"Wars Will Get Worse in the Future."
Probably not. Anything is possible, of course: A full-blown war between India and Pakistan, for instance, could potentially kill millions of people. But so could an asteroid or -- perhaps the safest bet -- massive storms triggered by climate change. The big forces that push civilization in the direction of cataclysmic conflict, however, are mostly ebbing.
Recent technological changes are making war less brutal, not more so. Armed drones now attack targets that in the past would have required an invasion with thousands of heavily armed troops, displacing huge numbers of civilians and destroying valuable property along the way. And improvements in battlefield medicine have made combat less lethal for participants. In the U.S. Army, the chances of dying from a combat injury fell from 30 percent in World War II to 10 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan -- though this also means the United States is now seeing a higher proportion of injured veterans who need continuing support and care.
Nor do shifts in the global balance of power doom us to a future of perpetual war. While some political scientists argue that an increasingly multipolar world is an increasingly volatile one -- that peace is best assured by the predominance of a single hegemonic power, namely the United States -- recent geopolitical history suggests otherwise. Relative U.S. power and worldwide conflict have waned in tandem over the past decade. The exceptions to the trend, Iraq and Afghanistan, have been lopsided wars waged by the hegemon, not challenges by up-and-coming new powers. The best precedent for today's emerging world order may be the 19th-century Concert of Europe, a collaboration of great powers that largely maintained the peace for a century until its breakdown and the bloodbath of World War I.
What about China, the most ballyhooed rising military threat of the current era? Beijing is indeed modernizing its armed forces, racking up double-digit rates of growth in military spending, now about $100 billion a year. That is second only to the United States, but it is a distant second: The Pentagon spends nearly $700 billion. Not only is China a very long way from being able to go toe-to-toe with the United States; it's not clear why it would want to. A military conflict (particularly with its biggest customer and debtor) would impede China's global trading posture and endanger its prosperity. Since Chairman Mao's death, China has been hands down the most peaceful great power of its time. For all the recent concern about a newly assertive Chinese navy in disputed international waters, China's military hasn't fired a single shot in battle in 25 years.