War Is Over?

The 21st century could represent the end of war as we know it, writes political scientist John Mueller in a new paper for Political Science Quarterly. He notes that there have been no wars between developed nations since 1945, and that other international wars that fit the classic definition — the violent resolution of a dispute between two or more nations — have become exceedingly rare. The number of open armed conflicts around the world, on average, has been declining for years. So, too, have the number of combat deaths and war refugees around the world. Is war becoming obsolete? The Monkey Cage has more on Mueller’s paper, which isn’t yet freely available online. [%comments]


For years political scientists have been saying this. I have heard the general concept called the "democratic peace" theory. But, it all comes down to what you define as a democracy, or in this case, developed.

Regardless of how you define it, there are still armies, still war, and still death. But get out your party hats everyone, we ended war!


"He notes that there have been no wars between developed nations since 1945"

Then he either defines "war" or "developed nations" too narrow to make sense. After 1945, by my count, we have at least the following wars between developed nations:

India vs Pakistan 1965; Israel vs. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq 1967; Israel vs. Egypt, Syria, Iraq 1974; Turkey vs Greece 1974; Iran vs Iraq 1980; Argentina vs United Kingdom 1982; United States et al vs Iraq 1991; NATO vs Yugoslavia 1998; United States et al vs Iraq 2003.


War is over, If you want it.

We visited paris last fall and their veterans hospital, Hotel national des Invalides which only has a handful of WWII vets still living there.

I look forward to the day when our veterans hospitals are no longer needed and can be turned into museums.


the number of "combat" deaths has declined?- does this include civilian deaths?- can't make that claim viz. vietnam- noone counted!- i would say historically, nobody counts the civilian deaths for the losing side, unless there's unusual press coverage- e.g. how many civilians died in east timor or in central/south america during the military excursions there?- better to say that the use of violence in foreign policy is declining, thanks to popular resistance against it- again, vietnam was started in secret, protests helped end the war, and now, there was protesting even before the iraq invasion- so there is no longer any defacto justification for the use of violence in foreign affairs


He must have an interesting definition of "war" (or maybe "developed nation") if he can't find a war since 1945...


To go along with comment #1, I find it hard to believe that the "democratic peace" supporters are really naive enough to agree with the end-result of their own theory.

They tout the fact that no two democracies have ever fought a war. Do they really think that all wars would end if every country was a democracy? If so, would they support the US cutting the military by half to three-quarters? Surely one-quarter of our current military could handle a non-war skirmish here or there.


This sounds remarkably like the thesis that "economists and central bankers are now sophisticated that there will be no more great depressions."

The moral of history: human behavior never changes.


Is this yet another social scientist seeing an up- or down-turn in a cycle as a permanent up- or downward trend?

Neil Davis

The only thing new under the sun is the history one doesn't remember. This is the typical liberal paper that wants to wish away war! Human nature is more closely linked to war and conflict than to peace. Sorry to disappoint all you doves -- but war will never be far away as long as human beings inhabit this planet.

Mike B

War ceased being fun when there became a significant difference between pre-war and port-war landscapes. Think about it. Prior to the 20th century rural areas were generally filled with poor starving peasants if there was a war or not. Urban areas were also dirty, smelly and tended to burn down on their own every few decades.

Once there was significant investment infrastructure and high enough living standards there wasn't much in the way of real gain that a war could achieve. The last possible avenue of conflict where a strong country completely trounces and annexes a neighbor was made impractical through strong international disincentives.


"He notes that there have been no wars between developed nations since 1945, and that other international wars that fit the classic definition - the violent resolution of a dispute between two or more nations - have become exceedingly rare."

This sounds like the ideas of the "Great Moderation" with regard to the US economy. How did that work out?


Sounds like a pathetic extension of Friedman's "Golden Arches Theory," which lasted only a few weeks, until NATO bombed Yugoslavia.

And maybe it is because the "developed nations" have exported or fought many of their battles through "undeveloped" countries all across Africa, Asia, and Latin America...

