as proof of what comes from America’s supposed “retreat.” Much of the current panic over the world’s few serious conflicts is a byproduct of of the general decline in armed conflict around the world. We are now so used to a much greater level of stability that any disruption anywhere seems much more dangerous and alarming than it would have at an earlier time.

There were many more wars–and more destructive wars–during the Cold War than there have been since its end, and in some parts of Africa even the 1990s and early 200s were a far bloodier time than the last ten years have been. The unfounded notion that “the world is on fire” prevails in so many quarters today in part because our foreign policy debates and media coverage focus excessively on the Near East and North Africa to the exclusion of much of the rest of the world, and these regions are indeed suffering from several conflicts (including several that the U.S. has fueled and made worse to one degree or another). If one’s vision is focused narrowly on this part of the world, it will not only seem that “the world” is coming apart, but there will also be no awareness that the vast majority of the world’s nations are faring reasonably well.

Furthermore, peaceful and secure countries rarely receive as much coverage as those wracked by conflict, and so almost all of the news from abroad that anyone sees is news of upheaval, violence, and disorder. It’s worth remembering that these things are newsworthy in part because they stand out sharply from the state of the rest of the world. Americans in particular are now so accustomed to our military forces being sent to police, join,or start this or that conflict for the last twenty-five years that it has presumably created a false impression that the world is being constantly roiled by conflict when it is not. Finally, because so many of our political leaders and pundits insist that the U.S. must act as the world’s so-called “policeman” (though few of them will use that name), they have an incentive to minimize the relative peace and prosperity in much of the world and to emphasize the disorder that the U.S. “must” combat. The public is therefore exposed to countless stories of disaster and chaos and relatively few that reflect the real state of affairs in most places.