NY Times l Less Likelihood of War?

December 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

The original article, posted on the New York Times on December 17th, 2011, titled “War Really Is Going Out Of Style” was reposted on this blog, and can be read here.

To the Editor:

For those who worry about future wars, the news seems to be good. Joshua S. Goldstein and Steven Pinker (“War Really Is Going Out of Style,” Sunday Review, Dec. 18) have produced valid and welcome evidence. Some cautionary points need to be made:

War has a way of morphing into different forms spurred by the development of new weaponry or by the unforeseen crises that humanity faces. The search for new weapons continues unabated — for example, unmanned aircraft today or forms of cyber- and biological warfare tomorrow.

Diminishing resources and loss of habitation because of rising seas and temperatures from climate change, for example, suggest new conflicts in the future. Our own military budget and the belligerent rhetoric of our political candidates show that preparation for war doesn’t slow down even as its possibilities are lessened.

By Sayre Sheldon
December 20, 2011

NY Times l Less Likelihood of War?


NY Times l 10 Things Job Applicants Should Know

December 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

While there clearly are not enough jobs to go around, some people are getting hired. Every day, every hour, thousands of people are selected from thousands more who are ready, willing and able to work. The question is, why is it that some people get hired and some don’t?

I have an unusual perspective on this. I read several résumés a week. My human resources person reads hundreds. There are some obvious answers like education, connections, experience and even enthusiasm. But there is another reason that may be just as significant: bad résumé and interview skills, especially for applicants right out of school or someone who hasn’t interviewed in a long time. I can’t tell you how many times we have interviewed a recent college graduate who would surely get an F in Job Hunting 101.

As a parent of a soon-to-graduate student (last one, yippee!), I am thinking about the students and their parents as they enter the real world. I can easily imagine what these grads tell their parents when they can’t find a job: “No one is hiring!” “You don’t understand how competitive it is out there!” “I’m thinking of going to grad school!”

Poor dad. Poor mom. And I do mean poor. With the cost of college, parents can be forgiven for expecting their grads to be able to land a job. There’s no question that this has been as tough an economy as we’ve had in a long time, but again, even in the worst economy, some people do land jobs. Here’s my top 10 list of what you can do to improve your odds.

– Review the résumé. Review it again. Have a grown-up review it. Would it surprise you to learn that a third of the résumés we get have misspellings? I just looked at one that listed the person’s address as Chicago, Ohio. She was from Ohio. An honest mistake? Sure. But it shows a lack of attention to detail, and it was the first of five careless mistakes. This was for a job that requires communicating with customers and putting proposals together. I don’t understand. Have these college graduates really not heard of spell check? If you have a pretty good idea that you can’t spell, why wouldn’t you have someone else look it over? Or do bad spellers only hang out with other bad spellers?

– Show up on time for the interview. That means plan on getting there early. Look around. Look friendly.

– Dress appropriately. O.K. This one is going to require some judgment. Don’t wear jeans (unless you’re applying at the Gap). Don’t look like you are on the way to the beach unless you are applying for a lifeguard job. You get the idea.

– Know something about the company. Or, better yet, know a lot about the company. With the advent of the Internet and Web sites, many companies expect you to be familiar with what it is they do. They also expect that you will speak convincingly about why you would love to work at their company. You can do it.

– Take internships seriously. It isn’t easy to find an internship. Many companies use them to develop a pool for prospective employees. We hired a paid intern to work in our gallery. She had a degree in art, was very outgoing and seemed to have an ability to sell. But she kept coming in late, even though she lived five minutes away. After several conversations, she still kept coming in late. We rode out the internship and wished her well. We hired someone else. There are very few art jobs out there. My new employee is very thankful. She has never been late.

– Don’t just look for job postings. Target companies that you would like to work for and send them a résumé. Follow up. Send one to the H.R. person, the manager, the president. Include a beautifully written cover letter. Follow up. If you do this enough, you will find someone who just happens to be thinking about placing a job ad, and calling you may make this person’s life a little easier. Timing is everything, although persistence is important, too. Talk to friends and relatives about companies they know.

– Think about things you have done in school, in a previous job, in a volunteer position that speak to your commitment, your ability to solve problems, your ability to deal with difficult customer situations, your ability to get a job done. Work it into your résumé and your interview responses.

– Ask questions, especially when interviewers ask if you have any questions. If you don’t, you look unengaged, afraid or uninterested. And make them good questions about what you’ll be doing on the job. Don’t ask how much vacation time you get. The primary goal of the questions you ask is to get the job, not to decide if you want the job.

