Think Again

Think Again: Nonviolent Resistance

Resisting the temptation to take up arms against a dictator isn't just the moral thing to do -- it's also the most effective way to win.

"Nonviolent Resistance Is Admirable but Ineffective."

Hardly. In the current geopolitical moment, it may seem hard to argue that a nonviolent uprising is a better tool for uprooting a dictator than the violent kind. Armed rebels, backed by NATO air power, are on the verge of ending four decades of despotic rule by Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya. Meanwhile to the east, Syria's Bashar al-Assad has killed with impunity more than 2,200 members of a mostly nonviolent resistance to his family's long-lived rule.

Arguing in favor of the Syrians' tactics, and against the Libyans', would seem counterintuitive -- but for the evidence. The truth is that, from 1900 to 2006, major nonviolent resistance campaigns seeking to overthrow dictatorships, throw out foreign occupations, or achieve self-determination were more than twice as successful as violent insurgencies seeking the same goals. The recent past alone suggests as much; even before the Arab Spring, nonviolent campaigns in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), and Nepal (2006) succeeded in ousting regimes from power.

The reason for this is that nonviolent campaigns typically appeal to a much broader and diverse constituency than violent insurgencies. For one thing, the bar to action is lower: Potential recruits to the resistance need to overcome fear, but not their moral qualms about using violence against others. Civil resistance offers a variety of lower-risk tactics -- stay-aways (where people vacate typically populated areas), boycotts, and go-slows (where people move at half-pace at work and in the streets) -- that encourage people to participate without making enormous personal sacrifices. This year's peaceful uprising in Egypt saw the mobilization of men, women, children, the elderly, students, laborers, Islamists, Christians, rich, and poor -- a level of participation that none of Egypt's armed militant organizations in recent memory could claim.

"Nonviolent Resistance and Pacifism Are the Same Thing."

Not at all. When people hear the word "nonviolent," they often think of "peaceful" or "passive" resistance. For some, the word brings to mind pacifist groups or individuals, like Buddhist monks in Burma, who may prefer death to using violence to defend themselves against injustice. As such, they conflate "nonviolent" or "civil resistance" with the doctrine of "nonviolence" or "pacifism," which is a philosophical position that rejects the use of violence on moral grounds. But in civil resistance campaigns like those occurring in the Arab Spring, very few participants are pacifists. Rather, they are ordinary civilians confronting intolerable circumstances by refusing to obey -- a method available to anyone, pacifist or not. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the iconic pacifist, was a highly strategic thinker, recognizing that nonviolence would work not because it seized the moral high ground, but because massive noncooperation would ultimately make the British quit India: "We should meet abuse by forbearance," he said. "Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop."

"Nonviolent Resistance Works Better in Some Cultures Than Others."

Wrong. Nonviolent movements have emerged and succeeded all over the world. In fact, the Middle East -- routinely written off by people elsewhere as a hopeless cauldron of violence -- can boast some of the biggest successes, even before the Arab Spring. The Iranian Revolution that took down Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's dictatorial regime and brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power was a nonviolent mass movement involving more than 2 million members of Iranian society (though also a useful reminder that nonviolent uprisings, like the violent kind, don't always produce the results one might hope for). Palestinians have made the most progress toward self-determination and lasting peace with Israel when they have relied on mass nonviolent civil disobedience, as they did in the demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and protests that dominated the First Intifada from 1987 to 1992 -- a campaign that forced Israel to hold talks with Palestinian leaders that led to the Oslo Accords, and convinced much of the world that Palestinians had the right to self-rule.

In the Americas, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil have all experienced nonviolent uprisings, ousting military juntas and at times replacing them with democratically elected leaders. South Africa's nonviolent anti-apartheid campaign fundamentally altered the political, social, and economic landscape there, while the African National Congress's forays into revolutionary violence yielded little. Europe, of course, can claim some of the most iconic examples: the 1989 Eastern European revolutions, for instance, and the Danish resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II. And in Asia, successful nonviolent resistance has succeeded in casting off oppressive regimes in places as diverse as India, the Maldives, Thailand, Nepal, and Pakistan.

"Nonviolent Movements Succeed by Persuasion."

Not always. The moral high ground is necessary, but hardly sufficient. Campaigns need to be extremely disruptive -- and strategically so -- to coerce entrenched dictators to abandon their posts. Nonviolent resistance does not necessarily succeed because the movement convinces or converts the opponent. It succeeds when the regime's major sources of power -- such as civilian bureaucrats, economic elites, and above all the security forces -- stop obeying regime orders. The literary scholar Robert Inchausti put it well when he said, "Nonviolence is a wager -- not so much on the goodness of humanity, as on its infinite complexity." As in war, the key for a nonviolent campaign is to find and exploit the opponent's weaknesses.

