June 28, 2011
More Borders And Lower Costs Boost War

In a nutshell: More borders lead to more war. The internet is creating more virtual borders and therefore more potential for conflict.

Is progress inevitable? It depends on what you categorize as progress. If you like war (and the sight of beautiful women can bring that out in men) then you can feel satisfied that lower war costs due to technological progress have combined with the breakdown of empires to make it easier to have more wars.

New research by the University of Warwick and Humboldt University shows that the frequency of wars between states increased steadily from 1870 to 2001 by 2% a year on average. The research argues that conflict is being fed by economic growth and the proliferation of new borders.

The internet creates new borders which leads to greater opportunity for conflict. The internet warfare between nations and even by private groups against governments can be viewed as a result of more borders created by the internet. The internet effectively has created huge numbers of virtual borders online where firewalls try to enforce sovereignty in protected zones while invaders from other zones try to invade and pillage.

More conflicts between states.

We may think the world enjoyed periods of relative freedom from war between the Cold War and 9/11 but the new research by Professor Mark Harrison from at the University of Warwick’s the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, and Professor Nikolaus Wolf from Humboldt University, shows that the number of conflicts between pairs of states rose steadily from 6 per year on average between 1870 and 1913 to 17 per year in the period of the two World Wars, 31 per year in the Cold War, and 36 per year in the 1990s.

Professor Mark Harrison from the University of Warwick said:

“The number of conflicts has been rising on a stable trend. Because of two world wars, the pattern is obviously disturbed between 1914 and 1945 but remarkably, after 1945 the frequency of wars resumed its upward course on pretty much the same path as before 1913.”

One of the key drivers is the number of countries, which has risen dramatically – from 47 in 1870 to 187 in 2001.

The European Union is an attempt to avoid European wars by eliminating the borders that would have been fought over in previous eras. But in other parts of the world border formation has outpaced consolidation into larger political units. In the 21st century will the number of nations and borders go up? Can violence between nations decline globally by merger of nations into larger national entities?

The US government has recently warned it will treat cyber attacks as acts of war. The Chinese miltiary is warning the US military is preparing for cyberwarfare. This illustrates the extent to which existing sovereign governments view the internet as a source of new border formation.

If the 21st century turns into a bloody era then blame this turn of events on the rise of the internet.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 June 28 11:16 PM  Comm Tech Society

PacRim Jim said at June 28, 2011 11:56 PM:

It's simple: The greater the surface area in a chemical reaction, the faster the reaction proceeds. Analogously, the greater the number of cultural interfaces on the Web, the fast conflict proceeds, and the faster the minor (quantitatively, not qualitatively) languages and cultures vanish. The Web accelerates evolution and homogenizes humanity. Hyper-Darwinian evolution.

Matthew Fuller said at June 29, 2011 7:37 AM:

Well, what wasn't addressed was the average rate of war given the current number of states/sovereign governments. That is, take into account the average rate of conflict. It would seem it has gone down given that 36/187 (.19)

Cahlmeeishmael said at June 29, 2011 11:17 AM:

More states result in more interstate war. That's hardly surprising. The article indicates that they were measuring only wars between states. But what about civil wars? Those seem to be excluded definitionally. It would be interesting to see what including civil wars would do to the statistics.

Dave Justus said at June 29, 2011 11:39 AM:

If we define 'war' as being between two states, then more states obviously make more separate instances of war more likely. This seems both obvious and trivial. For example, if there was only one state, then there would by definition be no war, although 'civil unrest' within this massive state could involve tanks, bombs and mass casualties. Similarly, if we define every individual to be sovereign unto themselves the number of 'wars' would be huge.

I also don't follow the segue into 'cyber-borders.' From what I can see, cyberspace is being treated as a battlespace, and perhaps a new way of entering existing borders but not as any sort of new border itself. Obviously it can foment the creation of non-state actors (Anonymous, Al-Qaida) which can cause and create conflict, but since if one side is not a state, it can't be a war by the definition above.

LarryD said at June 29, 2011 11:58 AM:

OK, fantasy time. Imagine the abolition of all borders in the middle east. Instant peace, right. The jews and arabs become brothers, right.

No, the violence continues, unabated. It just no longer fits the definition of war, as Dave notes above. Research shows that multicultural communities (or countries) have lower levels of trust, and higher levels of conflict, than mono-cultural ones.

Borders, respected by both sides, reduce conflict. But if one side is simply not willing to tolerate the other, then conflict is inevitable, border or not.

Shannon Love said at June 29, 2011 2:47 PM:

I agree with others that this "result" relies on the rhetorical trick of defining "war" to men cross-border conflicts. This obviously leaves a vast number of conflicts out of the picture.

The University of Hawaii Democide project ranked deaths from human violence thusly: (1) Democides -- governments killing their own population within their own borders in a time of international peace e.g. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. (2) Multisided civil wars aka warlordism or anarchy (2) Civl wars with two major sides. (3) International/cross-border wars fought by national armies. This study only deals with (3) by definition.

Clearly the worst conflicts with the highest body counts aren't even addressed by this study. Neither does it seem to address the scale of the conflicts. When Germany invades Russia the killing is on an etirely different scale than if Luxembourg went after Monet Carlo (which I would by tickets to see.) WWII killed 42 million but the Taiping Rebellion in 1860s China killed 60 million even though it wouldn't be considered a "war" by this study. Neither would the 60 million killed by Mao, the 22 million killed by Stalin nor the 1 in every 5 Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot.

One can say that empires suppress (3) but they're worse about all others. Technically, the British empire was fighting very few international wars throughout the 19th century but their military was engaged constantly in fighting within the empire and/or suppressing piracy. Yet, we call that era, especially on the oceans, the Pax Britannica.

I think this is a study intended to bolster the arguments for the EU. Europeans are very insular and pretty much insist that the European experience encompasses all human experiences. For the last two centuries, Europe has suffered from conflicts between nation states, which in the original meaning of nation meant ethnic/cultural/racial states. In their egocentric manner, Europeans then insist that all other conflicts in all other parts of the world originate from one ethnic state going after another ethnic state. However, the true ethnic state is really a phenomena almost exclusively of Western Europe and the rest of the world does not fit that mold. Most people on earth today and most people in history have lived in multiethnic political units. Most violent conflicts and most deaths by violence do not fit the Western European mold of one ethnic/nation state crossing a recognized boarder to attack another ethnic/nation state. This is just more European navel gazing.

Based on the historical evidence, a shift of conflicts from other types of conflict towards cross-border conflicts is a positive development. It gets us away from the big killings. As Charlotte lindbergh wrote in her apology to the Jewish people, "there are worse things than [international] war."

Athena said at June 29, 2011 3:13 PM:

You are correct.

DWPittelli said at June 29, 2011 7:52 PM:

This article is confused in its use of the "border" metaphor. The internet does not create new borders, it creates new border crossings. This does not make the larger thesis wrong: cyber attacks may be seen as wars in their own right, as they are a form of economic sabotage, and may even lead to deaths. More importantly, they might thus lead to physical warfare.

Fat Man said at June 29, 2011 8:19 PM:

Twaddle. State vs state wars are most likely at an all time low. There are numerous armed conflicts. Most of them are in Western Asia or Africa and are largely insurgencies and ethnic rebellions. Some of them are truly horrible, like the Congo, where millions have died. But, even so, outside of those two areas, most of the world is fairly peaceful.

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