– Think before you speak. This is a skill that most of us could improve. During one interview, I asked a young woman why a reference she had listed hadn’t had much to say about her. She immediately blurted out, “I’m difficult to work with!” Of course, I hired her immediately, because everyone wants to work with difficult people! (No, actually, I didn’t.)

– Stay in touch. If you get to be a finalist for a position but don’t get it, suck it up. Don’t take it personally. The company clearly liked you, but you were edged out. It is not easy to pick between finalists, and many times it is very close. Ask if you can stay in touch. If you get an enthusiastic yes, be sure to do so. There is a good chance that the new hire won’t work out or that another position will open up. You are close!

– Bonus! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people burn bridges for no reason. That doesn’t necessarily mean telling off your boss on the way out. It is usually more subtle, like not giving notice, making disparaging remarks about the company to co-workers (who can’t wait to tell the boss) or exhibiting an I-don’t-care-anymore attitude. Be smart: if you give notice and the company chooses to keep you around, stay on your best behavior. Say good-bye to everyone. It will speak well of you, and it will be remembered. It can be the difference between getting a lukewarm reference or an enthusiastic one. That could easily make the difference in getting your next job.

It is more competitive than ever. Rise to the challenge. This may not help the unemployment rate, but it could help you. In Real World 101, that is the goal.

By Jay Goltz
December 21, 2011

NY Times l 10 Things Job Applicants Should Know

Sydney Morning Herald l Fear over India's nuclear embrace

December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

AN AGEING, lead-lined machine was taken last year from the rooms of a retired professor at Delhi University and sold as scrap. The device was actually a gamma irradiation machine, used in experiments by chemistry students, and contained radioactive Cobalt-60.

Pulled apart by a scrap metal dealer, it unleashed a massive and deadly dose of radiation, killing one person and sending another six to hospital.

The accident was deeply embarrassing for the Indian government – experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency described it (pre-Fukushima) as the ”most serious global instance of radiation exposure since 2006”.

But the incident was thoroughly investigated by India’s top nuclear safety authority, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, which oversaw the clean-up and search for other radioactive material inadvertently sold.

The university was issued a show-cause notice and ordered to suspend its work with radioactive materials. At least in the response to this accident, regulation worked.

But a year on, the Indian government is seeking to dismantle the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, proposing to abandon the long-standing independent regulator in favour of a new body directly controlled by the central government.

Critics have condemned the move, arguing the new regulator will be captive to government and unable to properly pursue safety concerns.

Although the law is expected to pass the national Parliament without significant alteration, a former head of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Dr A Gopalakrishnan, has labelled the proposed replacement body as a sham.

”Nuclear safety, suppliers’ liability in case of major accidents, and the potential for environmental degradation from haphazard import decisions all take a back seat, while a handful of persons and organizations rush to maximize their individual gains from such imports,” he said.

India is basking in the emerging international acceptance of its nuclear industry but, beyond issues of regulation, there are other serious concerns over its direction.

For one thing, the country’s nuclear industry is growing at rapid pace. Presently, India has 20 operating nuclear power reactors, built, owned and run by the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation. They provide about 3 per cent of the country’s energy.

Only half of India’s established plants run under international safeguards, and are therefore eligible to use imported uranium. But 44 more reactors are either slated for construction or already being built, and India is keen to attract foreign investment.

Part of India’s energy plan – this is a country where 400 million people still live without access to electricity – is the creation of five massive ”Nuclear Energy Parks”, each capable of producing 10,000 megawatts of electricity, three times the power used by India’s biggest city, Mumbai.

India plans to treble its nuclear output by the end of the decade, and to get a quarter of its energy from nuclear sources by 2050. But, almost as quickly as plants are being approved, new concerns about the burgeoning industry are raised.

The ”Nuclear Parks”, which will see farmlands and villages seized in five states in the south, east and west of India, have attracted the most widespread criticism. Landholders have staged sit-ins, hunger strikes and launched violent protests at the sites already under construction.

The fiercest opposition has been reserved for the plant under way at Jaitapur, on India’s west coast, which is being built on a cliff top on a Seismic Zone 3 (Zone 5 being the most earthquake-prone).

In the two decades between 1985 and 2005, there were 92 earthquakes in the area, the largest being a 6.3 magnitude quake in 1993.

A research paper by Roger Bilham, professor of geological sciences, University of Colorado, last month found: ”If stress in the region is sufficiently mature to have brought an existing subsurface fault close to failure, an earthquake may be imminent.”

