While the world has never been politically orderly, it has oscillated between declines and rises in armed conflict. At times, these shifts between violence and a semblance of peace were quite extreme such as WWII, the largest conflict in human history. That war gave way to the Cold War and post-Cold War eras, which saw a decline in conflict-related deaths.
The decline in casualties does not always relate to a decline in the number of global conflicts. But when both deaths and conflicts increase, that tends to signal a shift in global stability.
The Global Peace Index Reveals Disturbing Trends in Global Disorder
This past summer, the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) published the Global Peace Index. According to the IEP, there has been:
- A 96% increase in conflict-related deaths
- An increased number of nations (91) involved in some form of external conflict
- A 17% increase in cost to the global economy due to the increased violence
Other institutions have likewise noted these trends. Unsurprisingly, they differ in the root cause and solution to the wide variety of issues contributing to the global increase in violence and global disorder.
Shifts in Power Can Arise When a Nation Changes Its Military or Economic Support
A shift in power doesn’t always come from a collapse or even a decline of a leading or regional power. Sometimes it comes from a hegemonic power, such as the U.S., withdrawing from responding to global events. With the U.S. debating its global role, international chaos will intensify.
It’s worth noting that political stability does not imply a lack of chaos or vice versa. Humans are constantly in some form of conflict, but armed conflict with casualties has been on a downward trend for several decades, according to Our World in Data.
While the total number of conflicts is typically in flux year by year, it is the overall trend of armed conflict that has declined. The data provided by IEP shows that this increase in global disorder is quite dramatic and not part of a typical fluctuation.
Some of the economic changes are due to economic disruption from the global COVID-19 pandemic and the sanctions levied by the West following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Much of the increase in conflicts was the result of U.S. troop withdrawals from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
As the U.S. shrunk its footprint of deployed forces, several coups swept Africa, the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan, and Iran keeps Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon destabilized. Similarly, Russia’s presence in Europe has increased dissension within the European Union (EU).
Washington has chosen not to intervene in these conflicts directly, relying on a mix of diplomacy and sanctions instead. Also, the U.S. has not yet directly intervened in the Chinese aggression directed at the Philippines – a nation with which the U.S. has a defense treaty.
While the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. have worked to some effect, they have also forced China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea into economic cooperation. The cooperation is not a formal economic bloc and the relations between these nations is not at a strategic level, so continued cooperation will pose a challenge.
Related: State of Play in Central Asia
The US Is Rethinking Its Approach to Intervention, and Regional Powers Are Trying to Use That Situation to Their Advantage
The U.S. may be the world’s sole superpower, but that doesn’t mean that its power is without limits. The U.S. is not only rethinking its approach to intervention, but there is also the often-unspoken issue of defining U.S. interests.
While the U.S. is reconsidering its approach to interventions meant to protect U.S. interests, regional powers will try to fill the void to improve their security or economic situations. It is unlikely that these efforts will end well.
Many regional powers like Russia, China, and Iran no longer have the experience to manage affairs in neighboring countries as they did during their imperial pursuits in the past. That lack of experience suggests that existing chaos and instability will continue around the world.
Smaller nations have taken advantage of the leadership void as well. Azerbaijan reclaimed long- disputed territory from Armenia, while Venezuela has threatened to do the same to its neighbor Guyana. Without global leadership – or some semblance of global or regional order – the upward trend of increasing conflicts, casualties, and global disorder will continue.