Take the recent uprising in Egypt. In the first days of the uprising, military and security forces cracked down heavily on protests. But the demonstrators were prepared: Activists -- influenced by recent nonviolent revolutions elsewhere -- circulated instructions to protesters detailing how to respond to the crackdown and began placing women, children, and the elderly on the front lines against the security forces. The handouts encouraged protesters to welcome the soldiers into the ranks of the movement and strongly forbade any violence against them. Movement leaders also made sure that repressive acts against peaceful protesters were caught on video and publicized.

Ultimately, the Egyptian Army refused orders to suppress the campaign -- and Hosni Mubarak's regime lost one of its key centers of power. Here again is an advantage that nonviolent groups have over armed guerrillas: Loyalty shifts among the security forces are difficult for small, clandestine, violent groups to achieve. Violent threats typically unite the security forces, who join together to defend against them (which is precisely why the Syrian regime insists it is fighting "armed groups" rather than unarmed civilians).

"Only Weak or Weak-Willed Regimes Fall to Nonviolent Uprisings."

Not true. Many nonviolent campaigns have succeeded against some of the bloodiest regimes on Earth, at the height of their power. In fact, a vast majority of the major nonviolent campaigns in the 20th century were facing down regimes such as Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's in Pakistan, Slobodan Milosevic's in Serbia, Augusto Pinochet's in Chile, Suharto's in Indonesia, and various imperial rulers who were clearly invested in maintaining power over their colonies. During the famed Rosenstrasse incident in Berlin in 1943, for example, even the Nazis showed their vulnerability to nonviolent protests, when German women organized protests and faced down SS machine guns to demand the release of their Jewish husbands -- a small victory against one of history's most genocidal regimes, and an unthinkable one had the protesters taken up arms.

In fact, almost all major nonviolent campaigns of the 20th and early 21st centuries have faced massive and violent repression. In Pinochet's Chile, for instance, the regime often used torture and disappearances to terrorize political opposition. In such circumstances, engaging in visible mass protest would have been highly risky for those opposing the government. So in 1983, civilians began to signal their discontent by coordinating the banging of pots and pans -- a simple act that demonstrated the widespread support for the civilians' demands and showed that Pinochet would not be able to suppress the movement with the tools at his disposal. People also walked through the streets singing songs about Pinochet's impending demise -- a practice that so irked the general that he banned singing. But such desperate measures demonstrated his weakness, not his strength. Ultimately, Pinochet caved and agreed to hold a 1988 referendum on the question of whether he would serve an additional eight years as president. Opposition leaders took the opportunity to organize nonviolent direct actions that focused on coordinating "no" votes, obtaining an independently verifiable vote count, and holding Pinochet accountable to the results. When it was clear that Pinochet had lost, the military ultimately sided with the Chilean people, and Pinochet stepped aside.

"Sometimes Rebels Have No Choice but to Take Up Arms."

Not true. The current civil conflict in Libya, it's easy to forget now, began with nonviolent protests in Benghazi around Feb. 15. The demonstrations were summarily crushed, and by Feb. 19, oppositionists had responded by taking up arms, killing or capturing hundreds of Qaddafi's mercenaries and regime loyalists. In his infamous Feb. 22 speech, Qaddafi said, "Peaceful protest is one thing, but armed rebellion is another," and threatened to go "house by house" in search of the rebel "rats." Few civilians would be willing to participate in unarmed resistance after such threats, and what had begun as a peaceful movement unequivocally became an exclusively violent rebellion. It appears now to have been a success, but one that came at an enormous cost: Although an accurate death toll for the conflict is thus far impossible to come by, some counts midway through the war put the casualties as high as 13,000 deaths.

Could it have been otherwise? Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but if Libya's activists had a chance to evaluate their experience, they may have recognized a few mistakes. First, the movement appeared to have been fairly spontaneous, unlike the well-planned, highly coordinated campaign in Egypt. Second, the nonviolent movement may have focused too much on a single tactic -- protests -- to pursue its aims. When movements rely exclusively on rallies or protests, they become extremely predictable: sitting ducks for regime repression. Successful movements will combine protests and demonstrations with well-timed strikes, boycotts, go-slows, stay-aways, and other actions that force the regime to disperse its repression in unsustainable ways. For example, during the Iranian Revolution, oil workers went on strike, threatening to cripple the Iranian economy. The shah's security forces went to the oil workers' homes and dragged them back to the refineries -- at which point the workers worked at half-pace before staging another walkout. This level of repression required to force the masses to work against their will is untenable because it requires a massive coordination of regime resources and effort.