Bilham, along with Professor Vinod Gaur from the Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation in Bangalore, wrote that a quake measuring above six on the Richter scale could occur directly beneath the power plant.

”The probability of this earthquake occurring is low but it is nevertheless possible, and is an important consideration in the analysis of power plant safety.”

While farmers and villagers protested against the creation of nuclear parks, which they argue will displace them and rob their livelihoods, India’s political class are angered by the government’s decision to limit the liability of nuclear plant operators and suppliers to just 15 billion rupees ($A270 million).

The total maximum liability has been set at $A450 million, low by international standards: many countries have no cap, the US’s is above $A10 billion.

Compensation for Japan’s Fukushima disaster will be between $A39 billion and $A52 billion, a government panel says.

India’s low liability cap was seen as a capitulation by the government to the interests of US nuclear suppliers, who were refusing to enter the Indian market without assurances their damages liability would be minimised, should there be a nuclear accident.

Critics of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh say he has caved under pressure from US President Barack Obama, and passed legislation ”not in the people’s interests … [but] to appease the US and American companies”.

The move will leave the victims of any potential nuclear accident with narrow avenues of legal recourse for damages, says Prabir Purkayastha from the Delhi Science Forum.

”Effectively the people’s right to access legal damages is reduced,” he says.

”In reality, no government can walk away from a nuclear accident, it will become a matter of political pressure that is placed on the government of the day to give compensation to the people affected by an accident, rather than the companies being strictly liable.”

Purkayastha says compensation then becomes ”an act of charity, a matter of government largesse”, rather than that of legal entitlement.

Meanwhile, a group of eminent Indian citizens are challenging the new legislation in the Supreme Court, arguing a diminished and capped liability ”puts to grave and imminent risk the right to safety, health, environment and life of the people of India”.

On another front, the law is also controversial over discriminatory compensation to be awarded to the poor or female victims of any nuclear disaster.

As currently written, it allows the government’s claims committee to withhold compensation payments from women, the disabled, the illiterate, the low-caste and the ”fiscal backword” and give their money instead to relatives, quarantine it in bank accounts, or to pay it out in instalments.

The government control is ”in the larger interest of the claimant”, the legislation states. Purkayastha complains the approach is paternalistic.

”It assumes that people are unable to make decisions for themselves. No government should ever do that.”

Negotiations over the sale of Australian uranium to India are expected to begin next year.

The Australian Uranium Association has projected that, based on Australia’s uranium exports and India’s projected nuclear growth, Australia could be selling 2500 tonnes of uranium annually to India by 2030.

India’s nuclear industry trails only China as the fastest-growing in the world. But it clearly remain a work in progress.

Ben Doherty
December 23, 2011

Sydney Morning Herald l Fear over India’s nuclear embrace

DoD Buzz l After Japan loss, Boeing looks for other fighter deals

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Boeing didn’t get the deal to sell Japan a batch of new fighter jets. Still, there are plenty of other militaries in the sea, as it were, and the company made clear this week it’s just going to keep right on making the pitch for its portfolio of older-model fighters.

In fact, Reuters’ Andrea Shalal-Esa and Karen Jacobs report that Big B could be right on the edge of a major announcement with Saudi Arabia, which may be close to inking a deal for a new set of F-15 Eagles:

Losing a big Japanese order to Lockheed Martin was clearly a disappointment for Boeing, but a $29.4 billion order from Saudi Arabia for F-15 fighter jets and several other competitions will keep the company in the fighter business for now. The U.S. government and Saudi Arabia are finalizing a letter of agreement on the sale of 84 Boeing F-15s, and may announce that deal soon, according to two U.S. government sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Boeing, which has rung up big orders for its commercial planes this year, also remains competitive in several other big-ticket military competitions in South Korea, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and possibly Denmark, company officials say.

“Japan was one competition. There are lots of others to go after,” said Boeing spokesman Paul Lewis, saying that both Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the new Silent Eagle, a partly stealthy version of the F-15, had future business prospects. “We’re delivering airplanes today with a known cost and known schedule … I think it’s a bit presumptuous and bit of a stretch to be talking about the demise of our fighter airplanes,” he said.

