Dempsey also claims that the information age and the spread of technology increases the likelihood of organizations or individuals using violence. There is just one (big) problem with this argument. If his logic is correct, the world should have witnessed a growth of all forms of conflict as lethal technologies and modern communications expanded over the centuries, but in fact the opposite has happened. The number of ways to kill a person is innumerable, and over time such innovations have been adapted and improved upon to create increasingly lethal weapons. At the same time, thanks to railroads, the telegraph, transoceanic cables, telephones, airplanes, and the Internet, communication is now near instantaneous. Why would this trend reverse itself now?
Perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of all deaths have nothing to do with armed conflict. The latest Global Burden of Armed Violence report offered this snapshot from 2004 to 2009: "At least 526,000 people are killed each year as a result of lethal violence. This includes an estimated 55,000 direct conflict deaths, 396,000 intentional homicides, 54,000 so-called 'unintentional' homicides, and 21,000 killings during legal interventions." The latter category consists of deaths of civilians by law enforcement and state security forces in routine policing. In short, just over 10 percent of all deaths are the result of armed conflicts, political violence, and terrorism.
Given that levels of violence have fallen across virtually all categories (with the notable exception of suicides) and 90 percent of all lethal violence is not related to armed conflicts, this raises a larger question: What is the role of the U.S. military in preventing violence? The U.S.-led alliance system, based on its unmatched conventional military assets and reliable second-strike nuclear weapons capabilities, have likely deterred some interstate wars, though deterrence is inherently difficult to prove. Through theater security cooperation plans, regional combatant commands claim that their military-to-military engagement and soft-power activities "shape" the regional order -- though I've never seen data to support this widely-held claim.
There are targeted countries where U.S. military, intelligence, and capacity-building efforts played some role in marked declines in violence. For example, between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in Colombia fell from 83 per 100,000 people to 33.4. Over the same period, the United States spent upwards of $10 billion in Colombia on military, police, judicial, and development assistance. Although correlation is not causation, the massive influx of funds into the security sector likely played a role. On the other hand, there are many more instances in which civilian policymakers deployed the U.S. military into conflicts and exacerbated (at least in the short term) political instability and armed violence within those regions (see the U.S. intervention in Iraq).
Not only have humans never been less at risk from dying at the hands of another human, but we know more and more about what early risk factors make individuals more likely to use violence and which preventive efforts are most effective at reducing criminal violence -- by far the leading of all non-self-inflicted deaths. It boils down to four major prevention strategies: developmental (interventions in early development when criminal potential is identified), situational (reducing opportunities to commit crime and increasing the risks of criminal activities), community (fostering positive social conditions and institutions), and criminal justice. If policymakers were interested in protecting people from "the chance of violence," as Dempsey terms it, they might want to divert their time and resources away from aircraft carriers and into these preventive programs.
At the end of the day, despite Dempsey's security paradox warnings, the U.S. military plays a minimal role in preventing, responding to, and addressing the vast majority of lethal violence in the world. Yet the United States remains structured, funded, and predisposed to seek military, rather than developmental or diplomatic solutions to many foreign-policy challenges, including reducing the likelihood and severity of all forms of lethal violence. In an April 2009 exchange about how to deepen cooperation between the Pentagon and the State Department, Gen. David Petraeus acknowledged: "Sir, again when it comes to the conflict prevention, that one I have to put my thinking cap on and figure out."