New Internationalist

The facts on War and Peace

Issue 311


In recorded history since 3600 BC, over 14,500 major wars have killed close to four billion people – two-thirds of the current world population.1

Number of armed conflicts 1946–991


In armed conflicts since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties have been civilians compared to 50 per cent in the Second World War and 10 per cent in the First.2 The planning and execution of war remains controlled by men. But women and children are the main victims of violence in war and peace.


A contribution to the militarization of society is to socialize children into thinking violence and war are justifiable and glorious. From military, defence and weapons-industry recruitment schemes to action-hero toys, society creates killers.

  • There are at least 250,000 child soldiers fighting in armed conflict.
  • Most countries consider young soldiers ‘volunteers’. But often coercion is involved – in Uganda around 8,000 children have been abducted for use as soldiers or prostitutes.3
  • Britain’s Manchester airport has had more than 1,000 security alerts a year caused by children taking toy guns on holiday.4
  • By the age of 16 an American child has seen, on average, 18,000 murders on television.5


Even in peacetime, women are far more likely to experience violent abuse than men – for example one out of every six pregnant women in the US is battered during pregnancy.7

Percentages of women reporting physical abuse by male partner8


Governments and national leaders are often the most horrific perpetrators of violence. Torture occurs in more than 100 countries and is carried out as part of government policy in at least 40.6 And governments form a crucial part of the military-industrial complex that is responsible for churning out the weapons and methods of war.

Main Arms Exoporters1


United States

  • World’s biggest arms exporter – supplies around 40 per cent of the developing world’s arms.1
  • Military budget as large as the next ten top-spending countries combined.
  • 2.4 million troops.
  • Involved in escalating numerous conflicts outside its own borders, on average the US has used arms abroad every year for the past 200 years.
  • Current rationale for high spending on defence includes declaration of ‘war on terrorism’ – since 1980 on average fewer than 10 Americans have been killed by terrorists per year.9


  • World’s second-largest arms exporter with a 25 per cent share of the legal global market.1
  • Military budget fifth largest in the world.
  • 240,000 troops.
  • Between 1990 and 1994, supplied 13 per cent of total arms exports to sub-Saharan Africa – while at war from 1987 to 1994, Angola received $7.3 billion worth of British arms.10
  • Current leaders in the ‘privatization of war’ – Britain is home to the four largest mercenary companies.


International co-operation and law can support local peace processes.

  • Two Harvard University professors propose an international convention making it a crime for individuals, such as scientists and chief executive officers, to engage in the production of chemical and biological weapons, thus limiting the access of terrorist groups or governments to this capability. Such treaties are already in effect regarding piracy, genocide, aeroplane-hijacking and harming diplomats on duty.9
  • International courts can offer a system of justice across borders. But they must be backed by political will and resources – while the Nuremberg Court at the end of World War Two was given 2,000 prosecutions staff, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has less than 50.6
  • A treaty has been signed to establish an International Criminal Court – a UN body which would be able to hear charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Many individual countries spend over the three-per-cent average of GDP that the world spends on defence – more than half of the Cambodian national budget (around 50 per cent of which is supplied by foreign aid) is spent on defence and security.10

Around 85 countries have undergone some sort of disarmament since the end of the Cold War in 1989, but 69 nations have been increasing their stock of weapons – mostly Majority World countries buying from the richer ones.1 Disarmament could potentially release large amounts of money for development.

Military expenditure as percentage of GDP11


Only a third of all civil wars that occurred after 1800 have ended through negotiations. Since 1945 around 25 per cent of conflicts have been solved by negotiations. But recently compromise settlements are becoming more prevalent such as in the cases of Liberia, El Salvador and Guatemala.2

Conflict and Compromise – A World Map


High-Intensity Conflict (killing over 1,000 people in 1998) Low-Intensity Conflict Negotiations between parties or peace process under way

  1. Any conflict with over 1,000 battlefield-related deaths per year is generally defined as a war. Peace Pledge Union.
  2. Kumar Rupesinghe & Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Civil Wars, Civil Peace (Pluto Press, 1998).
  3. Development Bulletin No 44 1998.
  4. Peace Matters No 22 1998.
  5. US Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, No 423.
  6. Gemini News Service.
  7. International Planned Parenthood Federation.
  8. World Health Organization.
  9. The Nation Vol 267 No 15.
  10. Edmund Cairns, A Safer Future (Oxfam, 1997).
  11. Understanding Global Issues No 4 1998.

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  1. #3 christin oakes 10 Nov 11

    only one will take care of all this mess, it could be you but how could it be, it could be GOD taking care of us, this all might be true or it all might be not!!!!!!

  2. #4 dk 15 Nov 11

    i dont know what to say about the world war so i am jus ging to write facts
    In armed conflicts since 1945,90 percent of casualties have been cuilians compared to 50 percent in the Second World War and 10 percent in the First. The planning and execution of war ramians controlled by men.But women and children are the main victums of violence in war and peace.

  3. #8 Millie 27 Aug 12

    The world super powers spend some £10,000 million on military arms every 2 weeks - enough to give all the world adequate food, water, education and health for a year. What do people gain from war other then death and pain?

  4. #9 John Harbors 19 Oct 12

    How do you calculate your statistics?
    3000 people killed on 9/11 divided by 32 years since 1980 equals almost 94 deaths per year, not ’less than ten’ as the article states.

  5. #10 Sara 04 Dec 12

    3000 people may have been killed in 9/11, but they weren'nt necessarily American citizens.

  6. #14 Muntaha Dahir 23 May 13

    This was very useful, thank you :)

  7. #15 Lottie 07 Oct 13

    This information was very helpful, and gave me a true understanding on the mesning of war. I strongly believe in endind this awful tragady!

  8. #17 bob 08 Aug 14

    about 30 million Russian killed in ww2

  9. #19 Abbi 09 Dec 14

    This is terrible! It makes me sick. How on earth is it that animal cruelty is considered unacceptable, but this is a social norm... We, as a society, seriously need to get our heads out of our butts' and our priorities straight!

  10. #20 Lena Gallagher 19 Apr 15

    Imagine how much better things would be if we could all just get along a fraction better.

  11. #22 Shelby 21 May 17

    All of this needs to stop

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This article was originally published in issue 311

New Internationalist Magazine issue 311
Issue 311

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