In fact on Wednesday, the company announced it has signed “memoranda of understanding” with Brazilian manufacturers as part of a potential deal to sell Super Hornets down there. Boeing wants to lay the groundwork for an offer that would not only involve its latest and greatest F/A-18s, but ones that have the potential to be at least partly built by Brazilians. Here’s what the company said in its announcement:

The MOUs resulted from a recent tour of companies based in São Bernardo do Campo and throughout the industrial region in the state of São Paulo. Representatives from Boeing and its Super Hornet industry partners visited businesses throughout the region to assess and match their capabilities with future work-placement opportunities. MSM and Pan Metal join more than 25 other companies throughout Brazil that Boeing and its industry partners have already identified as potential suppliers. This enhances Boeing’s industrial participation offer on the F-X2 fighter program, with a focus on identifying near-term opportunities.

So although Boeing may have lost to Lockheed in Japan — and both companies lost (so far) to Euro-builders in India — Boeing says it’s committed to try, try again. But how long can it capitalize on the same old jets? Shalal-Esa and Jacobs’ Reuters story makes clear that the company is heading into a time as much of risk as opportunity:

“The day of reckoning is looming fast,” said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with the Virginia-based Teal Group. “There’s going to be some kind of sixth generation fighter requirement emerging, but that’s a long way off. Boeing is going to have to consider how to keep their design teams engaged.”

Looming budget cuts in the United States may also constrict funding for a new long-range bomber, the only big new U.S. airplane development program still on the horizon, which will put pressure on companies to team up, or begin shedding design engineers, analysts say.

This is the risk the Aerospace Industries Association has been warning about all this time — the risk that a fallow period for American combat aircraft might mean it could never field another new one.

By Philip Ewing
December 21st, 2011

DoD Buzz l After Japan loss, Boeing looks for other fighter deals

DoD Buzz l The Pentagon’s ‘savings’ illusions

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

President Obama could be in for a tough reelection bid in part because he can’t prove a negative: In the face of opponents who derided his “stimulus” as a failure for the U.S. economy, how can Obama argue how much worse things would’ve been without it?

It’s a national, big-picture version of a very familiar storyline in the defense game: The Army spends $7 billion on its Comanche helicopter and then kills it. How much did it “save” by abandoning the program? Would it have ultimately gotten better “value” by knuckling down, building and fielding new helicopters? These are the questions defense commentator Loren Thompson raised in a column on Monday, and they’re only going to get more pressing as we continue forward into the teeth of the big crunch.

Thompson cited the Marines’ late, lamented Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which its advocates said was just turning the corner right as former Secretary Gates was getting ready to cancel it. Thompson thinks that was a mistake and criticized the Navy Department in the gravest terms:

It also ganged up on the Marine Corps with Secretary Gates to kill a desperately needed Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that would have delivered warfighters through the surf onto hostile beaches. After spending $3 billion and nearly two decades perfecting the system, political appointees decided it cost too much per vehicle and terminated it — even though that would keep Marines in slow, vulnerable vehicles for many years to come and there was no proof that whatever followed the canceled vehicle would be cheaper or better. This particular termination starkly illustrates how killing programs to “save” money often means risking the lives of warfighters.

Not the full story, of course: The EFV’s problems were significant and its existence was predicated upon the assumption that the Marines would mount a Hollywood blockbuster-level amphibious assault, which even the Marine brass admits hasn’t happened since Inchon. The whole Navy v. Marines and the Future of Expeditionary Warfare debate is a worthwhile and probably inexhaustible topic, but let’s leave it aside for now. The point is: Would it ultimately have been better for the Marines to tough out the EFV and get something, rather than wind up $3 billion lighter and have nothing?

Thompson seems to think so, and he blames the sharklike failures of American governance — a political system that only swims forward and cannot stop for serious thought. Short-term political considerations trump everything, he argues, so you get the double whammy of a system that remembers nothing and never learns not to throw good money after bad.

Wrote Thompson:
If you add up all the money spent on military systems that got funded but not fielded since the Cold War ended, it probably tops $100 billion. We’ll never know the full amount, because some of the biggest projects are hidden in secret spy-agency accounts. Defense contractors are reflexively blamed for the waste because politicians and policymakers are even less interested in accountability than they are in precise accounting

What the record shows, though, is that weapons makers aren’t the real cause of the waste. They only have one customer — the government — so they will do pretty much whatever that customer pays them to do. The real problem lies with the limited attention span of a political system that barely notices the sacrifices and assumptions of past administrations and cares only about the fiscal run-up to the next election. Because the system is so indifferent to expenditures it cannot control, it devalues past investments and squanders billions of dollars every year in the guise of pursuing “savings.”

