The frequency of wars (pdf) by Mark Harrison and Nikolaus Wolf has some disturbing claims about the trend in wars. Despite many measures (such as fatalities) showing good trends,
One indicator has moved persistently in the wrong direction. How many countries are at war at any given time? Exploiting the Uppsala dataset on armed conflicts, backdated to 1946 and updated to 2005, Joseph Hewitt has noted upward trends in the annual percentage
That’s not as bad as it sounds, since an increase in the number of countries has played an important role in that trend (recognition of new countries can change the number of countries involved in a given conflict without any change in the violence in a given region). Still, that’s hard to reconcile with the widespread belief that wars are becoming rarer.
They suggest that more effective tax collection has provided governments with the ability to wage more wars than they could afford in the middle ages, and this has had more effect on the frequency of war than changes in the desire for war.
It’s not due to failed states – wealthy countries are as likely to start wars as poor countries. Democracy and international trade don’t by themselves do much if anything to reduce wars – only democracies without term limits engage in fewer wars:
democracies where leaders are subject to term limits are as likely to make war as autocratic states and term limits are increasingly widespread.
Douglas Gibler who suggests that peace and democracy are joint symptoms of stable borders, not the other way around.
Trade and democracy are traditionally thought of as goods, both in themselves, and because they reduce the willingness to go to war, conditional on the national capacity to do so. But the same factors may also have been increasing the capacity for war, and so its frequency.
Martin, Thierry Mayer, and Mathias Thoenig have shown that trade had a double effect on the relative frequency of pairwise conflict. More bilateral trade reduced this frequency, but more multilateral trade raised it. Over time both multilateral and bilateral openness increased on average, but the net effect was positive. For any country pair separated by less than 1,000 kilometers, globalization from 1970 to 2000 raised the probability of conflict by one fifth (from 3.7 to 4.5 percent). On the interpretation of Martin and his co-authors, the same forces that widened the scope of multilateral trade made bilateral war less costly.
Britain relied overwhelmingly on imported calories. Despite this, in two world wars Britain had little difficulty in feeding its people. In contrast, those countries that believed themselves secure [due to abundant local crops] were the first to run short of food.
One encouraging point – starting wars probably isn’t rewarded:
On the record of all wars since 1700, to start one attracts a 60 percent probability of defeat.
Do these claims have any implications for the desirability of seasteading (i.e. could increasing the number of “countries” via seasteading have the same association with increasing frequency of wars as on land)?
It’s unclear whether a seastead that flies the flag of Panama would be an additional country in the relevant sense. They might be more like British colonies for quite a while, although that analogy has unpleasant long-term implications if their relations with their affiliated country deteriorate they way Britains relations with it’s colonies did.
New land-based countries are often the results of conflicts (e.g. Kosovo). Creating seasteads that way appears less feasible.
It’s unclear whether seasteads will have borders sufficiently similar to land-based borders to produce similar disputes over where the border should be.
And the societies that seem most seastead-like (Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai) seem peaceful.