Press Conference on 2009/2010 Human Security Report

2 December 2010

Press Conference on 2009/2010 Human Security Report

2 December 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on 2009/2010 Human Security Report


The number of the world’s deadliest conflicts has decreased dramatically in recent years, according to an independent study released today at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

At a press conference launching the latest Human Security Report, produced by the Vancouver-based Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University and funded by the Governments of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, Project Director Professor Andrew Mack said that long-term trends were reducing the risk of both international and civil wars.

Mr. Mack, onetime advisor to former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the Project is an independent research centre that tracks global and regional trends in organized violence, their causes and consequences. Highlighting key findings from the current study, he said that overall, the number and intensity of conflicts had declined since the 1950s, largely due to the end of the Cold War and colonial eras, an increase in the interdependency between nations, and a major increase in the number of democracies worldwide.

“Democracies very rarely go to war against each other.  So the more democracies we have in the world, the [fewer] opportunities there are going to be for wars,” he said.

While there had been an increase in the overall number of conflicts between 2003 and 2008, he said, it was important to note that this was largely due to an increase in minor conflicts – those that killed very few people.  More telling was the fact that “high-intensity wars”, or those that killed at least 1,000 people per year, had declined by 78 per cent since 1988.

“Today countries only go to war either in self-defence or with the support of the Security Council,” said Professor Mack.

Another reason for the decline was a major shift in attitudes regarding international wars.  The Human Security Report found that elite or popular cultures had moved away from “aggressive hyper-nationalism” and from a near universal acceptance of war as a part of life, he said, calling that a shift toward “war averseness”, or away from colonialist attitudes about war.

There were, nonetheless, short-term concerns, and new kinds of threats to global security had emerged in recent years.  He said the report found that four of the five deadliest conflicts in the world — those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia — were associated with struggles against radical Islamist violence.

The number of civil wars worldwide, which accounted the vast majority of conflicts currently taking place, had declined significantly since 2003.  That was largely due to a consistent rise in income in developing countries over the past 40 years, which had given Governments more traction in battling insurgents. Additionally, resources for cold war era-style “proxy wars” had dried up, and there had been a significant increase in international peacekeeping action by United Nations and other forces.

In that vein, he continued, it was also important to note that there was an increased sense of responsibility worldwide in the pursuit of international peace.  While during the 1980s only about 50 countries were participating in some form of peacekeeping, today nearly all countries were involved in those activities.

“Today, whenever there’s a war going on, you’ve nearly always got a group of friends or a contact group, an organization that’s working with the Secretary-General to bring the conflict to an end make sure it doesn’t start up again,” he noted.

Responding to a question about recent civil disturbances resulting from the global economic crisis, he said that despite such incidents, it was very unusual to see serious unrest in developed countries.  However, in developing States there was a real cause for concern about violence emerging over the financial crisis – in particular over unstable or rising costs of food.

Responding to questions about specific conflict situations, he said that those conflicts that remained today were increasingly intractable.  Struggles against insurgents in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Southern Sudan would prove extremely difficult to resolve, he said.  Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo was disastrous” in almost every way.

Similarly, he responded that certain conflicts, such as organizational violence in Mexico, and “frozen conflicts” in Cyprus and on the Korean Peninsula, were harder to categorize.  The report used the criteria of 25 or more “battle deaths” per year to characterize its conflict situations. 

Following recent attacks by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the Republic of Korea, that standoff would likely be included in the next issue of the report.  Further, he added that it was also likely that in the coming years, the Human Security Project would focus on “organized criminal violence” of the type commonly at play in Mexico.  He also responded to further questions touching on the sensitive wording used by the report as well as its data collection methods.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.