Conflict Has Receded Around the World. Why Doesn’t the Result Resemble Peace?

Conflict Has Receded Around the World. Why Doesn’t the Result Resemble Peace?
Police stand guard inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal following an explosion near Times Square in New York, Dec. 11, 2017 (AP photo by Andres Kudacki).

The aftermath of Monday’s terrorist attack in New York was a case of both good news and bad news. That the city essentially shrugged off an attempted suicide bombing in the subway that only seriously injured the bomber himself demonstrated a salutary resilience and sangfroid, as defeating terrorism requires in part a refusal to be terrorized. That the attack was so rudimentary and amateurish is a testament to the broad success of American and European approaches to counterterrorism that make more sophisticated attacks prohibitively difficult to mount.

But the fact that such attacks don’t generate much surprise anymore—whether in New York, London, Paris or elsewhere—is also a sign of how thoroughly the latent threat of low-level violence has insinuated itself into everyday life in the West, and even more so in zones of conflict and instability in other parts of the world.

At a time when the world seems buffeted by upheaval and conflict, it’s worth reminding ourselves that despite the appearance of widespread mayhem, we are actually witnessing a period in which warfare has decreased to historically low levels. Whether judging by the number of state-on-state and intra-state conflicts, or by the cost in terms of human casualties, the post-Cold War period compares favorably to any other in recent history.

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