Several hundred thousand people continue to lose their lives each year due to the direct effects of civil conflict, war-related famine and disease. This number has not markedly increased since the end of the Cold War, nor has it declined.
These wars have an obvious and tragic toll in lost human lives—with most of the dead being innocent noncombatants. The wars have other costs as well: They provide terrorist groups with havens, as in Afghanistan through most of the last decade, and with motivating causes, as in many parts of the Middle East. They do much to keep large segments of Africa and certain other parts of the world mired in misery and economic stagnation. Moreover, these wars undercut the U.S. argument that democracies truly protect and promote human rights. The world is essentially run and dominated by the industrial democracies, and their apparent indifference to many such conflicts weakens their moral authority and international legitimacy as leaders.
What can be done to reduce the prevalence and severity of such wars? Traditional peacekeeping in Kashmir, Cyprus and the Sinai has a role. So does the more comprehensive approach—involving not only peacekeeping but also election monitoring, demilitarization and state building—that has been applied in places such as Cambodia, Mozambique, Haiti and the Balkans. Despite many assertions to the contrary, most or all of these missions have achieved at least partial success in the sense that intervention probably made conditions better than they otherwise would have been. However, missions in Angola and Rwanda were outright major failures, in that bloodshed intensified after the deployment of UN troops. Moreover, the world’s failure to intervene in places such as the Sudan and Liberia means that the international community deserves no more than a low passing grade for its humanitarian military efforts in the first post-Cold War decade.