Definitely — but defense firms are certainly not blameless, either. The whole system has never really worked that well. But the military services somehow still wound up with classic weapons, ships and aircraft. Much of today’s 1980s-vintage arsenal isn’t going to last forever, though: What the brass would probably argue today is that no matter how tempting it seems for Congress to go after the F-35, the Littoral Combat Ship much of the the rest of what Senator McCain hates, the services need to press ahead or they’ll have nothing to hand down to their next generations of service members.

By Philip Ewing
December 20th, 2011

DoD Buzz l The Pentagon’s ‘savings’ illusions

DoD Buzz l The coming defense ‘train wreck’

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just when you thought it was safe to take a knee and run out the clock on 2011 in the hopes that the new year would be better — it ain’t.

Sandra Erwin of National Defense magazine penned a deeply pessimistic look ahead Wednesday that concluded the Pentagon’s 2012 could make 2011 look like a box social by comparison. The Building will continue to cover its eyes and plug its ears about the truth of the big crunch; the services’ food fights will only intensify; strategy types’ lazy groupthink will persist; and cost and schedule problems are only going to worsen on the big programs.

But you could predict that about DoD any year — the real problems, Erwin writes, will befall the defense industry. 2012 could be the year that confirms all the doomsayers’ predictions about consolidations, divestitures and eliminations:

Pentagon suppliers are headed for a period of “turbulence,” says retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald, director of Deloitte Services, a consulting firm. Companies will be consolidating, downsizing, shedding overhead and striving to maintain their core skills, he says.

Gouré estimates that many contractors have about a one-to-two-year window to make drastic decisions, such as whether to stick around or exit the market. “You already saw companies such as ITT, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems” shedding assets, he says. “They’ll either get out or buy up others’ assets and hope like heck that things turn around. … If you’re not in position over the next year for the beginning of the train wreck you’re going to be out of luck.”

The defense budget, however, still will be gigantic by historical standards. It is expected to stay above $600 billion (including war funding) for the next several years. But until the sequestration issue is resolved, many Pentagon contracts will be slowed down or not started, Wald predicts. “There will be pressure on large platforms. He foresees cutbacks in new ground-vehicle procurements, and a slowdown in ship construction. A replacement long-range bomber that the Air Force wants is unlikely to materialize for at least a decade.

Byron Callan, defense industry analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, says the May-September 2012 period will be “critical” for industry as it will set the tone for 2013–15 earning expectations.

“There is a natural tendency to think that 2012 could be a lot like 2011,” Callan writes in a note to investors. But 2012 could be a volatile year for the defense sector, particularly as a clearer picture emerges on who the Republican candidate could be. If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, defense stocks might trade higher, says Callan. If Republicans gain a majority in the Senate it might be a mixed picture for defense contractors as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an ardent critic of defense industry, would become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Callan expects that Panetta will be leaving the Pentagon by early 2013, regardless of who wins in November.

Bottom line: The intransigence, gridlock and dysfunction that have plagued Washington will only get worse until the election — and probably remain in effect afterward. Congressional defense advocates will battle desperately against the sequestration threat, but they didn’t have enough oomph to break the logjam this year, so there’s no reason to think they’ll have any more luck in 2012.

Or is all this entirely too bleak? What do you think? How could the Iron Triangle get out of this ditch and get back on track?

By Philip Ewing Thursday
December 22nd, 2011

DoD Buzz l The coming defense ‘train wreck’

NY Times l War Really Is Going Out of Style

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

THE departure of the last American troops from Iraq brings relief to a nation that has endured its most painful war since Vietnam. But the event is momentous for another reason. The invasion of Iraq was the most recent example of an all-out war between two national armies. And it could very well be the last one.

The idea that war is obsolescent may seem preposterously utopian. Aren’t we facing an endless war on terror, a clash of civilizations, the menace of nuclear rogue states? Isn’t war in our genes, something that will always be with us?

The theory that war is becoming passé gained traction in the late 1980s, when scholars noticed some curious nonevents. World War III, a nuclear Armageddon, was once considered inevitable, but didn’t happen. Nor had any wars between great powers occurred since the Korean War. European nations, which for centuries had fought each other at the drop of a hat, had not done so for four decades.

How has the world fared since then? Armed conflict hasn’t vanished, and today anyone with a mobile phone can broadcast the bloodshed. But our impressions of the prevalence of war, stoked by these images, can be misleading. Only objective numbers can identify the trends.