In fact, what we know from previous cases, such as Iran, is that the kind of violent reprisal Qaddafi used against the nonviolent uprising at the outset is often unsustainable against coordinated nonviolent movements over time. Moreover, the rebels' nearly immediate turn to violent resistance evoked the strongest reaction from Qaddafi, and it immediately excluded large numbers of people who might have been willing to regroup and brave the streets against Qaddafi but who had no interest in joining what was sure to become a nasty fight. Before NATO lent its support, the largest gains the Libyan opposition made were during the nonviolent phase of the uprising, which involved massive protests that shut down the country, elicited numerous defections from key regime functionaries, and even led to the taking of Benghazi without significant bloodshed. But once the rebels reacted to Qaddafi's repression by taking up arms, they required NATO intervention to stand a chance.

Or consider Syria, where the decision to use violence or not is similarly wrenching. In August, following months of peaceful mass protests, Assad ordered a full-scale military bombardment of Hama, a largely Sunni city known for an armed Islamist uprising that was even more brutally crushed in the 1980s, and other opposition strongholds across the country. Time to grab your gun, right?

Even in such cases, nonviolent movements have choices. They could respond to regime violence by switching tactics. In fact, Syrian activists have been doing this well, avoiding regime repression by using flash mobs and nighttime protests, which are more difficult to repress. Daytime protests are now well-planned, with multiple escape routes and mirrors to blind snipers trying to shoot protesters. Syrian activists have also so far largely avoided the temptation to respond to regime provocations with violence -- a critical decision, not only because taking up arms may undermine their domestic bases of participation and support, but also because it makes security forces more likely to obey orders to repress the movement. Because the regime has expelled journalists and cut off electricity in cities under siege, Syrian activists charge their laptops using car batteries and make fake IDs to get close to security forces so they can document human rights abuses and share them online. The continued mobilization resulting from these acts may help the opposition forge indispensable links with regime elites.

Nonviolent resistance is, in effect, a form of asymmetric warfare. Dictators predictably rely on their perceived advantages in brute force to defeat challengers. It's best to fight the enemy where you have an advantage -- in this case, people power, unpredictability, adaptability, and creativity -- rather than where he does.

"Nonviolent Uprisings Lead to Democracy."

Not necessarily. There is a strong empirical association between nonviolent campaigns and subsequent democratization, which shouldn't be terribly surprising: Higher levels of political participation and civil society -- factors that make a nonviolent uprising more likely to take root -- tend to lead to higher levels of democracy. But there are important exceptions. The Iranian Revolution -- one of the world's largest and most participatory nonviolent uprisings -- eventually ushered in a theocratic and repressive regime. The Philippines has endured several major nonviolent revolutions and continues to struggle with democratic consolidation and corruption. The largely successful Orange Revolution in Ukraine seemingly heralded a new era of political liberalization, but recent setbacks suggest the country is reversing course.

But none of these outcomes would likely have improved if the revolutions had been violent. In fact, in most countries where violent revolution has succeeded, the new regimes have been at least as brutal as their predecessors -- as anyone who has lived in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, the Afghan civil war, or the Cuban Revolution could tell you. As Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese pro-democracy movement, put it, "It is never easy to convince those who have acquired power forcibly of the wis­dom of peaceful change."

The bottom line is that while nonviolent resistance doesn't guarantee democracy, it does at least more or less guarantee the lesser of the various potential evils. The nature of the struggle can often give us a good idea of what the country will be like after the new regime takes shape. And few people want to live in a country where power is seized and maintained by force alone.

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Think Again

Think Again: War

World peace could be closer than you think.

"The World Is a More Violent Place Than It Used to Be."

No way. The early 21st century seems awash in wars: the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, street battles in Somalia, Islamist insurgencies in Pakistan, massacres in the Congo, genocidal campaigns in Sudan. All in all, regular fighting is taking place in 18 wars around the globe today. Public opinion reflects this sense of an ever more dangerous world: One survey a few years ago found that 60 percent of Americans considered a third world war likely. Expectations for the new century were bleak even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their bloody aftermath: Political scientist James G. Blight and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested earlier that year that we could look forward to an average of 3 million war deaths per year worldwide in the 21st century.

