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PRIO: Declining Conflict Worldwide

The world is slowly becoming a more peaceful place, according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Released in May, the first policy brief of the new Conflict Trends series estimated that the decline in global conflict of the last 20 years will continue over the next 40 to 90 years.

Havard Hegre and Havard Mokleiv Nygard, two researchers at the Institute, attributed this decline to increased education and economic diversification, among other factors.

For the purposes of their study, Hegre and Nygard defined conflict as ‘lethal armed conflicts between a governmental and nongovernmental opposition group.’ Using this designation, they estimated that 23 percent of the world’s countries were in conflict in 1994, with that number dropping to 15 percent today. They projected that in 2030, only 12 percent of the world’s countries will be in conflict, and will decline to 10 percent in 2050. They also noted that fewer countries have experienced conflict in the last 20 years, indicating an increase in the average length of peacetime.

Hegre and Nygard also analyzed factors they believe to contribute to global violence. They predicted a decrease in infant mortality as well as increase in the percentage of educated youth. These trends are likely attributed to the decline in world conflict in previous decades and will continue to do so in the future. However, they also found that conflict in a given country was correlated to its wealth, suggesting that low-income countries are more likely to fall into conflict.

Using these factors in their analysis, the researchers mapped out where in the world conflict is most likely to occur in the future.

Hegre and Nygard predicted that in the next 50 years, global violence will be concentrated in Africa and South Asia. They highlighted India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq as having a high risk of conflict.

Several of the countries they described as high-risk are either part of the “bottom billion” in terms of wealth, or are currently attempting to escape the “conflict trap.” They described this as a cycle in which low levels of development lead to conflict, while conflict leads to even lower levels of development.

In their summary, Hegre and Nygard acknowledged threats and circumstances that would challenge the trends of decreasing violence. Climate change or a “systemic shock,” such as a new Cold War, both have the potential to increase poverty and migration pressures that could lead to conflict. Other potential challenges depend on dramatic changes to the global trading system and the progress of socio-economic development.

The brief released in May is the first part of an ongoing project by PRIO to analyze conflict trends around the world. It is set to run from July 2013 to June 2016, and will be led by Henrik Urdal, a senior researcher and editor of the Journal of Peace Research at PRIO. Themes of the Conflict Trends project include natural resources and conflict, youth, development and conflict, political change and stability and the human costs of conflict.

PRIO is an independent, international nonprofit research institute that seeks to analyze the conditions for peaceful relations among people and nations.

– Kristen Bezner

Sources: PRIO 1, PRIO 2, PRIO 3, PRIO 4, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Photo: PRIO