Wars are becoming less frequent (so don't believe the doomsayers)

In their recent article, Harrison and Wolf claim that interstate `[w]ars are becoming more frequent'. This is an alarming claim deserving serious attention. It is also a highly surprising claim, since recent conflict research tends to find the opposite: the incidence of violent conflict is declining.

We argue that Harrison and Wolf's claim is incorrect. We first show empirically that interstate wars are in fact becoming less frequent. Moreover, we show that other data on tensions between states below war, such as the Interstate Crises Behavior data, also suggest a decline in conflict between states. We then detail how Harrison and Wolf's analysis is misleading, highlighting how their findings primarily arise as a likely artefact of their uncritical use of the Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) data, and explaining why MIDs cannot and should not be interpreted as `wars'.

Given that Harrison and Wolf's basic premise is wrong, and wars are not becoming more frequent, we should be sceptical of their conclusions. We revisit their suggested explanations for why wars may become more frequent in light of what we know about long-term trends in warfare and research on interstate war.

The full article is available as: Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede and Steve Pickering (2014), ``Wars are becoming less frequent: a response to Harrison and Wolf'', The Economic History Review 67(1): 214--230. doi: 10.1111/1468-0289.12002

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