So far they haven't even been close. In fact, the last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data compiled by researchers Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just over half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War ended have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.

Armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction. Today's asymmetrical guerrilla wars may be intractable and nasty, but they will never produce anything like the siege of Leningrad. The last conflict between two great powers, the Korean War, effectively ended nearly 60 years ago. The last sustained territorial war between two regular armies, Ethiopia and Eritrea, ended a decade ago. Even civil wars, though a persistent evil, are less common than in the past; there were about a quarter fewer in 2007 than in 1990.

If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that's because there's more information about wars -- not more wars themselves. Once-remote battles and war crimes now regularly make it onto our TV and computer screens, and in more or less real time. Cell-phone cameras have turned citizens into reporters in many war zones. Societal norms about what to make of this information have also changed. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker has noted, "The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence," so that we see today's atrocities -- though mild by historical standards -- as "signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen."

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"America Is Fighting More Wars Than Ever."

Yes and no. Clearly, the United States has been on a war footing ever since 9/11, with a still-ongoing war in Afghanistan that has surpassed the Vietnam War as the longest conflict in American history and a pre-emptive war in Iraq that proved to be longer, bloodier, and more expensive than anyone expected. Add the current NATO intervention in Libya and drone campaigns in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, and it's no wonder that U.S. military spending has grown more than 80 percent in real terms over the last decade. At $675 billion this year, it's now 30 percent higher than what it was at the end of the Cold War.

But though the conflicts of the post-9/11 era may be longer than those of past generations, they are also far smaller and less lethal. America's decade of war since 2001 has killed about 6,000 U.S. service members, compared with 58,000 in Vietnam and 300,000 in World War II. Every life lost to war is one too many, but these deaths have to be seen in context: Last year more Americans died from falling out of bed than in all U.S. wars combined.

And the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken place against a backdrop of base closures and personnel drawdowns elsewhere in the world. The temporary rise in U.S. troop numbers in South Asia and the Middle East, from 18,000 to 212,000 since 2000, contrasts with the permanent withdrawal of almost 40,000 troops from Europe, 34,000 from Japan and South Korea, and 10,000 from Latin America in that period. When U.S. forces come home from the current wars -- and they will in large numbers in the near future, starting with 40,000 troops from Iraq and 33,000 from Afghanistan by 2012 -- there will be fewer U.S. troops deployed around the world than at any time since the 1930s. President BarackObama was telling the truth in June when he said, "The tide of war is receding."

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"War Has Gotten More Brutal for Civilians."

Hardly. In February 2010, a NATO airstrike hit a house in Afghanistan's Marja district, killing at least nine civilians inside. The tragedy drew condemnation and made the news, leading the top NATO commander in the country to apologize to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The response underscored just how much has changed in war. During World War II, Allied bombers killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Dresden and Tokyo not by accident, but as a matter of tactics; Germany, of course, murdered civilians by the millions. And when today's civilians do end up in harm's way, more people are looking out for them. The humanitarian dollars spent per displaced person rose in real terms from $150 in the early 1990s to $300 in 2006. Total international humanitarian assistance has grown from $2 billion in 1990 to $6 billion in 2000 and (according to donor countries' claims) $18 billion in 2008. For those caught in the crossfire, war has actually gotten more humane.

Yet many people insist that the situation is otherwise. For example, authoritative works on peacekeeping in civil wars (Roland Paris's award-winning At War's End and Michael Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis's Making War and Building Peace), as well as gold-standard reports on conflict from the World Bank and the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, tell us that 90 percent of today's war deaths are civilian while just 10 percent are military -- the reverse of a century ago and "a grim indicator of the transformation of armed conflict" in the late 20th century, as political scientist Kalevi Holsti put it.

Grim indeed -- but, fortunately, untrue. The myth originates with the 1994 U.N. Human Development Report, which misread work that Swedish researcher Christer Ahlström had done in 1991 and accidentally conflated war fatalities in the early 20th century with the much larger number of dead, wounded, and displaced people in the late 20th century. A more careful analysis done in 1989 by peace researcher William Eckhardt shows that the ratio of military to civilian war deaths remains about 50-50, as it has for centuries (though it varies considerably from one war to the next). If you are unlucky enough to be a civilian in a war zone, of course, these statistics are little comfort. But on a worldwide scale, we are making progress in helping civilians afflicted by war.


"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.

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"A More Democratic World Will Be a More Peaceful One."