“War” is a fuzzy category, shading from global conflagrations to neighborhood turf battles, so the organizations that track the frequency and damage of war over time need a precise yardstick. A common definition picks out armed conflicts that cause at least 1,000 battle deaths in a year — soldiers and civilians killed by war violence, excluding the difficult-to-quantify indirect deaths resulting from hunger and disease. “Interstate wars” are those fought between national armies and have historically been the deadliest.

These prototypical wars have become increasingly rare, and the world hasn’t seen one since the three-week invasion of Iraq in 2003. The lopsided five-day clash between Russia and Georgia in 2008 misses the threshold, as do sporadic clashes between North and South Korea or Thailand and Cambodia.

Countries remain armed and hostile, so war is hardly impossible. But where would a new interstate war plausibly erupt? Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense, said this year that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

Chinese leaders would deserve a similar workup if they blew off the very basis of their legitimacy, namely trade-based prosperity, by starting a war. (China has not fought a battle in 23 years.) India and Pakistan came dangerously close to war in 2002, but they backed off when both sides realized that millions would die and have since stabilized relations. Neither North nor South Korea could win a war at an acceptable cost.

What about other kinds of armed conflict, like civil wars and conflicts that miss the 1,000-death cutoff? Remarkably, they too have been in decline. Civil wars are fewer, smaller and more localized. Terrible flare-ups occur, and for those caught in the middle the results are devastating — but far fewer people are caught in the middle. The biggest continuing war, in Afghanistan, last year killed about 500 Americans, 100 other coalition troops and 5,000 Afghans including civilians. That toll, while deplorable, is a fraction of those in past wars like Vietnam, which killed 5,000 Americans and nearly 150,000 Vietnamese per year. Over all, the annual rate of battle deaths worldwide has fallen from almost 300 per 100,000 of world population during World War II, to almost 30 during Korea, to the low teens during Vietnam, to single digits in the late 1970s and 1980s, to fewer than 1 in the 21st century.

As the political scientist John Mueller has pointed out, today’s civil wars are closer to organized crime than traditional war. Armed militias — really gangs of thugs — monopolize resources like cocaine in Colombia or coltan in Congo, or terrorize the locals into paying tribute to religious fanatics, as in Somalia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

Nor has the suffering merely been displaced from soldiers to civilians. The much-quoted statistic that war deaths a century ago were 90 percent military and 10 percent civilian, while today the ratio is reversed, resulted from an error in a 1994 United Nations report that mistakenly compared deaths in World War I with refugees and wounded in the 1980s. The real ratio is around 50-50 and stable through time. Yes, atrocities against civilians continue, but consider a historical perspective. During World War II, Allied forces repeatedly and deliberately firebombed Axis cities, incinerating tens of thousands of civilians in a night. The Germans and Japanese did far worse. Today’s rapes, ethnic cleansings and suicide bombings are just as atrocious, but much smaller in scale.

Why is war in decline? For one thing, it no longer pays. For centuries, wars reallocated huge territories, as empires were agglomerated or dismantled and states wiped off the map. But since shortly after World War II, virtually no borders have changed by force, and no member of the United Nations has disappeared through conquest. The Korean War caused a million battle deaths, but the border ended up where it started. The Iran-Iraq War killed 650,000 with the same result. Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 backfired. Israel seized land in 1967, but since then most has been returned and the rest remains contested.

The futility of conquest is part of the emergence of an international community regulated by norms and taboos and wielding more effective tools for managing conflicts. Among those tools, the United Nations’ 100,000 deployed peacekeepers have measurably improved the success of peace agreements in civil wars.

War also declines as prosperity and trade rise. Historically, wealth came from land and conquest was profitable. Today, wealth comes from trade, and war only hurts. When leaders’ power depends on delivering economic growth, and when a country’s government becomes richer and stronger than its warlords, war loses its appeal.

Perhaps the deepest cause of the waning of war is a growing repugnance toward institutionalized violence. Brutal customs that were commonplace for millennia have been largely abolished: cannibalism, human sacrifice, heretic-burning, chattel slavery, punitive mutilation, sadistic executions. Could war really be going the way of slave auctions? Nothing in our nature rules it out. True, we still harbor demons like greed, dominance, revenge and self-deception. But we also have faculties that inhibit them, like self-control, empathy, reason and a sense of fairness. We will always have the capacity to kill one another in large numbers, but with effort we can safeguard the norms and institutions that have made war increasingly repugnant.

By Joshua S. Goldstein and Steven Pinker
December 17, 2011

NY Times l War Really Is Going Out of Style

See Sayre Sheldon’s reponse on December 19th, 2011 posted here. NY Times l Less Likelihood of War?

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