The Decline of War and the Rise of ‘Proximate Peace’
Religion & Liberty Online

The Decline of War and the Rise of ‘Proximate Peace’

????????????????????????????????????????The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently released a report on intentional homicide (see this post for more on that report). Around the world, there were about 475,000 homicide deaths in 2012 and about six million since 2000, making homicide, the report notes, “a more frequent cause of death than all wars combined in this period.”

While the rate of homicides, particularly in the Americas, remains disturbingly high, the fact that they exceed deaths due to war is should be an indirect source of encouragement.

Consider, for instance, that in the twentieth century, there were at least eight wars whose average deaths per year exceeded the current homicide rate:

War Estimated Deaths (Low-High) Duration Avg. Deaths per Year of War
World War I 15-65 million 4 years 3.75 – 16 million
World War II 40-85 million 6 years 6.6 – 14 million
Bangladesh genocide 26,000 – 3 million 1 year 26,000 – 3 million
Russian Civil War 5-9 million 4 years 1.25 – 2.25 million
Korean War 400,000 – 4.5 million 4 years 100,000 – 1.1 million
Rwandan genocide 500,000 – 1 million 1 year 500,000 – 1 million
Second Congo War 2.5-5.4 million 6 years 416,000 – 900,0000
Cambodian genocide 1-3 million 4 years 250,000 – 750,000

Although it goes largely unnoticed, war has been on the decline for several decades. “After a 600-year stretch in which Western European countries started two new wars a year, they have not started one since 1945,” says Steven Pinker, “Nor have the 40 or so richest nations anywhere in the world engaged each other in armed conflict.”

In another pleasant surprise, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, wars of all kinds have declined throughout the world . . . . Wars between states have become extremely rare, and civil wars, after increasing in number from the 1960s through 1990s, have declined in number. The worldwide rate of death from interstate and civil war combined has juddered downward as well, from almost 300 per 100,000 world population during World War II, to almost 30 during the Korean War, to the low teens during the era of the Vietnam War, to single digits in the 1970s and 1980s, to less than 1 in the twenty-first century.

Human nature hasn’t changed since the time of Cain and Abel. So what should be make of the decline of war?

One way to think of the situation is to appreciate what I’d call “proximate peace,” a corollary to Steven Garber’s concept of “proximate justice.” Seven years ago Garber wrote an essay in which he explained the concept:

Proximate justice realizes that something is better than nothing. It allows us to make peace with some justice, some mercy, all the while realizing that it will only be in the new heaven and new earth that we find all our longings finally fulfilled, that we will see all of God’s demands finally met. It is only then and there we will see all of the conditions for human flourishing finally in place, socially, economically, and politically.

While we should continue to pray for global peace, we should be grateful for the proximate peace brought about by the decline of war. As Garber might say, proximate peace is better than nothing, and allows us to have some degree of shalom in our fallen and still too violent world.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).