Not necessarily. The well-worn observation that real democracies almost never fight each other is historically correct, but it's also true that democracies have always been perfectly willing to fight non-democracies. In fact, democracy can heighten conflict by amplifying ethnic and nationalist forces, pushing leaders to appease belligerent sentiment in order to stay in power. Thomas Paine and Immanuel Kant both believed that selfish autocrats caused wars, whereas the common people, who bear the costs, would be loath to fight. But try telling that to the leaders of authoritarian China, who are struggling to hold in check, not inflame, a popular undercurrent of nationalism against Japanese and American historical enemies. Public opinion in tentatively democratic Egypt is far more hostile toward Israel than the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak ever was (though being hostile and actually going to war are quite different things).

Why then do democracies limit their wars to non-democracies rather than fight each other? Nobody really knows. As the University of Chicago's Charles Lipson once quipped about the notion of a democratic peace, "We know it works in practice. Now we have to see if it works in theory!" The best explanation is that of political scientists Bruce Russett and John Oneal, who argue that three elements -- democracy, economic interdependence (especially trade), and the growth of international organizations -- are mutually supportive of each other and of peace within the community of democratic countries. Democratic leaders, then, see themselves as having less to lose in going to war with autocracies.

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"Peacekeeping Doesn't Work."

It does now. The early 1990s were boom years for the blue helmets, with 15 new U.N. peacekeeping missions launched from 1991 to 1993 -- as many as in the U.N.'s entire history up to that point. The period was also host to peacekeeping's most spectacular failures. In Somalia, the U.N. arrived on a mission to alleviate starvation only to become embroiled in a civil war, and it quickly pulled out after 18 American soldiers died in a 1993 raid. In Rwanda in 1994, a weak U.N. force with no support from the Security Council completely failed to stop a genocide that killed more than half a million people. In Bosnia, the U.N. declared "safe areas" for civilians, but then stood by when Serbian forces overran one such area, Srebrenica, and executed more than 7,000 men and boys. (There were peacekeeping successes, too, such as in Namibia and Mozambique, but people tend to forget about them.)

In response, the United Nations commissioned a report in 2000, overseen by veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, examining how the organization's efforts had gone wrong. By then the U.N. had scaled back peacekeeping personnel by 80 percent worldwide, but as it expanded again the U.N. adapted to lessons learned. It strengthened planning and logistics capabilities and began deploying more heavily armed forces able to wade into battle if necessary. As a result, the 15 missions and 100,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed worldwide today are meeting with far greater success than their predecessors.

Overall, the presence of peacekeepers has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of a war's reigniting after a cease-fire agreement. In the 1990s, about half of all cease-fires broke down, but in the past decade the figure has dropped to 12 percent. And though the U.N.'s status as a perennial punching bag in American politics suggests otherwise, these efforts are quite popular: In a 2007 survey, 79 percent of Americans favored strengthening the U.N. That's not to say there isn't room for improvement -- there's plenty. But the U.N. has done a lot of good around the world in containing war.

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"Some Conflicts Will Never End."

Never say never. In 2005, researchers at the U.S. Institute of Peace characterized 14 wars, from Northern Ireland to Kashmir, as "intractable," in that they "resist any kind of settlement or resolution." Six years later, however, a funny thing has happened: All but a few of these wars (Israel-Palestine, Somalia, and Sudan) have either ended or made substantial progress toward doing so. In Sri Lanka, military victory ended the war, though only after a brutal endgame in which both sides are widely believed to have committed war crimes. Kashmir has a fairly stable cease-fire. In Colombia, the war sputters on, financed by drug revenue, but with little fighting left. In the Balkans and Northern Ireland, shaky peace arrangements have become less shaky; it's hard to imagine either sliding back into full-scale hostilities. In most of the African cases -- Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ivory Coast (notwithstanding the violent flare-up after elections there in late 2010, now resolved) -- U.N. missions have brought stability and made a return to war less likely (or, in the case of Congo and Uganda, have at least limited the area of fighting).

Could we do even better? The late peace researcher Randall Forsberg in 1997 foresaw "a world largely without war," one in which "the vanishing risk of great-power war has opened the door to a previously unimaginable future -- a future in which war is no longer socially-sanctioned and is rare, brief, and small in scale." Clearly, we are not there yet. But over the decades -- and indeed, even since Forsberg wrote those words -- norms about wars, and especially about the protection of civilians caught up in them, have evolved rapidly, far more so than anyone would have guessed even half a century ago. Similarly rapid shifts in norms preceded the ends of slavery and colonialism, two other scourges that were once also considered permanent features of civilization. So don't be surprised if the end of war, too, becomes downright thinkable.

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