The World Today

YouGov peace and conflict survey

As part of our efforts to raise awareness about the UN International Day of Peace (21 September), International Alert commissioned a YouGov survey to discover the British public’s knowledge and awareness of peace and conflict today. The survey was conducted in August 2006 and the results were grim: nearly three-quarters of respondants felt the world is more violent today than 50 years ago and that it will remain that way—or get worse—in the next 50 years.

But the reality is that the number of violent conflicts has declined by more than 40% since 1992 and is at the lowest it has been since WWII, with the deadliest conflicts (those with 1000 or more battle deaths) dropping by 80% in the past 15 years. The current pessimism demonstrates how important it is for Alert and others to offer our ideas on how peace is possibly achieved.

And there’s more…

The world: just how dangerous is it?

So, it’s not just the Daily Mail that believes we are all doomed. According to a new survey almost three-quarters of Britons think the world is a more dangerous, war-like place than it was 50 years ago, writes Peter Walker.

Conducted to mark the UN Peace Day today, the poll found 74% of the public believes the globe is more violent now than it was in 1956 while 63% think the situation will get worse in the next 50 years. So far, so gloomy. But are they right? Well, not really.

The average number of battle-deaths per conflict per year – a measure of the deadliness of warfare – has plummeted from 38,000 in 1950 to just 600 in 2002.

This is rather interesting. It’s also rather strong evidence in favour of what most of us have known for ages – the world really wasn’t a better place a century ago, and most of the general public need to return their rose-tinted spectacles to be cleaned.

I wonder why there is such a discrepancy about these things. Crime figures fall – and yet people refuse to acknowledge this. “My sister’s friend’s boyfriend’s cat was attacked by three youths the other day, so there must be more violence.”

An inability to impartially judge between past and present states of the world is nothing new. But what causes it?

I think a large factor must be the raised expectations people have. Years ago a street urchin would be content – how can anybody judge their position in life when they know no better. Nowadays everyone believes that they can be anything. If they want to be a brain surgeon, then that’s fine. The hospital will be happy to take you. Qualifications? A handwriting certificate at age 8 and a 10m swimming badge? Fine! Welcome aboard!

Perhaps not. But there’s a grain of truth in absurdity. Years ago crime was something which people expected. Now we all believe that we ought to be free from crime. It’s no longer a random act – a piece of bad luck. Now it’s the government’s fault, and the police’s fault. But certainly not the victim’s fault, even if the car was stolen from the roadside with the keys in and the engine running.

But what still gets me is that anyone could look back into history, into the bloodshed and carnage, at genocides committed in the name of colonialisation, at murders committed for political gain, and still say that any war perpetrated by a western state today is violent.

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