How have we been doing lately on reducing conflict in the world?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2019, Issue 19
by E.G. Nadeau

The short answer to this question is: There have been minor improvements in the last few years. Let’s review the numbers and a few examples.

To provide a longer answer, it is important to distinguish between two kinds of violence: Deaths from armed conflicts, and homicides.

Armed conflicts

The planet has become a much more peaceful place since the end of World War II. This is the case, despite the hundreds of regional wars, civil wars, and other armed conflicts that have occurred over the past 75 years.

In the past decade or so there has been an uptick in the number of deadly conflicts, but, counterintuitively, a reduction in the number of fatalities resulting from these conflicts.

According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP):

The number of fatalities in organized violence decreased for the fourth consecutive year [in 2018], to reach the lowest level since 2012. In 2018, UCDP recorded almost 76,000 deaths – a decrease of 20% compared to 2017, and 43% compared to the latest peak in 2014. . . .

The general decline in fatalities from organized violence does not correspond with the trend in the number of active conflicts. In fact, the world has seen a new peak in the number of conflicts after 2014, matched only by the number of conflicts in the early 1990s.[1]

The following figures illustrate this pattern of decreasing fatalities despite the increasing number of conflicts:


Note, in particular, the steep rise in the number of armed conflicts from 2014 to 2018, and the steep decline in the number of fatalities during the same time period.

This pattern of reduced conflict-related fatalities is also reflected in more recent data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).[3] ACLED’s highly detailed dataset on “political violence and protest events” shows a decline of fatalities between the first ten months of 2018 and the same time period in 2019 from about 254,000 to 129,000. That’s a reduction of almost 50%.

It is too soon to tell if these data indicate a temporary reduction in conflict-related fatalities, or if they signal a long-term trend toward less lethal resolution of differences among conflicting parties.


It is surprising to many of us, but intentional homicides are far more common than deaths from armed conflict – in recent years about five times more common.[4]

When viewed on a worldwide scale, intentional homicides have shown a gradual downward trend between 1990 and 2017 (the most recent year for which data are available). At the same time, however, there are major differences among regions and countries in terms of the number and causes and of homicides.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a report in July 2019 estimating that:

 [A] total of 464,000 deaths were caused by intentional homicide worldwide in 2017. The largest share (37 per cent) was registered in the Americas, closely followed by Africa, which accounted for just over a third (35 per cent) of the total. Despite its large population, Asia accounted for less than a quarter of the total (23 per cent), while Europe (4.7 per cent) and Oceania (0.2 per cent) accounted for by far the smallest shares. . . .

At the global level, the homicide rate has been slowly decreasing for over two decades, from a peak of 7.4 per 100,000 in 1993 to 6.1 per 100,000 in 2017, including a period of steady decrease from 1993 to 2007 and a period of stability thereafter.[5] [6]

The following figure from the 2019 UNODC report illustrates both the gradual decline in worldwide homicides and the different levels and historical patterns of regional homicides.


As a side note to these data, the homicide rate in the United States increased by 14 percent between 2010–2017, following several decades of decline.[8] The United States has one of the highest homicide rates of the 30 or so most developed countries in the world.[9]

What are the takeaways from these data on deaths from armed conflict and intentional homicide?

A key finding related to armed conflict is that the number of conflicts has been growing since the early 2000s, but the number of deaths resulting from these conflicts has been decreasing since 2014. It is not clear whether this pattern is temporary or marks a long-term approach to conflict that is less lethal than in the past.

Intentional homicides at the global level have been declining gradually, at least since the early 1990s. But regional and national levels and patterns of homicide vary dramatically. Central and South America, and parts of Africa, have maintained high homicide rates over the past 25 years, while other regions have had low and declining rates.

There are different causes for these regional homicide patterns. In Central and South America, many homicides are due to gang violence, especially related to the drug trade. In Africa, much of the unorganized violence stems from fighting among different ethnic groups. The discrepancy noted above between homicides in the United States versus other developed countries is often attributed to the much easier access to guns in the US than in these other countries.

All in all, there is a pattern of reduced violence in the world, but we have a long way to go before we can claim that we live on a peaceful planet.

Postscript to the November Newsletter

This newsletter is a partial preview, focusing on worldwide conflict, of the 2020 Cooperative Society Report to be published in February 2020.

This report will provide recent data on conflict as well as on six other measures of societal well-being: Economic power, wealth and income, democracy, population trends, quality of life, and the environment. The report addresses how well we are doing on these measures, and how we can do better.

The report will be summarized in the January newsletter, and the full report will be available as a free download on The Cooperative Society [insert proper link] website.

The second edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History will continue to be available for purchase, and as a free download from this website.

We appreciate your interest in and support of The Cooperative Society Project. Thank you.

[1] Pettersson, Therese et al, “Organized violence, 1989–2018 and peace agreements,”

Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Journal of Peace Research, 2019, Vol. 56(4) 589–603,

[2] Ibid., p. 590.

[3] ACLED, Data Export Tool, accessed, November 2019,

[4] A comparison of UNODC and Uppsala data.

[5] UNODC, Global Study on Homicide 2019, Booklet 2, Vienna, 2019,

[6] UNODC, Global Study on Homicide 2019, Booklet 1, Vienna, 2019

[7] Op.cit., UNODC Booklet 1, p.20.

[8] Op.cit., UNODC Booklet 2, p.46..

[9] Better Life Index, OECD, 2017,

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