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Ground-breaking study reveals significant decline in conventional war since 1950, unveils Mars Database as key research tool for global peace efforts

An insightful new study led by Professor Michael Spagat, co-chair of AOAV’s board, and fellow researchers Brennen Fagan and Stijn Van Weezel, has shed light on the decline of conventional war since 1950. The report, After the Hemoclysm: The Likely Decline of Conventional War since 1950, relies on the comprehensive Project Mars database to analyse 252 wars between 1800 and 2011. In so doing, it revealed significant evidence for a post-1950 decrease in war-arrival rates.

The researchers used this Mars database, a more inclusive and less Eurocentric set than the commonly used Correlates of War (COW) Inter-State database, to find more detailed patterns of violence globally, and – in so doing – paved the way for future research into the history and trends of warfare. Previous research utilising the COW data identified 1950 as a turning point in the history of war, with the Korean War marking a shift towards less conventional violence.

The dataset contains information on 229 distinct groups involved in 252 conventional wars that occurred from 1800 to 2011. Project Mars contributed additional data on these groups, such as their degree of military inequality prior to the war, as well as novel metrics of their performance on the battlefield, such as desertion, defection, and internal conflict.

In light of this data set, the research team examined the hypothesis that war arrivals slowed after 1950 compared to the period between 1800 and 1950. They employed various statistical approaches to analyse war arrival rates for different killed in action (KIA) counts and population-adjusted measures.

Their results indicated strong evidence of a post-1950 slowdown in war arrivals, particularly when considering population-adjusted KIA counts.

To address the limitations of their statistical tests in detecting smaller slowdowns or slowdowns for wars with higher KIA counts, the researchers employed a Bayesian approach. This approach allowed for a more nuanced analysis of the data, factoring in prior beliefs and information. The Bayesian analysis was flexible and adaptable, enabling a personalised exploration of the data and its implications. The results of the Bayesian analysis generally favoured the decline-of-war thesis, especially for population-adjusted figures and when small wars were included. However, the evidence became more ambiguous when considering larger wars or when using high estimates of KIA, emphasising the need for further research to understand the factors influencing the trends observed in the study.

The study’s findings suggest that some global policy measures to reduce conventional war may have been effective. However, the slowdown identified could be reversed due to global changes, and caution is warranted when predicting the future of warfare.

The importance of this research project lies in its potential implications for conflict prevention and resolution. By understanding the historical factors contributing to the decline of conventional war, policymakers and stakeholders can better inform their decisions and actions to promote peace and stability in the future.

The introduction of the Mars database as a valuable resource for researchers studying the decline of war and other aspects of conflict will likely encourage further exploration and debate in this field. This study raises several important questions for future research, such as identifying the factors contributing most significantly to the post-1950 decline in conventional war and applying lessons from this historical period to current and future conflicts.

In conclusion, this study offers a groundbreaking exploration of the decline in conventional war since 1950, providing strong evidence for this trend and offering valuable historical insights into the dynamics of warfare. The research has significant implications for future policy and conflict prevention, highlighting the need for ongoing research and international cooperation to address the challenges of war and conflict in the 21st century. The introduction of the Mars database offers researchers a valuable new tool to continue exploring the decline of war and its implications for global peace and stability.

To this end, AOAV applauds this innovative approach and looks to examine the dataset with its own findings in the future.