Kevin H

I don't know if it's permanent, but Guerrilla warfare has proven to be so effective at defending a region as long as the civilians are at least partially supportive that it has mad aggressive military action hard to justify. I can't see things changing until someone devises an effective counter strategy, or social norms on the line between innocent civilians and 'the enemy' are changed.

Brett Dunbar

During the 20th century about 3% of the world population died in various wars (this includes two to the three bloodiest wars in history). It is estimated that in pre-state societies about 30% died in warfare. Raiding and small scale warfare has ceased to be a productive strategy. So they have gone from endemic worldwide to very rare and limited to a handful of failed states.


Beginning in the 19th century, deaths resulting from war increased exponentially until 1945. Estimates of the death toll from World War II range from 50 million to over 70 million people in the period from 1939 to 1945, That's at least 8 million deaths per year, averaged.

After 1945, the death toll from war dropped suddenly and leveled off around 1 million people per year for the rest of the 20th century. What changed in 1945? The atomic bomb.

- paraphrase of Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb.


Warfare like every other human activity has its own ebb and flow; influenced largely by the changing economic, political and social interests of the ruling groups that decides on war but also by the general level of technology.

Combat deaths including civilians were generally low in the ages before standing armies when campaigns were fought during the time between planting and harvest. That trend changed when armies became permanent, professional and mechanized and better communication and logistical technologies enabled societies to be mobiliized for 'total war'.

Since 1945, the 'Great Powers' or developed nations or whatever you want to call them have swung back toward the historical norm of non-conscripted, mercenary armies fighting short engagements (but long occupations) in which the vast majority of their own population has no connection whatsoever with the fighting.

Eric M. Jones

Although, as Lily Thomlin says, "It's hard to stay cynical enough to keep up with reality..." I do have hope that we will see the end of large scale organized warfare.

A very good source of raw data on this can be found at:

The numbers killed were on the rise throughout the twentieth century until the A-Bomb, after that it seemed to be about a million per-year declining slowly. My hunch is that politics has little to do with it, and trade, birth control, communication, intermarriage, travel, tourism, student exchanges, foreign aid, etc. take away the pressures which can foster war. Think how Top Ramen, Kodak, Sony, computers, the 747 and Levi's reduced the likelihood of war.

Very unfortunately, I predict we will witness one or two more A-Bombs set off in populated areas, probably in the Mid-East.

Reducing the impeccable reliability of AK-47s by salting the ammunition supply chains with bad ammo would do a lot to bring this under control. One RDX hot-load per 1000 rounds and suddenly nobody would want to pull the trigger.

But what do I know....?



What crxs and others have said. There may not have been "war" between developed nations (in the formal declaration 19th century sense), but there has certainly been large scale armed conflict.

Also, Hungary 1956...


So how does this translate to policy? Does this mean we really can cancel the F22 program without putting the nation at risk? Maybe we can scale back that refueling tanker program that Airbus and Boeing have been fighting over for two decades?

Do we really need a missle defense shield (and the massive expense that comes with it) over Europe if war is over?


"Democratic peace" is a nice idea, but there's another more compelling correlation to be found in the history of warfare in the 20th and early 21st centuries: no two nuclear-armed nations have ever fought a (shooting) war. This points toward a similar conclusion as Mike B's - namely, when the costs of war become orders of magnitude greater than the potential benefits, nations rationally stop fighting that type of war. India and Pakistan are illustrative: they fought three wars before Pakistan's first successful nuclear test in 1998, and have fought none since, despite tensions reaching a critical level on a number of occasions.

That qualification above also points to another hole in the idea that developed nations don't fight wars: they still do, and have been since 1945, but do so through proxies rather than by sending their soldiers, tanks, and planes to shoot at the other's soldiers, tanks, and planes. The United States, China, and Soviet Union were fighting each other consistently throughout the second half of the 20th century, but the wars took place in, and were largely executed by residents of, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. As long as the fighting didn't threaten any of the major powers' own territory, they had no justification for deployment of nuclear weapons, and thus ran little risk of setting the world on fire.