The world is even less dangerous than I had supposed

Last week at Ideacity I talked about the decline in armed conflict worldwide since 1992 with the help of the chart below. The chart is derived from data compiled by an organization known as the Centre for Systemic Peace (CSP) and it shows the magnitude of armed conflict everywhere in the world from 1946 to 2013.


The methodology used by the CSP to create this chart is described on its website.  According to the CSP, the ‘magnitude of armed conflict’ is a measure of the societal effects of political violence, including, among other things, ‘fatalities and casualties, resource depletion, destruction of infrastructure, and population dislocations.’

In discussions following my talk at Ideacity, I was asked whether the chart showed the magnitude of armed conflict in absolute terms or relative to population. From the description on CSP’s website, the measurement appears to be an absolute one. It shows how much violence there is in the world in any given year. However, the world’s population has grown almost three-fold in the period of the chart above. So, what would the graph look like if we adjusted the absolute measurement for one relative to population? The answer is below. I only have accurate population figures from 1950 onwards, so this second chart starts a little later than the first one above.

magnitude proportional


And here are the two charts put together, starting from 1950.

magnitude both


If indeed the CSP data gives an absolute and not a relative measurement, the picture changes slightly when one adjusts for population. The overall story remains the same: violence went down a bit in the 1950s, then increased from about 1960 onwards, before declining sharply in the early 1990s. However, there are some differences. First, the rise in armed conflict during the Cold War was not as acute as previously shown once population growth is taken into account. Second, armed conflict peaks a little earlier in the second chart than in the first one. And third, and most importantly, relative to population, the decline in violence in the past 30 years is so great that the amount of violence per capita in the world is now lower than the planet has seen since before the Second World War, and perhaps even further back. Given this, labelling the world today as ‘dangerous’ is definitely mistaken.



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